…but its would-be cartographers are legion, if you ask me.
At any rate, via poems.com, I came across James Longenbach’s Nation review of Lyndall Gordon’s Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and her Family’s Feuds earlier today. I was put off a bit by the royal assumption within its opening (“We don’t reread great novels or poems because we can’t remember the story; we reread because we want to feel our familiar world becoming strange again”), but I like the incarnation of Dickinson that Longenbach says that Gordon presents, in descriptions such as
Emily Dickinson was an extraordinarily powerful woman, an artist who was intimidated by nothing—the opposite of a fear-driven recluse, the opposite of the lovelorn spinster that some of her family members were driven to concoct for the world. … The great virtue of Gordon’s biography is that it makes Dickinson the person—sister, friend, seducer, adversary—seem as scary as her poems.
The people to whom Dickinson was most closely related or most passionately attracted were rampant, larger-than-life figures, and as Gordon demonstrates, “Emily was not an oddity amongst them.”
A variety of factors may well have determined Dickinson’s decision to seclude herself, but to champion illness as the single most determining factor is to disregard what is otherwise so bracing about Lives Like Loaded Guns: its portrayal of Emily Dickinson as an artist who was, during her lifetime, the victim of nothing.
I don’t know when I’ll get to this book — or whether I’ll agree with either Longenbach or Gordon once I do — but Longenbach’s writeup definitely makes me more inclined to seek it out than before.
Publications since I last posted here include:
“the hem of my dress….” tinywords, 16 June 2010.
“snatched by the wind…” tinywords, 11 June 2010.
“Schrodinger plus Descartes….” microcosms, 16 June 2010
…and I do intend to resume building and revising longer poems later in the summer or fall, but right now other exigencies keep hopping to the front of the queue. It happens:
Gam zeh ya’avor
The only way you’ll find happiness
is to know what you want
when it is already yours
and to know
after it is no longer yours
that it isn’t the only way you’ll find happiness.
(originally written for Joanne Merriam’s Ampersand Project, January 2003)