Sunday, July 31, 2011


I recently returned from "Emily Dickinson Land" where I attended the annual Emily Dickinson International Society conference in Amherst, Massachusetts (thanks to a lovely birthday present from husband Paul).

After unpacking my bag and admiring the wallpaper in my room at the Allen House, I decided walk down Main Street to Emily Dickinson's house.  I hadn't visited in several years.  Eight years ago I took an amazing seminar there as a Mount Holyoke College student.

My excitement grew when I first spotted the house.

I imagined Emily and her huge, shaggy dog, Carlo, traversing this same route on hot summer August afternoons—just like me.

Finally, there it stood.  Just as I remembered it.

I dwell in Possibility -
A fairer House than Prose - 
More numerous of Windows -
Superior - for Doors -

Of Chambers as the Cedars - 
Impregnable of Eye -
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky -

Of Visitors - the fairest -
For Occupation - This -
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise - 

I strolled around the grounds and admired some of the flowers in "Emily's garden."

          Perhaps you'd like to buy a flower,
But I could never sell -
If you would like to borrow, 
Until the Daffodil!

Unties her yellow bonnet
Beneath the village door,
Until the Bees, from Clover rows
Their Hock, and sherry, draw,

Why, I will lend until just then,
But not an hour more!

I wandered down the path "just wide enough for two who love," that led next door to the Evergreens—the house where Emily's brother, Austin, and his family lived.  

Ah, the stories the Evergreens can tell (subject of another blog)

The next day the conference began in the Alumni House at Amherst College.  Scholars and Emily Dickinson enthusiasts from all over the world engaged in debates on topics ranging from "What do Dickinson's Dashes Signify?" to "Why Didn't Dickinson Publish?"  It was all quite civilized, though the "Emily passion" was palpable throughout the room.

I made some new friends and was reunited with old ones.

I met the delightful Heather Cole who is Assistant Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts at Harvard's Houghton Library.  She told me that she had explored antique shops for old books when she was a child, so her course in life was set early.  I confessed to Heather that the one time I tried to read Edward Dickinson's letters at her library I couldn't make sense of his scrawly handwriting.  She assured me that learning to transcribe those old letters can be similar to learning a foreign language.
Laurel Langdon, an operating room nurse who lives in Connecticut, wowed us with her knowledge of nineteenth century American literary figures.  From the Peabody sisters to Louisa May Alcott, Laurel, who reads extensively, always had something insightful to say.  Plus, she was loads of fun!

I met two wonderful authors.  Burleigh Muten is a kindergarten teacher and the author of books for both children and adults.   It was exciting to hear about her intriguing new Emily Dickson book (a middle grade novel written in verse) that will be published by Candlewick Press in 2013.  Burleigh is a thoughtful, elegant woman.  I really enjoyed meeting her.

Barbara Dana is an award-winning writer and actor.  In fact,  she is currently playing Emily in The Belle of Amherst, (with Julie Harris's blessing).  Her newest book A Voice of Her Own: Becoming Emily Dickinson is the result of eleven years of research and received numerous accolades including a starred review in Kirkus Review.  I found Barbara to be friendly and accessible. Although her many accomplishments could be described as glamorous, she is modest.  Now, that's an irresistible combination.
Burleigh and Barbara with me
It was wonderful to see Jane Wald and Cindy Dickinson.  When I spent a semester archiving material at the Evergreens I discovered petrified mice in an old box.  I screeched and Jane (who is the Executive Director of the Emily Dickinson Museum) pulled on gloves and calmly removed the offensive rodents.  Wow!
Jane, the fearless, with me

Cindy Dickinson, who is Director of Interpretation and Programming at the Museum, and no relation to Emily (although the poet would have loved to have this fabulous woman in her family) baked me my first Emily Dickinson gingerbread.

Cindy and me on the Evergreen steps

Last, but not least, I was reunited with my friend Martha Ackmann.  Martha, as president of the EDIS, was in charge of this year's conference along with Jane Wald.  She is a talented writer, journalist, speaker, and professor.  In fact, my life was changed after attending her Emily Dickinson Seminar at the Homestead when I was a student at Mount Holyoke.  If it wasn't for Martha, my picture book Emily and Carlo (Charlesbridge) might have never been written.  I can't wait to give her a copy when it's published  next January!
Thank you, Martha!
P.S. Had to add—there was a marvelous banquet Friday night (dessert was Emily Dickinson's delicious coconut cake).  I got to meet Holland Cotter, winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for criticism and art for the New York Times. He presented an eloquent, inspiring keynote speech on "Taking Emily Seriously."  I urge you to read this evocative 2010 tribute from Mr. Cotter, "My Hero, the Outlaw of Amherst."

1 comment:

  1. A beautiful home. Did you find yourself inspired to write poetry in her garden? Thank you for the tour and commentary!