Jason Schneiderman for Word for Word Poetry, June 19, 2012
Featuring an Emily Dickinson Program
Word for Word’s tribute to Emily Dickinson pushed back against the idea of the beloved poet as the reclusive belle of Amherst, and instead presented the rapt audience with an active, engaged, and sensual Emily Dickinson.
The evening began and ended with lyric soprano Marsha Andrews performing song settings of Emily Dickinson’s poems to the accompaniment of Shirley Anne Seguin on the piano. The settings were remarkably varied, ranging from amusingly staccato to sweeping and dolorous. The music took different approaches to Dickinson’s work, sometimes letting the syntax of the poems guide the music, while other times the music made the words hard to hear. The virtuosity of Andrew's singing filled the park with Dickinson's words, beautifully carried on her voice.
Daniela Gioseffi, a significant poet and Dickinson scholar, gave a rousing biographical sketch of Dickinson. She described the ways in which Dickinson had deep friendships and correspondences with many of the most important thinkers of her day, particularly with Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Higginson is often thought of as having kept Dickinson from publishing, but Gioseffi told the audience that he actually considered her a genius, and that the decision not to publish was Dickinson’s. Dickinson poetry engaged politics and current events, and Gioseffi pointed out the new developments in science and philosophy that influenced Dickinson.
Lee Briccetti focused on her personal connection to Dickinson’s poetry, particularly focusing on the Dickinson as a poet of trauma. Having lived blocks away from ground zero, Dickinson’s poems helped her in the wake of 9-11. Briccetti marveled at Dickinson’s understanding of trauma while taking comfort in it, and being led forward to write her own poems. Briccetti stressed the idea of being an amateur (rather than a scholarly or professional) lover of Dickinson, emphasizing the root of “amateur” being love.
The readers and performers put themselves in conversation with Dickinson. The poets read both Dickinson’s poems and their own poems inspired by Dickinson. We heard Dickinson poems that were by turns funny, elegiac, clever, mournful, and ecstatic. Susan Howe famously titled her exploration of Dickinson’s work My Emily Dickinson. Tonight we saw many Emily Dickinsons, and all of them were stunning.
Jason Schneiderman is the author of Sublimation Point (Four Way Books) and Striking Surface (Ashland Poetry Press). His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including American Poetry Review, The Best American Poetry, Grand Street, Bloom, Court Green, The Penguin Book of the Sonnet, The Story Quarterly, the Virginia Quarterly Review and Tin House among other publications. Jason has received fellowships from Yaddo, The Fine Arts Work Center, and The Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference. He was the recipient of the Emily Dickinson Award from The Poetry Society in 2004. A graduate of the MFA program at NYU, he is currently completing his doctorate at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.