Dickinson Unbound: Paper, Process, Poetics

Dickinson Unbound: Paper, Process, Poetics

Dickinson Unbound: Paper, Process, Poetics

Dickinson Unbound: Paper, Process, Poetics

Synopsis

In Dickinson Unbound, Alexandra Socarides takes readers on a journey through the actual steps and stages of Emily Dickinson's creative process. In chapters that deftly balance attention to manuscripts, readings of poems, and a consideration of literary and material culture, Socarides takes up each of the five major stages of Dickinson's writing career: copying poems onto folded sheets of stationery; inserting and embedding poems into correspondence; sewing sheets together to make fascicles; scattering loose sheets; and copying lines on often torn and discarded pieces of household paper. In so doing, Socarides reveals a Dickinsonian poetics starkly different from those regularly narrated by literary history. Here, Dickinson is transformed from an elusive poetic genius whose poems we have interpreted in a vacuum into an author who employed surprising (and, at times, surprisingly conventional) methods to wholly new effect.Dickinson Unboundgives us a Dickinson at once more accessible and more complex than previously imagined. As the first authoritative study of Dickinson's material and compositional methods, this book not only transforms our ways of reading Dickinson, but advocates for a critical methodology that insists on the study of manuscripts, composition, and material culture for poetry of the nineteenth century and thereafter.

Excerpt

This book takes up the question of how Emily Dickinson made her poems, the significance of the materials she used when doing this, and the interpretive possibilities and problems that attention to the details of poetic practice raises for a study of this remarkable writer’s work. While Dickinson’s poems have garnered attention from hundreds of critics since her introduction to a reading public wider than family and friends in 1890, we have yet to understand how she made the very texts that have enraptured, puzzled, frustrated, and elated her readers. Indeed, part of the allure of reading Dickinson is that her poems give the impression that they have not been made—not labored over, not drafted and redrafted, not abandoned and revised. They have, instead, as Thomas Wentworth Higginson put it, been “torn up by the roots, with rain and dew and earth still clinging to them.” Or not. As any poet knows, poems may present themselves as pieces of nature, unshaped by human hands—but this is always a fiction. Instead, poems are made objects, and that making takes place in specific times and specific places, with certain materials on hand that make such a making possible. In this book I will return us to these scenes of making, so that we might better understand the work of America’s seemingly most inaccessible poetic genius.

This book concerns itself with Dickinson’s sites of composition—with the practices she employed in these spaces and with the surfaces on which she executed these practices—in order to investigate the relationship between the way she made her poems and the poems themselves. How I navigate that move from paper to poetics is the topic of this introduction. By “paper” I mean, literally, the materials on which Dickinson copied her poems: sheets of stationery (loose and sewn), leaves of paper (whole, torn, and mangled), letters, envelopes, and scraps of household paper. By “poetics” I mean something in an entirely different register: the way . . .

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