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My Emily Dickinson (1985)

de Susan Howe

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278295,939 (3.91)5
For Wallace Stevens, "Poetry is the scholar's art." Susan Howe--taking poet-scholar-critics Charles Olson, H.D., and William Carlos Williams (among others) as her guides--embodies that art in her 1985 My Emily Dickinson (winner of the Before Columbus Foundation Book Award). Howe shows ways in which earlier scholarship had shortened Dickinson's intellectual reach by ignoring the use to which she put her wide reading. Giving close attention to the well-known poem, "My Life had stood--a Loaded Gun," Howe tracks Dickens, Browning, Emily Brontë, Shakespeare, and Spenser, as well as local Connecticut River Valley histories, Puritan sermons, captivity narratives, and the popular culture of the day. "Dickinson's life was language and a lexicon her landscape....Forcing, abbreviating, pushing, padding, subtracting, riddling, interrogating, re-writing, she pulled text from text...."… (mais)
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Howe's short book is an illuminating take on one of my favorite poets, focusing in particular on a careful reading of "My Life Stood---a Loaded Gun." Howe does an excellent job of showing the poetic and other influences on Dickinson, especially the Brownings, Shakespeare (King Lear in particular), Fenimore Cooper, and Jonathan Edwards. Sometimes, Howe lets her own poetic rhetoric carry her away into near intelligibility, but I simply take that as her excitement and appreciation for what Dickinson was able to do. If you appreciate Dickinson, give this a read. If you are not sure, definitely read this work of one poet reading another. ( )
1 vote dasam | Jul 25, 2017 |
Boy howdy, do I feel like an idiot.

Not one reviewer here says anything along the lines of, "Um, guys – what just happened?"

Not one reader I could find rated it lower than 3 stars – and the vast majority of reviewers give it four or five, and swoon in their reviews.

So I guess it's just me.

I'm the dork who feels as if I stumbled into someone else's drug trip when I thought I was supposed to be reading a book about a poet and her work.

I thought I was reasonably literate (for a civilian), but reading this book felt like having books flung at my head by an invisible assailant.

If you know me, you know I'm all about the Post-Its when I read. And my library copy of My Emily Dickinson is stuck with its fair share – but all the passages I found worth hanging onto are quotations from other people's works.

The only bits I marked that Susan Howe actually wrote are things I wanted to mention here because I disagree with them strenuously. "Dickinson means this to be an ugly verse," Howe says at one point, because apparently being a poet herself means having permission to speak on behalf of a long-dead writer. (Hint: NO.)

And "Elizabeth Barrett Browning...failed as a poet herself."

Excuse me? EBB wrote poems even non-poetry lovers can admire:

If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love's sake only.


Does that sound like the beginning of a failed sonnet?

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote beautifully, and her writing is remembered – people quote her all the time. (She wrote the sonnet that begins, "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.") By any reasonable standard, she did NOT fail as a poet.

So I couldn't keep up with most of Howe's writing here, and I didn't like the few opinions I could understand.

I feel like a weirdo and an idiot; but other than being glad to see some of the quotes Howe passed along from other writers, I did not enjoy this book, nor did I get much out of it.

Back to the library it goes, and on to the next book about Dickinson I go. ( )
2 vote Deborah_Markus | Aug 8, 2015 |
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For Wallace Stevens, "Poetry is the scholar's art." Susan Howe--taking poet-scholar-critics Charles Olson, H.D., and William Carlos Williams (among others) as her guides--embodies that art in her 1985 My Emily Dickinson (winner of the Before Columbus Foundation Book Award). Howe shows ways in which earlier scholarship had shortened Dickinson's intellectual reach by ignoring the use to which she put her wide reading. Giving close attention to the well-known poem, "My Life had stood--a Loaded Gun," Howe tracks Dickens, Browning, Emily Brontë, Shakespeare, and Spenser, as well as local Connecticut River Valley histories, Puritan sermons, captivity narratives, and the popular culture of the day. "Dickinson's life was language and a lexicon her landscape....Forcing, abbreviating, pushing, padding, subtracting, riddling, interrogating, re-writing, she pulled text from text...."

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