bike: 30 minutes
run: 1 mile
outside: rain, snow, wind, 32 degrees
Watched the second to last episode of Dickinson while I biked, then ran a mile while listening to Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” (which I heard on The Current yesterday and thought it would be fun to run to. Mostly, it was). The Dickinson episode was titled, “Grief is a Mouse,” and, among other things, was about Emily (mother) imaging that a mouse in her bedroom was her dead sister Lavinia. She tells a story about how Lavinia loved mice, keeping them as pets — feeding them cheese and naming them after her favorite fairy tale characters. Then she talks to the mouse-as-Lavinia and says goodbye to her. I liked this sweet explanation for why Emily (poet) might have written a poem titled, “Grief is a Mouse,” although I might also like not having an explanation for why she chose a mouse to describe grief. It reminds me of an essay I read about Emily Dickinson last year:
Whenever I introduce Dickinson’s poems into my classes, I always begin by doing a version of an exercise that I learned from one of my great mentors, Carolyn Williams, and that has long circulated through a community of people who work on 19th-century poetics. Over the years it has come to be called “Dickinson Mad-Libs.” The way it works is this: I choose a line, a stanza, or a whole poem, and I take out some of its words (usually nouns and adjectives, but sometimes verbs as well), and I simply leave blanks where those words were. Then I ask the students to fill in the blanks. I tend to switch up which poems I use, even though I know several that work particularly well. I’ll never forget the time I used “Grief is a ________.”
Students go ahead and put in the blanks what is expected: Grief is a pain, Grief is a bitch. The ones who want to take imaginative leaps deliver up: Grief is a thunderstorm, Grief is a tidal wave. But I can pretty much guarantee that no matter how many budding poets you have in a class, nobody who hasn’t already read Dickinson’s poem would ever write the phrase the way she wrote it.
There are lots of fascinating conversations to have about what, exactly, Dickinson might have meant when she wrote “Grief is a mouse,” but the more interesting point, to me at least, is simply that Dickinson was a master of unexpected, yet absolutely perfect, word choice.The Poets (We Think) We Know: Emily Dickinson
Before I went downstairs to exercise, I worked on my second read-through of Dart. I’m making note of all the voices that appear. It’s helpful as a way of tracing how these voices flow from one to the next, sometimes easily, more often as interruptions. In focusing on these voices, I’m starting to see the tensions over the language used to describe how the river works, especially in terms of order and control. I’ll have to write more later, when I have time.
Here is one of the poems read in Dickinson (season 3, ep 9):
These are the days when Birds come back— / Emily Dickinson
These are the days when Birds come back—
A very few—a Bird or two—
To take a backward look.
These are the days when skies resume
The old—old sophistries of June—
A blue and gold mistake.
Oh fraud that cannot cheat the Bee—
Almost thy plausibility
Induces my belief.
Till ranks of seeds their witness bear—
And softly thro’ the altered air
Hurries a timid leaf.
Oh sacrament of summer days,
Oh Last Communion in the Haze—
Permit a child to join.
Thy sacred emblems to partake—
Thy consecrated bread to take
And thine immortal wine!