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What Makes a Dickinson Poem “Dickinsonian”?

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What are the characteristics, qualities of her writing that readers might consider "Dickinsonian"? What of her syntax, techniques, textual choreographies seem to be markedly HERS, unique?

We are hearing about the defining energy, electrical aspect of her poetry, and as readers how we are being "man-handled," how she is a poet of difference about whom we can never be indifferent. . . how we respond to her enthusiasm with our enthusiasm. Each speaker refers to and builds on the language and insights of the others, a fresh sense of appreciation for what she achieves, and what our reading community achieves.

The audience responds. A poet who writes on Dickinson is quoted, who says, she is as "demure as dynamite." People cite and quote not only Dickinson and poets who write about Dickinson but the scholars in this room, keeping those equally engaged and joyous works alive and fresh.

I am thinking of e.e. cummings' sonnet, "i who have died am alive again today." This "i" here is Dickinson, with the agency of this conference, and our scholars, and everyone who has inspired our reading of her work, and me, listening and finding new insights about Dickinson, who is inexhaustible, increasingly generative of thought the more we read and hear and engage about her work.

Chris Benfey has pointed out that while we think of Dickinson as unique, we are also always discovering that she's very much part of nineteenth century American culture. And he reminds us of the extraordinary experience of a Dickinson poem.

Theo Davis wonders why we need the term "Dickinsonian." She muses about not quite understanding, about not quite grasping her meanings.

Antoine Cazé is talking about the engagement of the reader, and loves the terms "invite" and "elude." The tension between inviting in and eluding is akin to traveling to a foreign country.

Suzanne Juhasz says that the first thing that came into her mind was "surprise." Dickinson is constantly surprising readers, and in certain special ways that make one enthusiastic. Surprise -- an unexpected encounter, a gift. What is surprising -- a short phrase that changes everything, that destabilizes; you think you are reading a poem about one subject, and then you find the poem is about another subject, and then you wonder what are the relationships between those subjects; words that you really don't understand at all; new poems that surprise you in that you never noticed them before.

We are listening to earnest joyousness of readers of poetry, engaged in an enlivening discussion that shows why poetry makes the mind sing. Distinguished scholars are putting their hands to their faces, laughing, utterly absorbed, modeling the experience of reading a poem and having it mean so much to the human spirit. It is a mind's feast, of generous sharing with each other, a circus, a festival. It is redemptive of humanity--in spite of all that we do to each other and our earth, this, too, the honoring and respecting of people who think about our world, and rise to the gift of consciousness.

Oh YES! A circus, a festival, the restorative joy of reading Dickinson. Ah. . .the Sea, the sea of intellectual, poetic glee!

When we join the community of a conference, we listen to what is said through the lens of open and alive and enjoying minds that enlarge Possibility. I think the flag of the Emily Dickinson International Society should be the word Possibility, but we need an image of something that invokes our common sense of uncommon joy in reading and thinking responsively to what one person wrote. It makes me think that even as we each work alone, in writing or reading, we never are alone; we are always in company. To find someone one loves to read, ensures that one's life journey is in good company. That is what we are experiencing now.

Benfey is talking about Dickinson's concision (Vendler's characterization), and imagining her twitter feed. One thing they are all pointing out is her connectedness. . . .very important for a writer who's perhaps best known for her supposed isolation.

That would be indifference. Readers cannot be indifferent when engaging Dickinson's writings. . . .

Her poetry grabs us. There's an electrical current in reading her.

There are just as many people who don't get the electrical charge, who aren't grabbed. What do we make of the readers for whom Dickinson falls flat?

Reading her is like falling in love for those who love her. Not everyone falls in love. . . .

"Enthused Reflection"-- Jed Deppman's phrase--is what we've had thanks to Dickinson