Thinking back on my days as an undergraduate English major at the University of Toledo, I look fondly at my enthusiasm at how much poetry I was being exposed to at the time. Course requirements for my degree included classes on Shakespeare, John Donne, all the romantics, as well as post-World War II American writers. But the poet that always stuck out in my mind was the quiet and secluded giant of the American literary landscape during the Victorian era of the Romanticism movement here in America.
Who is Emily Dickson? That is the question that has been on my mind as of late and one that seems relevant in my own exploration of the short burst of prose that I find myself so drawn to, especially in regards to my own pastiche methods of writing poems.
As I find myself drawn into the WordPress.com (emphasis mine) community, it slowly dawns on me that while most modern poets have gone extreme in their use of what I guess is the professional voice, the true heritage of who Emily was can be found in the silent publications of poets drawn to the sincerity of expression that Emily has become so famous for using.
A beauty of seclusion
While Emily is generally viewed with fond memories as a powerhouse of the genre by most high school students, she was really rather unknown in her own time, most famously being for the most part unpublished during her own lifetime.
Much has been written of her private seclusion in her mother’s house and her famous rejection at the time as a poet, having written to publishers seeking their approval but only finding shrugs at what was probably an unidentifiable form that really hadn’t been read before.
You see, Emily never really conformed to the code of poetry during her day and generally was ahead of her time in use of her idiosyncratic hyphens as musical notations and dare I say breath of pause in what must have been her own attempts at capturing her natural speaking voice.
But much of this gets lost on modern readers who know only her greatest hits and really have never explored her work to great depths. Because if you really take time to get to know her work, most famously collected in her complete volume of works in the 1920s, you’ll know that much of what was written was rather plain in language as well as abrief in expression.
A punk rock poet of her day
Emily never conformed to modern standards. She seemed rather callous towards the modern publishing industry of her day, something I find myself equally drawn to in my own time and something I suspect is felt by other WordPress poets.
She most recognizably described her own colleague’s pursuit of fame as a rather “fickle” affair, expressed in what is definitely one of my favorite poems by her.
And while she definitely seemed to turn her nose at the giants of her own time, she quietly and professionally kept writing her own weird and expressive little poems her whole adult life.
She was known to have written most of her works on ledger paper and bound by craft string in what must have been silly crafts books by a bored housewife. And while most of the men of her time, most definitely of my time, would have sneered at such feminine affairs, they famously were found by her sister after her death and quickly sent off to a publisher where they became popular with American audiences of the time.
Why she matters
I bring this up because the more I read modern writers on this platform, the more I see Emily’s heritage found in the short and I guess “unprofessional” poems written by high school students, would be poets, and if you’re like me, unemployed English grads dying to find an audience for their works.
Take for instance the poet Bianta B, a personal favorite of mine who writes what are rather quaint and very sincere expressions of emotion that feel tapped right out of the vein of Emily’s own heart.
A recent poem of hers is called “Opportunity” and is quoted below. Look at it and tell me what you think as you hear Emily’s own tortured emotions expressed in what is definitely a modern feminine voice that shares Emily’s own sense of quaint and quiet reflections.
Love has likely
passed me by
I have likely spent
the time idling by
The poem is definitely deceptively simple and of possession of no academic pretensions nor attempt at pleasing an audience begging for more of her voice. And yet I find that in the modern publishing mill that is the poetry lit scene in academia, Biata’s work would be frowned upon and deemed silly as if written by an amateur.
I beg to differ. Bianta’s work feels personal and like the sharing of a thought of a woman who has spent too much time reflecting on her own loves and losses and seen her experience for what it is, which is merely the passing of a thought.
And while her language comes off as simple and dare-I-say pastiche, there is a welcome originality in her expression of what I fondly look at as the introverted American woman’s thoughts. A rare find indeed!
To be honest I could gush about Biata’s work for pages but the real of the beauty of her work is simply the pleasure of hearing her words in my head as I read the prose and perhaps more fittingly–“verse”–that is so lacking in modern poetry. Her beauty can be seen by her use of quaint vocabulary and intimate expression captured in her own little stanzas. I dare modern poets to achieve what she is so capable of expressing in so little of space!
Why I care so much
I guess what I’m getting at is that while many people complain that modern poetry is dead and that their work was never be relegated to I guess the status of Gods, there is a silent majority here on WordPress submitting their hearts to the digital page who may very well never get published in a professional article or magazine but whose work will definitely live on in the hearts and minds of readers begging for something that isn’t so much unique as it is honest.
Which is exactly what Emily was. She didn’t try to emulate the works of others or intimate the styles of classics or that of her peers unless you read her very very early works which were probably attempts at finding her own voice if anything.
And while her own importance and distinction were lost on a group of peers who were most notably white men and lacking anything nearly as expressive as that of the thought of a quiet American woman, her work lives on despite the odds.
Which is what I suspect is going to happen with a lot of WordPress writers. Their work may be looked at as amateurish and described with ever scorning buzzwords such as “Internet poets” but one day their recognition will come. Because if there is anything I have learned, it is that simply keeping up the Jones’s may help build out your CV and dare I say professional resume, but will never carry you to the realms of the spiritual and emotional giants that get read in lit classes across university campuses and preserved in prestigious collections of famous poets.
God bless the small giants that are the WordPress poets because one day their recognition will come. I know because Emily would have been drowned in their own sea.