Scraps of Genius

I have two recent books that I wish I could pass around to you all: The Gorgeous Nothings and Envelope Poems.  These volumes reproduce in facsimile the bits of Dickinson’s composition that were found on recipes, small pieces of paper, the insides and backs of envelopes, etc.  I will post a few images here for your enjoyment.

Song of mns

Camerados, this is a selfie of me and Whitman taken last week in the National Portrait Gallery, where I had gone to see a special exhibit on Sylvia Plath (a 20th-century confessional poet, a movement that owed much to Uncle Walt’s frankness).  I didn’t have to look like a weirdo in the corner, almost as grizzled as WW himself; I was with a friend who could have taken a better shot.  But my relationship with the poets we are studying is personal and so this seemed more appropriate.  Also, sometimes I feel I can only access Whitman and Dickinson partially as their genius astounds me, so my partial face can symbolize that. Though I have been a Dickinson devotee for many years, it took me into my middle age to love Whitman– I had admired him, but I had to find a less hypermasculine Whitman to really connect, and I did (oddly, given that war is a masculine enterprise, by immersing in his Civil War works).  I can and will fangirl about these two poets. You’re forewarned.

Some things I could venture to say about me:
I am honestly not nearly as nice as people are making me sound on this blog.
I believe literature matters and spend much time thinking about how and why.
I too would rather be in fresh air and I am also a vegetarian.
I would like to like gardening but.
I have two children and three pets.
I overwatch British drama and mystery tv.
I am a Pittsburgher and miss mountains.
I have names for my two imaginary future goats.
I am personally affronted by very hot sunny days.
I have an unusually(?) large collection of literary-themed jewelry and clothing.
I specialize in fruit-based desserts.
I actually do love poetic scansion.
I fixate on the moon.

Welcome to Whitman and Dickinson

You’ve heard of them.  You think you love or hate them. But do you know them?

Even for someone like me who rejects the idea that transcendent creative genius emerges mysteriously and in isolation, it’s hard to account for the experimental, powerful, and unique voices that emerged from these two poets, who are arguably the basis of all American poetry to come. Whitman and Dickinson are often cast in binaries: masculine vs. feminine; epic vs. lyric; brash and publicity-seeking vs. shy and reclusive; political vs. private. These contrasts apply even in their images: he is one of the most photographed people of the 19th century and she avoided the camera, leaving only two known likenesses; he worked in print, typesetting his own manuscripts, and she left thousands of hand-written works, from bound fascicles to lines scrawled on bits of envelope.

But like most binaries, these are fraught and finally unsatisfying.  For both poets also explored the natural world, the relationship between the human and divine, the nature of death, alternative sexualities, violence and grief, and their own roles as poets in a nation painfully forging its own identity. Individually and together, what can these great minds tell us about their world and our own, about the self and about others?  Let’s go.