Friday, January 9, 2015

I Keep Learning from Emily

One of the treasures under my Christmas tree this year was The Gorgeous Nothings—a facsimile publication of poems and fragments of poems that Emily Dickinson wrote on envelopes. They are photographed and reproduced so clearly that I have to resist picking them up off the page. It feels as if I’m looking over her shoulder as she writes on that tiny table in the upstairs room in Amherst.

In the many times I have visited her home, I am most fascinated by this very small table by the window where she wrote--the surface of which is as sparse as her poems.

When I sit down to write, I like space to spread out, reference books close at hand, fresh paper  and ink in the printer. I like the room at a comfortable temperature—not too cold in the winter, not too hot in the summer. I like a beverage nearby—usually either herbal tea or diet soda. I like it quiet, silent really. I like it well lit, both with the overhead light and the desk lamp lit. When all that is in place, I may write something worthy of being worked into a poem. She sat at a table not much larger than my laptop and wrote magnificence.

In this book I see scraps that she turned into wonder.  Envelopes I would throw into the recycling bin without a second thought she saw as an opportunity to explore the world. Thumbing through this book, I am reminded of a former student.

When I was teaching poetry, I asked my students to keep a daily journal, encouraging them to use it as a place to write down any fragments of inspiration that came to them, and any poems that might come from that. Most students used spiral notebooks or loose leaf binders, all except one. Bob had an after school job in a stock room where there were lulls between his responsibilities, so he used that time to write. His “journal” was a collection of packing slips, register receipts, and any other scrap of paper he could find to write on. More often than not, it was in these “nothings” that I saw some of the best work from my students.

Bob and Emily understood something I am still learning—where you write and on what you write is less important that that you write. The muse can be distracted by concerns about furniture and paper stock.