Curator Ponders Emily Dickinson’s Eclectic Paper Choices

Emily Dickinson, like many writers scribbled words, phrases and complete poems on a wide variety of papers. In The Manuscripts of Emily Dickinson at The Public Domain review, curator Mike Kelly considers some of the items in the collection at Archives and Special Collections of Amherst College, and wonders if the media might have inspired the message.

“The way hope builds his house”, Amherst Manuscript # 450

“In this instance, Dickinson has cut apart an envelope so all that remains are the flap and a portion of the body. She orients the paper so the point of the flap is at the top then she fills that peak with words: “The way hope builds his house…” Or, to phrase it more directly, she writes a poem about a house on a piece of paper that looks like a house.”

“To be forgot by thee”, Amherst Manuscript # 484

“…it is important to remember that Dickinson was never at a loss for paper, stamps, ink, or pencils. Her father and brother were both lawyers, a profession that depends on ample stores of paper and ink, and many of Dickinson’s extant manuscripts are on standard stationery paper. So when we come across irregular pieces such as this one, one needs to stop and think about her motives…what are we to make of the many…fragments she left behind?”

I imagine Dickinson with a small pencil perched permanently in her hair or on her ear, ready for the instant that inspiration strikes. Too terribly aware that the words must flow as they form in her mind, she did not gamble that they would still be there after scrambling to the writing desk and retrieving stationary, but scribbled them – stream of consciousness – on the nearest media at hand.

How many of those fleeting bursts of creativity have been lost for the lack of a pencil behind our ear?

“This selection of Dickinson manuscripts is merely the tip of the iceberg – all 850 discrete manuscript objects held by Amherst College are freely available online for all to explore. Our hope is that the ability to browse the collection virtually will spark new questions and new approaches to understanding one of the world’s most beloved and enigmatic poets.”

Read Mike Kelly’s full review at The Manuscripts of Emily Dickinson at the Public Domain Review.

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Filed under Books, Authors & Illustrators, Poetry

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