Monday, July 5, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 33.6 (Susan Howe)

My Emily Dickinson
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Howe, Susan
My Emily Dickinson

Purchased at Talking Leaves Books. Probably my second most read Susan Howe book.

I read it a long time ago, but it was several years before I actually owned a copy. When I worked at the Segue Foundation in 1996-7, I read the archive copy housed in the basement offices on E 8th St. in NYC. The first time I read it, I hadn't read more than a smattering of Emily Dickinson's poems, so that part of it didn't mean much to me, but I loved the writing and the intensity of the thought.

After having read more Dickinson and after having taken a class or two with Susan Howe, I bought the book several years later and read it again. And again. It's too bad more academic writing doesn't take a cue from this book about how to passionately engage with literature. Let the heart lead and the mind follow it deeper into its engagements.

from My Emily Dickinson

My book is a contradiction of its epigraph.

Emily Dickinson once wrote to Thomas Wentworth Higginson; "Candor--my Preceptor--is the only wile." This is the right way to put it. In his Introduction to In the American Grain [1925], William Carlos Williams said he had tried to rename things seen. I regret the false configuration--under the old misappellation--of Emily Dickinson. But I love his book.

The ambiguous paths of kinship pull me in opposite ways at once.

As a poet I feel closer to Williams' writing about writing, even when he goes haywire in "Jacataqua," than I do to most critical studies of Dickinson's work by professional scholars. When Williams writes: "Never a woman, never a poet.... Never a poet saw sun here," I think that he says one thing and means another. A poet is never just a woman or a man. Every poet is salted with fire. A poet is a mirror, a transcriber. Here "we have salt in ourselves and peace one with the other."

When Thoreau wrote his Introduction to A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, he ended by remembering how he had often stood on the banks of the Musketaquid, or Grass-ground River English settlers had re-named Concord. The Concord's current followed the same law in a system of time and all that is known. He liked to watch this current that was for him an emblem of all progress. Weeds under the surface bent gently downstream shaken by watery wind. Chips, sticks, logs, and even tree stems drifted past. There came a day at the end of the summer or the beginning of autumn, when he resolved to launch a boat from shore and let the river carry him.

Emily Dickinson is my emblematical Concord River.

I am heading toward certain discoveries....

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