Emily Dickinson at sixteen years, 1846
“PHOSPHORESCENCE. Now there’s a word to lift your hat to… to find that phosphorescence, that light within, that’s the genius behind poetry.” Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson was famously reclusive and wrote 1,775 poems, few of which were published during her lifetime. When her opus was finally published posthumously, it wasn’t well received. Today, however, she is considered one of the most significant of American poets. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson is my favorite collection. The poems are organized chronologically, allowing us to see her development from teen years into the darker poetry of her maturity.
“Nature” is what we see—
The Hill—the Afternoon—
Squirrel—Eclipse— the Bumble bee—
Nay—Nature is Heaven—
Nature is what we hear—
The Bobolink—the Sea—
Nay—Nature is Harmony—
Nature is what we know—
Yet have no art to say—
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.
– Emily Dickinson
Apart from reading Emily Dickinson’s poetry, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate her and her work then to see William Luce’s one-woman play, The Belle of Amherst, starring Julie Harris. It’s available to watch on YouTube and it’s a must if you are a lover of poetry and theatre and looking for some budget-wise charm this coming weekend. Order dinner in, set out the candles and wine … and Enjoy!
The play follows Emily Dickinson at the family home in Amherst, Massachusetts. It incorporates Dickinson’s work, diaries, and letters in a reenactment of her life with her relatives, friends and acquaintances. It’s engaging and often wry … as is the poet herself.
The original Broadway production, directed by Charles Nelson Reilly and starring Julie Harris, opened on April 28, 1976 at the Longacre Theatre. It ran for 116 performances. A Wall Street Journal reviewer wrote . . .
“With her technical ability and her emotional range, Miss Harris can convey profound inner turmoil at the same time that she displays irrepressible gaiety of spirit.”
Harris won a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play, earned a Drama Desk Award nomination for a Unique Theatrical Experience, and won a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Recording. She appeared in a televised PBS production and toured the country with the play for a number of years. [sources: Wikipedia and NY Times]
Luce and Harris collaborated on other wonderful plays including Bronté. A broadway playwright, Luce also wrote Barrymore, which with family I was fortunate enough to see on stage starring Christopher Plummer many years ago. That was a bit of heaven. Luce wrote Lucifer’s Child based on the writing of Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), Lillian about Lillian Hellman and Zelda, which became The Last Flapper, about Zelda Fitzgerald. If script writing is one of your interests, you could probably do worse than reading a few of Luce’s plays.
The recommended read for this week is Robert Pinsky’s Singing School, Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry. No rules or recipes here just learning by studying the pros. Charming. Fun.
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