A memorial ... to the Amherst Men Who in Two Great Wars Gallantly Responded to their Country's Call
Henry Ward Beecher, Class of 1834
Gradually shadows lengthened, evening gathered, and from time to time formations of wild geese, plaintively honking, flew overhead in single black vees silhouetted against the sky. I still had twenty minutes before it was time to venture to the hall where the soiree was to take place. I sat on a low wall in the gloaming, bundled up but the air cold on my face, and hoped my skin wouldn't become mottled as a result. So I placed my gloved hands up to my cheeks for warmth. And then finally it was five to five, and into the aptly-named, brightly lit, welcoming Valentine Hall I went...
I had a wonderful time. Really wonderful. I missed you, and yet I was completely fine by myself. (It was in the disordered peripheries - the travel, the motel - of the Trip to the Moon that I felt acutely alone & a bit anxious (too much in my own head) - but certainly not at the event itself.)
Darling, just so that I can get these comments down already I will pretend that you & and I are there together... There was quite an attendance... perhaps a hundred or more, all attractively dressed and smiling for the festive imaginative occasion. I recognized Lenore & Jerome right away, chatting away with fans & well-wishers. To my mind, they were the hosts of the event - certainly the 'King & Queen,' not that I'm such a huge fan of such formulations - because L & J aren't narcissists - but without them, this beautiful event would never have transpired. I was very eager at long last to meet Lenore, and - since she was meeting & greeting friends & wellwishers - I had to wait a bit... she saw my nametag, her eyes widened in name-recognition, and when the right moment arrived she threw her arms around me & I the same - and thus we introduced ourselves to each other!
I was way too shy to go up to Mr. Charyn - Jerome - but was glad to see him, recognize him from numerous images I've seen of him - he has an energetic air (I think, reflecting back on my first impressions of observing him) - a bit reminiscent, perhaps, of a prize fighter working off excess energy in preparation for a fight (well, he did say, later, apropos of that, that he looked forward to the Q&A - and that he's good at counterpunches). Only this prize fighter was dressed in a corduroy jacket, shirt & tie... But fit and at the ready -- oh my yes.
Ah, so there was time - darling - before Jerome was due to speak - and so I was in heaven with the elegant, delectable spread that had been furnished for the enjoyment of this congenial crowd assembled for the most improbable of birthday celebrations. Darling - there was my favorite - an impressive array of artisanal cheeses from regional, evocatively-named farms (I wish I'd taken notes) - pristine redolent selections of camembert, goat cheese, cheddar, and a triangle of mottled Blue... from a bouquet of New England farm states - Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts... oh and nifty crackers.
Dearest - I partook quite a bit - dressed elegantly as I was I figured I could get away with it - what an appetite for such delectables I have...
And then came waitstaff circling throughout the convivially buzzing room, proffering platters of warm bite-size savories -- gorgonzola & pear tucked in puff pastry; tiny beef tarts...
Enough swooning over cheese! Time to take our seats - oh yes, there was a lovely bar too, with waitstaff pouring wine... So we have our glasses of white wine darling, and we sit together, and someone makes an introductory speech and then finally Jerome Charyn speaks
I took copious notes of what he said ... I glance at the unfolded pages now...
E.D.'s whole world was
framed by what she
saw thru one particular
window in her house
She was too intelligent for her time -
and on top of that - an intelligent woman
there was nowhere for her intelligence to go
Jerome referred to the swift, violent movement from image to image in her poetry - she cuts off your head [as with a sword, I thought]
He gave a beautiful account of how he, in his boyhood, had encountered a poem of E.D., in an anthology, a book, one of many that on an unsteady shelf in a South Bronx school library, came raining down on him, pummeling his head...
Success is counted sweetest - to those who never succeed - were the words that struck him, this young boy in hostile urban wilds, as kind, sober, and understanding, and as speaking directly to him--
There was a clever conceit where, in the Q&A, members of the audience stood, donned photographed masks of eminent personages in E.D.'s biography -- her father, mother, sister, brother -- and who registered, in declamatory fashion their dissatisfaction as to something in Charyn's novel that they, as fictionalized personages, had taken umbrage to -
And so E.D.'s father, Edward, thundered, challenging our prizefighter, who paced at the proscenium, listened carefully, nodded, and rejoindered, in full voice, resoundingly ...
Well, Mr. Dickinson, the more I think about you - the less I think of you, who compared your son Austin to Shakespeare - all the while oblivious to the fact that one of America's greatest poets was living right under your roof
Someone at the Q&A asked if E.D. was "solipsistic" --
Jerome parried this notion with what I too acutely believe -
that if she were solipsistic - she wouldn't be able to reach us -- her music
this is me now, talking -
there's always in our culture this hostility, really, towards true artists -
if they, of necessity, remove themselves from the world, or find the world counter to their interior rhythms - out hurl the accusations - which was particularly interesting to hear in the context of a gathering right on the college campus in whose shadow & whose air E.D. herself had breathed --- I myself discerned (100-140 miles from possibly more congenial zipcodes) a peculiarly arms-length sniffy backhanded distaste for the "artistic" --
it's interesting - preservation of the artifacts of a poet
is very different from appreciation of the poet herself (whom we can never really know) - but who sui generis as she is, is not SO unique
the artist is always at odds with Tradition, and with the comme il faut
Darling, it's been such a temptation to try to set it all down tonight -- but I will stop at this point...
Very many kisses, dearest you, darling...