Friday, March 19, 2010


The New York Review of Books arrived in the mail today. In it is a review, by Joyce Carol Oates, of The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, by Jerome Charyn, a novel wholly imagined and written in the poet's voice.
It may even have been that, in the tradition of (male) poetry, Emily Dickinson employed her "Master" as a sort of muse: a scaffolding of sorts for her art... There is considerable pathos... in Charyn's clearly sympathetic and warmly imagined tracking of his subject's doomed attempt to thwart her destiny--to escape her father's house and, as if incidentally, to escape the very circumstances that made her "Snow"--her brilliant poetry--possible... It's as if all art is but a strategy to "invent" a bearable life, as Charyn's Dickinson suggests in this elegiac passage late in the novel:
I would suffer each time Circus season arrived... The nearness of my blond Assassin intoxicated me, and I wasn't even sure that Tom was a renegade clown in the Circus. But that was the disease of Miss Emily Dickinson. I had to invent what I could not ascertain--no, did not want to ascertain. I was the voluptuary who lived on the thinnest air, who survived and conquered through invention alone.

Give It To Me Baby (I Want to Ascertain)
If I am the spirit of Emily Dickinson
reincarnated, then I sincerely apologize for
having dragged you into the same unrequited hell
that you sought to escape. Is to write to
invent a bearable life? That's how
I got through August. But this
purgatory of hint and delusion is
hardly bearable at all. What is
the point of a fallen angel?
If I was made to love, that
that's all I want, why should that
be denied? People hook up and
breed all over the place. Some
even have happy marriages.
I can't get you out of my mind.
It's a shame we ain't lovers.
So many songs on that theme.
I should probably shut the radio off.
Look, I'll write a poem and transcend.
But lay some of those fine kisses on me too.

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