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Rosie’s Story: Emily Dickinson Friday, 12 March 2010

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Growing up in a small, safe but dull place, I always dreamed of travelling. Through books, I journeyed to all kinds of worlds and challenging new situations.

When I grew up, I travelled around the world, living in different countries for several years. Wherever I went, when I felt lonely or disorientated I would drop into public libraries to send email home, enjoy the air conditioning and flick through books.

In a New Zealand library I was flicking through a book and came across this poem by Emily Dickinson:

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry —
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll —
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human soul.

I experienced that reading sensation which the teacher Hector describes in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys:

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – that you’d thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you’ve never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.”

I committed the poem to memory and have been delighted by it ever since.

David’s Story Friday, 19 February 2010

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David carries Emily Dickinson’s poem “My life closed twice” which has a great deal of personal meaning to him:

My life closed twice

before its close

It yet remains to see

If Immortality unveil

a third even to me

So huge, so hopeless to conceive,

As these that twice befell

Parting is all we know of Heaven

and all we need of hell

David also quite likes Sydney Lanier’s “Marshes of Glynn”

Inward and outward to northward and southward the beach-lines linger and curl

As a silver-wrought garment that clings to and follows the firm sweet limbs of a girl.

Kyle, Robbie, Nicola, and Anna’s Stories Sunday, 14 February 2010

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Kyle carries a poem by Emily Dickinson, liking the line “I’ll let my head be just in sight.”

Robbie carries the anonymous poem “Don’t Quit” because “it’s good and it makes sense.”

You can read the full text of “Don’t Quit” here.

Nicola carries the poem “Valentine” by Carol Ann Duffy.  Nicola’s favourite line is

“I give you an onion.

Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips forever.”

Anna carries the poem “This is just to say” by William Carlos Williams.  She likes the stanza: “I have eaten the plums / that were in the ice box.”  Anna writes, “I like this … a lot!  I had plums for breakfast!”

You can read the rest of the poem here.

Hamish’s stories Wednesday, 20 January 2010

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I don’t literally carry poems round with me (though there was a time – late teens, early twenties – when I took Robert Graves’s The White Goddess everywhere), but there are poems, or lines from poems, which have inhabited my head for years. They’re there for a variety of reasons: Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess’ for its virtuosity and tone; William Carlos Williams’s red wheelbarrow for its simple saying so much; Emily Dickinson’s ‘There is no frigate like a book’ for its slogan; Edwin Morgan’s ‘The Apple’s Song’ for its dizzy voice; Auden’s ‘Look, Stranger’ for its sound; Catullus’s ‘odi et amo’ for its telling truth about love and Sappho’s ‘phainetai moi…’ for the accurate delineation of the physiology and psychology of being in love; and my favourite line of poetry, ‘The silly buckets on the deck’, from Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, for – I don’t know – its ineffability? They’re all touchstones.

Hamish Whyte is a poet, publisher and former librarian and bibliographer. He has worked extensively with the Scottish Poetry Library, not least on granting them the acquisition of his Edwin Morgan Archive.

BIOGRAPHY – EMILY DICKINSON Wednesday, 6 January 2010

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Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1830.  She spent much of her life in near total seclusion in her family’s house in Amherst where she maintained contact with the outside world through regular letter writing.  She also wrote and hand-bound collections of her own poetry, but none of it was published during her lifetime.

Upon Emily’s death in 1886, her family members discovered her hand-written poetry and a family friend arranged for their initial publication.  Her unique, clipped poetic style was met with uncertain critical opinion on its first publication but she is now considered to be one of the greatest American poets of all time.