The Big Read Blog (Archive)


Washington, DC

Great Hall. Detail of cherubs representing the literary genres [Poetry is in the middle holding the scroll] on the Grand staircase by Philip Martiny. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.

February may be the shortest month of the year, but it seems twenty-eight days are more than enough time to publish three ---that's right three!---new books on the Belle of Amherst. (And just for the record, there's another one due out in June.) John Barr, president of the Poetry Foundation, also has a lot to say on Emily Dickinson. From The Big Read audio guide, here's his take on Dickinson's inimitable voice.

Every great poet writes in a voice that is unmistakably his or hers. When we hear the high, tragic diction of Homer or Yeats, or the urgent but colloquial voice of Dante, who speaks to us in The Inferno as if we saw him on the street just yesterday, or the boisterous, almost overly familiar diction of Walt Whitman, we don?t need to know the poet?s name to know who it is speaking. Emily Dickson?s voice is equally unmistakable. We hear it as if it is coming from the next room. It is a contemporary voice---quiet, contemplative, but also passionate. In fact, the voice is slyly provocative. It never plays into our expectations; rather, it uses the unexpected as a principal conversational tactic. The rhymes are there so we know it?s a poem, but they are there sparingly. The rhythms are there, as well, but they are not mechanical, like a metronome. Her poems wear form, but they wear it lightly. They suffer form, but are not beholden to it. 

Learn more about  the work and world of Emily Dickinson on The Big Read website. And don't forget to check out the calendar to find out where there's a Big Read taking place near you.



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