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League of Inveterate Poets

The out-of-context contextuality of a foolish sage

Emily Dickinson on What Is Poetry?

| July 9, 2011

“If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire ever can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other […]

New Review of The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson

| September 29, 2010

My dear friend, author and prolific book reviewer Mindy Withrow, has just published her review of The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson. So pleased to see she “got” it and loved it as much as I did.

The Secret Life of the Secret Life of Emily Dickinson: Sister Sue and the Lost Souls

| September 23, 2010

This entry is part of a series, Secret Life of the Secret Life of Emily Dickinson» This essay is part of a series on the dreamscape aspects of Jerome Charyn’s novel, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson. To see other entries in the series, click the link at the top of this post. This series […]

The Secret Life of The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson: Carlo and Currer Bell

| September 14, 2010

In “Holyoke,” the first section of The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, we saw Emily taking the first steps outside the tight confines of Squire Dickinson’s West Street home. There she does things she never would have dared to attempt while under her Father’s ever-vigilant eye, including the pursuit of a forbidden man, her “burglar” Tom. She also has an up-close-and-personal encounter with the revivalist religion of her day, and says, “No, thank you.”

In this second section, Emily comes home, but she will never again be satisfied with just being her Father’s “sweet Dolly.” She begins to explore the wilder side of the Amherst beyond her dooryard, and we are increasingly unsure how much of this happens in “reality” and how much in her fantasies and dreams.

The Secret Life of The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson: Holyoke

| September 13, 2010

It is odd and slightly ironic that one of the most frequent criticisms leveled at The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson (hereinafter The Secret Life) was that it suffered from a lack of citing Miss Dickinson’s poetry. While it may be true that there are very few quotations of her poems in the book, from the very first words, we are fully in the realm of poetry, in her own voice (as author Jerome Charyn imagines it):

“Tom the handyman is wading in the snow outside my window in boots a burglar might wear” (17).

It is imagery true to the Emily we know through her poetry.

Moreover, it introduces one of the central characters (and primary resident of Emily’s dreams), the fictitious Tom Harkin (or Tom the Handyman). Tom is an orphan rescued by the headmistress of Holyoke Female Seminary and taken in to be the school’s handyman. He is forbidden any contact with the female students, thus (along with his shock of blond hair) making him instantly the object of Emily’s desire.

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