Friday, May 30, 2008

Poetry Friday : An informal survey involving Emily Dickinson, a niece and a phone call


When I say the following name, what do you think of?

Emily Dickinson.

What was the first thing that popped into your head?

If you're me, it was "poet."

If you're my niece, it was "recluse."

If you're my sister-in-law, you'd call me up and ask me to answer your impromptu survey, and then you'd have far too much tact to use my answer against your own daughter. You'd never say something like, "Aha! See? Most people are going to think of her as a poet before they think of her as a recluse." Instead, you'd go about your business and let your daughter write her literature night presentation any way she wanted. Because you are a tactful and kind mother. But, you also are a curious sort and thus the informal survey. Because it's just nice to know.

And, getting back to me, being a curious sort myself, I had to ask others, too.

Ramona's answer: A poet

Betsy: A book (as in "There is no frigate like a ....")

Anne-with-an-e: A robin's nest (as in "If I can help one fainting robin unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain.")

Atticus: Tapioca.

Okay, so he was kidding. His real first thought was: Poet.

And, one other sister-in-law (I've got plenty of 'em) was asked to weigh in by the original mom in question. Her answer? Bees.


My informal analysis of the survey results is that if one is a fan of a particular Dickinson poem, or a particularly Dickinsonian theme, one will answer accordingly with the poem or theme. If one has too many favorites to name (or, if one is five years old), one will respond "poet" and will be shocked -- shocked, I tell you -- should anyone respond differently at the mention of our dear Emily's name. If one is wanting the rest of us to mind our own business, write our own presentations, thank-you-very-much, and stop bothering her, one is my niece.

Which one are you?

In closing, I'll include a Dickinson selection that seems fitting to all of the above, and especially to my niece, who was admirably unmoved by her mother's plea to reconsider and present Emily as poet first, recluse second. (My niece closed the valves of her attention on that one.) And now, my only wish is that I'd been able to see the presentation, which, alas, was far away in another state (literally, not figuratively.)

The Soul Selects Her Own Society

The soul selects her own society,
Then shuts the door;
On her divine majority
Obtrude no more.

Unmoved, she notes the chariot's pausing
At her low gate;
Unmoved, an emperor is kneeling
Upon her mat.

I've known her from an ample nation
Choose one;
Then close the valves of her attention
Like stone.

Poetry Friday is being hosted today at Wild Rose Reader.


Anonymous said...

I think "soft cherubic creatures" pops into my mind first when I hear Emily mentioned. But I have many favorites.

Interesting question: poet first, or recluse first? In my mind the two are Siamese twins...

Anonymous said...

Ha! The very first thought that popped into my head was "death."
I guess I'm a theme person.

jama said...

Poet and recluse came to me simultaneously!

Margaret in Minnesota said...

The first thing that popped into my head was an image, not a word--the photo of her looking rather severe, with her hair pulled back tightly into a bun.

I like "tapioca" better!

PS. Tell the girls that The Mouse of Amherst arrived in the mail yesterday, as per their recommendation. :)

Andromeda Jazmon said...

I thought of being outside. That and scribbles on scraps of paper. Two of my favorite things!

Sally Thomas said...

Wild night -- wild nights-- were I with thee/Wild nights should be --our luxury/Futile the wind -- to a heart in port/Done with the compass -- done with the chart/Rowing in Eden-- Ah -- the sea/Might I but moor tonight in thee.

That, and "cupola."

Sara said...

This may sound strange, but I thought of the shape her poems make on the page. I realized that I was straining, in my mind's eye, to see which poem I was visualizing, and I couldn't, but I clearly saw it as one of hers: structured by her unique dashes, measured use of Capitalization, and compact imagery. answer's not POET, but POEM. :)

sarah said...

Actually, the one word I come up with is "survivor." But then, I have Theories about Emily.

Beck said...

I made an Emily DIckinson doll once. I should dig her out.

Mary Lee said...

I'm in with POET, but FEATHERS is a close second.

Your post cracks me up! Go, niece! Close the valves of your attention and give your audience YOUR Emily Dickinson!