Sunday, May 16, 2010

For Emily Wherever I May Find Her

Just a quick post tonight, back from a daytrip to the New York Botanic Garden to see the Emily Dickinson's Garden exhibition. It was a glorious day for such an excursion, and fun to fly down the Taconic. This sort of staged recreation isn't strictly speaking my thing, but I seem to be on such an Emily Dickinson roll these days that I felt that I would regret if I didn't see it (the exhibit runs to June 13). And I decided to be very magnanimous-spirited about it. After all I keep imagining ED, and just read Jerome Charyn's novel where he did - so why not imagine & recreate her garden as an homage? I wonder what she herself would have made of all the fanfare in her name. D and I joked around as we waited in a long line of cars to get into the parking lot. ED would write a brief, incredulous poem with the line, "Say What?" We imagined Charlie Rose saying reverentially, "Emily Dickinson - for the hour." We imagined a Hollywood biopic, ED played by Julia Roberts, and then I thought Lily Taylor, and D thought, no the actress who was in Million Dollar Baby, and we couldn't think of her name until hours later, on the drive back, when Jonathan Schwartz on WNYC played a torch song sung by Hillary Cole. Except that we both could have sworn he'd said Hillary Clinton - which was funny to think of her singing a song along the lines of Why the Hell Did I Have to Fall For You You Big Cheatin' Liar (the lyrics & stylings were very elegant but that was the gist). And then D said: "Hillary Swank." Of course!

Another offbeat little piece of ED reimagining: on the lawn was a staging of excerpts of a ballet based on her life. Yes, ballet (!) with original music based on sheet music found in the Dickinson homestead, voiceovers of excerpts from her letters, and dancing performed by willowy young teens. It was really very sweet. Not normally anywhere near my cup of tea... but when in Rome. It was nice to sit in an audience on the lawn in the sun and regard maidens dressed in frocks the colors of jordan almonds wave their arms about in unison, pretend to pick posies, put graceful arms around one another, not steal a kiss... Oddly relaxing, this chaste pantomime. Too much for some of the cellphone set and we too left before the end (not that it mattered, the crowd milled about, coming & going). I noticed that little children were absolutely enthralled by the performance - the spirit of the thing. What a muse Emily Dickinson has turned out to be, inspiring others' creative imaginings and eliciting engaged responses.


  1. Lovely blog post - and we linked to it on our new facebook page for "The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson" - especially enjoyed the adorable entry in the guest book!

  2. Thanks for your comment and link and I'm glad to know of your facebook page. (I would leave my comment there but don't have an account.)

    Am sorry to belatedly learn that Mr. Charyn will be at NYBG on June 5 - had I known I would have planned my visit for then! Oh well. Like some of your commenters, I too now wish to visit her homestead in Amherst. I wonder if Mr. Charyn might have any plans to give a talk there. I think it would be fascinating to see the place through his eyes - though in a way I have this morning, as I read his essay on the Powells book site, including his wonderful description of how he responded to communing in her room.

    Also enjoyed the video you posted. I greatly appreciate Mr. Charyn's astute grasp and acceptance of ED's essential complexity. A central problematic that she had to work out was the "queerness" of being different, of being outside a culture that did not understand her. And work it out she did, as reflected not only in her poetry and letters but indeed in every expressive aspect of her life, e.g., her white dress, her proffering of daylilies, her declining to come downstairs for visitors, etc. She was an artist and self-creative in every respect, it seems to me.

    Emily Dickinson as Muse certainly selected her own society when from an ample nation (and reaching even across the pond) she chose Mr. Charyn. With Mr. Charyn I think also of Flaubert - "Emily Dickinson - c'est moi.”

    Thanks again for your comment, and for stopping by.