This past fall, I learned inspiration can sometimes come from the most unlikely places. When my mentor assigned me Emily Dickinson, I thought of the ten years of song and dance I had to perform for my high school students during Dickinson week. Before we even read any of Dickinson’s poems, my students began their complaints, “She’s depressing,” “She just writes about death,” “Can’t we read something happy,” “All of her poems can be read to the tune of ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas.’” And, I was guilty of holding the same prejudice about the poetress. Of course, I told my students they needed to read her because she paved the path for new styles of writing which influenced and inspired poets who followed her; I didn't know she would later inspire me.
The problem is high school textbooks (no matter what edition or publication) all feature the same handful of poems.Dickinson’s topics range far beyond just the topic of mortality, though. Even the poems that do explore the topics of death and loneliness are not really mournful; in fact, they actual celebrate death and loneliness in a way. Perhaps these skewed perceptions are why Dickinson chose to skew her verse with slant rhyme and alternating meter rather than adhere to the traditional standards that would have gotten her more publication in her lifetime.
I am thankful for the opportunity to read collections (sometimes complete collections) of authors I would have never picked up on my own. We never know. We could easily learn more from the dark horses and writers we've avoided than the ones with whom we think we share an aesthetic. Even though I don't see myself composing poems inspired by Dickinson's form, she has become my kindred spirit in taking risks.
If you were inspired by one of your fall or spring reads, please share because the rest of us could benefit by formally meeting that author's texts.