I Had Told You I Did Not Print

From Emily Dickinson’s Singular Scrap Poetry, by Dan Chiasson:

“It has been argued that Dickinson refused publication exactly because it was synonymous with print, whose standardizing tendencies she knew would miscarry her precision effects. When, in 1866, Dickinson’s “A narrow Fellow in the Grass” appeared in the Springfield Daily Republican (under a title likely chosen by its editors, “The Snake”), Dickinson complained to Higginson that, among other problems, she was “defeated . . . of the third line by punctuation.” Her manuscript had read, “You may have met Him—did you not / His notice sudden is—.” But, when the poem appeared, the editors had supplied a question mark: “You may have met him—did you not? / His notice instant is.””

“The question mark makes the second half of line three auxiliary to the first: “You may have met him—did you not [meet him] ? / His notice instant is.” But Dickinson’s preferred punctuation, while it leaves the possibility of the auxiliary clause intact, allows for other syntactical relations: “You may have met him—[if you haven’t, you should know that] / His notice instant is.” The words “notice” and “not” reflect each other more vividly without the hard stop of the intervening question mark. Dickinson seems to have preferred “instant” over “sudden” in later drafts of the poem, but when it appeared in the second edition of her work, edited by Todd and Higginson, a comma materialized in the spot where the question mark had gone. “I had told you I did not print,” Dickinson once wrote to Higginson, suggesting that it wasn’t shyness or modesty that kept her from publishing; it was a fierce constancy to her vision of the page.””

A. E. Stallings on Dylan

Song has been divorced from poetry for a long time, at least in the English-speaking world. I think that is to the impoverishment of poetry. There is the Shakespeare of dramatic blank verse, for instance, and the Shakespeare of the sonnets, but there is also the Shakespeare of the songs – and it is the songs that perhaps influence literature as much as anything else – lyrics made to be sung, but which we perceive now as words on a page. Songs and poetry were once indistinguishable (Sappho famously is supposed to have invented the Mixolydian mode), and have continued to feed one another: A. E. Housman, for instance, claimed that his influences were the Scottish Border Ballads (folk songs), the songs of Shakespeare and the poet Heinrich Heine (whose poems were themselves often set to music).

Bob Dylan: Song as Poetry

I’ve made a similar argument before, regarding rap lyrics and poetry:

The Common Controversy: Are Popular Song Lyrics Poetry?

Michael Lista on Anne Carson

Among my favorite poetry critics (William Logan, Michael Hofmann, David Orr, Ange Mlinko, and Michael Robbins) perhaps no one can be as cutting as Michael Lista:

Carson is popular because she has given poetry back to the only people who still want it—academically educated poets. Her fame coincided with poetry’s extinction in the wild. Gone was the general readership that Robert Frost, W. H. Auden, and Sylvia Plath once enjoyed. Poetry retreated into fine-arts programs and comparative-literature departments: it now survives only in captivity. In other words, Carson is the poet we deserve. Two hundred years ago, in his preface to the Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth wrote that poetry should cleave “near to the language of men.” Wordsworth’s own verse hums with the mental energy of the ordinary readers who inspired him. In a weird way, Carson may be just as representative of our own time and of her main readers: arts and humanities graduates with more student debt than talent. Carson now produces “texts”—genre-less, amorphous pieces of writing. Her abstruse, down-tuned music is the soundtrack to poetry’s institutionalized life in the twenty-first century.

Michael Lista, Is Anne Carson the First Poet with More Fans than Readers?

Michael Hofmann Reviews New Stevens Bio

A great review teaches me things just reading the book won’t. This one’s a gem, if not positive:

‘[Stevens] was always going to fruit stores to buy things.’ Surely it is here and not in the ponderous, source-laden lectures that we feel Stevens’s life, or at least as much. Similarly, the Adagia that count are less the prim-grim, expectable things like ‘Poetry is the scholar’s art’ or ‘We live in the mind’ or ‘Hermit of poetry’ so much as ‘A poem is a meteor’ or (better) ‘A poem is a pheasant’ or even: ‘Parfait Martinique: coffee mousse, rum on top, a little cream on top of that.’ This is the decadent hero of Huysmans’s A rebours, getting Sri Lanka sent to him by mail, acknowledging ‘the box from Peking’, experiencing the world without leaving home (the index to Stevens’s letters seems to include every major European country). An account of Stevens must be sensual, or it is nothing.

Snap among the WitherlingsMichael Hofmann reviews The Whole Harmonium: The Life of Wallace Stevens by Paul Mariani

Emily Dickinson’s Letters

An article by Thomas Wentworth Higginson, The Atlantic, October 1891, on his correspondence with Dickinson:

But the most curious thing about the letter was the total absence of a signature. It proved, however, that she had written her name on a card, and put it under the shelter of a smaller envelope inclosed in the larger; and even this name was written–as if the shy writer wished to recede as far as possible from view–in pencil, not in ink. The name was Emily Dickinson.


       Thomas Wentworth Higginson

On Reading the Poetry of Emily Dickinson

Emily is a friend you can never get to fully know even though you want to and will keep trying. The ultimate anti-celebrity, she remains largely inscrutable, which in today’s world seems like a perfect aspiration. Write beautifully. Leave people guessing about who you really are. That feels like a good motto.
Shelf life: Sarah Hampson on reading the poetry of Emily Dickinson.

First Trailer for Dickinson Movie Is Out

I really really really hope this movie lives up to my expectations.

The first trailer for the Dickinson biopic “A Quiet Passion” is out: