The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Reading Between the Lines: A Q&A with Emily Dickinson Museum

Amherst, MA

Artist Spencer Finch creates an installation as part of a residency at the Emily Dickinson Museum. The theater gels he attaches to the window shine colors onto a replica of Emily Dickinson's white dress. Photo courtesy of The Emily Dickinson Museum, Amherst, Mass.

To hear that the Emily Dickinson Museum has chosen to focus on Dickinson?s poetry for their 2011 Big Read is no surprise. But the museum has embraced this opportunity to create new and different ways for its community to connect with the author who spent her life in Amherst. Among their activities included hosting a residency with Brooklyn-based artist Spencer Finch. During his residency, Finch twice visited an English class at Amherst Regional High School, where students came up with the title for his exhibit at the museum: Between the light ? and me, taken from Emily Dickinson?s poem ?I heard a Fly buzz.? Exploring the idea of perception, Finch created an installation named "Shade" in one of the windows of the Homestead, Dickinson?s home. For more about this project and the Emily Dickinson Museum?s other Big Read activities, we spoke with Cynthia Dickinson, the museum?s Director of Interpretation and Programming.

NEA: How does The Big Read align with the work you are already doing to bring attention to Emily Dickinson?s life and work?

CYNTHIA DICKINSON: As the Emily Dickinson Museum, just about all of our programs bring attention to Emily Dickinson?s life and work. The Big Read has allowed us to focus on a particular audience---our local community---and to think about creative ways to engage that community with the life and work of a poet whom they may take for granted.

NEA: What has been your community?s reaction to The Big Read?

DICKINSON: The community?s reaction has been positive. In particular, we have received good anecdotal feedback about Poems Around Town, a project in which we placed 15 Dickinson poems in businesses and civic organizations in downtown Amherst.

NEA: What Big Read event were you most looking forward to?

DICKINSON: I was most looking forward to our Poems Around Town project and to the Spencer Finch residency. The idea of placing Dickinson?s poems in unexpected places really appealed to me and seems to meet The Big Read?s goal of encouraging non-poetry readers to come in contact with poetry. Working with the artist Spencer Finch in the classroom at our local high school as well as in Dickinson?s own house gave all of us the chance to see how a creative artist is inspired and buoyed by the work of a predecessor.

Poems Around Town project. Photo courtesy of The Emily Dickinson Museum, Amherst, Mass.

NEA: Emily Dickinson is one of three poets to be featured as part of The Big Read. Why do you feel her poetry continues to be relevant today?

DICKINSON: Her poetry is relevant---and popular---today because she wrote about timeless aspects of the human condition and in a style that requires her readers to do a little thinking. Dickinson?s poetry is precise yet ambiguous, descriptive yet abstract, concise yet endlessly open to possibilities of understanding.

NEA: Any last words?

DICKINSON: We?ll let Dickinson have the last word:

A word is dead, when it is said
Some say -
I say it just begins to live
That day

--Emily Dickinson, ca. 1862 (Fr 278)

Emily Dickinson Museum?s Big Read continues through May 17. Spencer Finch?s installation "Shade," along with six works on paper that reveal more about his focus on perception, is on view at the museum through May 21 on guided tours. Go to the museum?s website for more details. For more on Emily Dickinson?s poetry, visit The Big Read website.

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