Strange birds: Emily Dickinson's Susan Howe
MetadataShow full item record
Through four topics doubled between two poets, I examine some of the still controversial issues around Emily Dickinson's writing, and what Susan Howe, one of her well-known critics (and a poet), inherits from her. The topics, each only provisionally nominated for thought termini, are Location, Variation, Dictionary, and Page. I begin by looking at Dickinson's manuscripts, her "alternative mode of textual reproduction and distribution," as Martha Nell-Smith calls it, while contemplating the temporal dimensions of her manuscript-keeping and her inquiries into the problem of representation ( Rowing 1-2). With the help of Ralph W. Franklin's manuscript edition of Dickinson's poetry, the manuscript context has become possible for further exploration of the myriad ways in which Dickinson's concentration of meaning-making exposes the variation at the heart of meaning-making. One of the great interventions on behalf of Emily Dickinson has been made by poet-scholar, Susan Howe. While respectful of the difficulty the Dickinson archives present to any editor, Howe has advocated more radical editions of Dickinson's work. Howe suggests in her 1985 book, that Dickinson's project is of greater magnitude than anyone has yet comprehended, and that her exile was self-imposed. Howe has inherited this conflict, and that sense of conflict rings throughout Howe's own work as a poet. Her work imagines the struggle over representations of history intersecting human lives and landscapes. Her poems represent the problem of representation. In theorizing conflict, I take Charles Darwin as a point of departure. I believe I make a clear case that Dickinson was reading Darwin and enveloping his theories and the conflicts around them in her writing practice. To some degree, what we learn from the discussion of Dickinson, Darwin and variation, and also the process "unreading" the dictionary, helps read Howe's particular form of historical poetry.