The Always Essential Emily
A Literary Competition
What (Part 1)
The task was to read the given author's work and to creatively re-imagine it. Students could choose any artistic format for those re-imaginings. Wide-open choice was promoted, but I also encouraged digital creations, of which there were several. This competition spans grades 6 through 12, so our Rhoades students will be going head-to-head with high schoolers. They can more than hold their own.
Using the Big Read guidelines from the National Endowment for the Arts, the students plunged headlong into Dickinson's poetry, which they not only "got" but truly appreciated (even loved!).
The competition culminates in an evening that celebrates literature. In years past, this event has been held in the Old Town Theatre, and all finalists were invited to attend. All things being what they are, however, this year's awards ceremony will be held remotely.
What has not changed, though, is the thrill of having one's creative work recognized and honored. If a student's work is literary, it will be read aloud by a professional, adult actor. Visual work or performance pieces will be shown and musical pieces played aloud. Even though all applause will be virtual, the recognition of talent remains palpable.
What (Part 2)
Enjoy! (It is quite impossible not to.)
As part of the process of learning about Dickinson's poetry, the students met multiple times a week with their respective book club groups. After each book club meeting, they were asked to upload a paragraph onto the Discussion Board reflecting upon that day's conversation and what they learned about Dickinson and her work. This is just a small taste of the wonderfully thoughtful posts onto the Board:
Emily Dickinson was definitely known for being a little spontaneous back in her day. I mean, she refused a marriage proposal, wrote poems when she wasn't supposed to, and stayed with her parents her whole life. But more importantly, she was very unusual with her poems. She almost never followed the rules of grammar! She used dashes regularly (or even more than regularly), capitalized different words in her poems, and never gave any of her poems titles. We discussed quite a lot about this in our meeting today. How Dickinson neglected to name her poems really perplexed us. At least, until we tried it ourselves. We all struggled a lot when it came to trying to give her poems a title and came to the conclusion that there was a reason behind why she didn't name her work. I think had she named her work, all the magic would be gone…. I found this very fascinating considering how in modern times, almost everyone names almost everything. This just shows how you can be completely wrong in someone's mind, but just right in so many others.
MEETING 4 PARAGRAPH In our meeting, we discussed the way how Dickinson’s mind works, and how our own work. We thought about where her motives to speak about death in such a manner. We also compared her writing style to Poe’s, where his description of death is dark and gruesome, Dickinson’s is more delicate and filled with brighter imagery. Her thoughts about death sparked new ideas amongst the discussion. We also connected her writing to what we have learned about her life, such as her unorthodox religion, her aloneness, and death of her close family and friends. I also personally thought the vocabulary, R-I-C ideas, and illustration was exceptional. This had to be one of my favorite discussions, and brought new illuminating ideas to mind.
I used to think that fame was something I wanted, but now I think that I'm better off without it. As Dickinson wrote in poem 1659, "Fame is a fickle food Upon a shifting plate." One second someone could have a profuse amount of it and then the next moment it could be gone. The slightest dose can change a person forever, and make them reliant upon it. Fame can also be detrimental while one has it, as Dickinson also describes. She claims, "Men eat of it and die," and "Whose crumbs the crows inspect." This could mean that once someone has the smallest crumb of fame, there's no going back, and having fame isn't all it seems. Once someone has fame the crows "inspect" them or give them no privacy, following them wherever they go. Dickinson didn't want fame, but I'm sure she must have had a traumatic experience with it that caused her to write this poem.
When Dickinson writes, “ I knew the Dollars by their names- It feels like Poverty“, [she] seemed to be stating that although she knew the way currency and society functioned, she was unable to be an impacting figure in society because of her gender. When she writes, “—It feels like Poverty”, she is symbolizing her longing to impact society through a status. When Dickinson outlines poverty as being a longing and feeling it shows that no matter how much she longed to help and improve or impact society, she couldn't because of something she could not control, her born gender.
The author is suggesting that poetry doesn’t have to be in one form the whole time. Dickinson’s poems were written in an “unprofessional” form but interesting form. She literally had some poems like this: An hour at sea Between a few, and me—With them would harbor be—She wrote this so short but it sends a very powerful message. After reading all of her poems I almost feel like I’m her friend. You know her so well after reading all of these, the powerful and “unprofessional” messages she sends through them makes the readers (like us) like the poems.
The first thing that I love about Emily Dickinson is the fact that when you’re reading her poems, there’s always more to unravel along the way. Like a sour candy, there’s always a lingering feeling after reading her poems. I noticed that when you’re reading the poems, you feel almost like you are in them…. They always leave you wanting more.
I noticed in a lot of Emily Dickinsons poetry she uses something you don’t see in a lot of poetry. She suddenly changes the tone. In her poems she would often give it a peaceful vibe, especially in her ones about nature. Within a line, she turns it sad, dark, and tragic. That might be one of the key factors of what makes Emily Dickinson’s poetry so...well, poetic. When she does this, she really creates the element of what she knows as poetry, in her case, “having the top of your head blown off”. The way it goes is she starts it off with calming talks about small things she noticed about nature, but then, without warning, swerves off track into a dark ending. It plays at Dickinson’s strength, which is dark poetry and nature poetry. She uses these very different elements of poetry to her advantage and creates something amazing.
In this meeting I learned about how the use of imagery in combination with rhyming even if only a few words are involved can create a very profound and powerful effect. Dickinson chose to write her poetry about many different topics, including from the perspective of animals, (The Spider Holds a Silver Ball and A Rat Surrendered here) as well as deeper topics like grief and madness. Before our meeting I thought that only topics like death, immortality, hope etc. could be profound, but now I see that even not traditionally profound topics can have the same effect. Dickinson’s poetry can appear simplistic or mild at a first glance but upon deeper inspection it is revealed to be complex, profound and absolutely incredible. Her command of language and ability to evoke such strong feelings in such few words even in traditionally “simple” subjects, truly make her one of the greatest poets ever.
Defining the thought of immortality struck her again, and began the dark times. Profound uses of death created the impact of a non perfect life. Yet in a non perfect life, the brain and mind tend to improve! The brain is incredibly important and impressive. She believed that the brain's capacity could synthesize information and think about itself and the world, not its actual breadth. Her mind even expanded to think about god and religion. And despite her overall agonized relationship, she came to believe the thought of Immortality and its innevitability. "A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.” (George R.R. Martin,)
An interesting line that changed my perspective, specifically, on “power” was when Dickinson wrote “power is only pain—“ in “I can wade Grief—“. Truly, power seems like something that would bring only good things, and happiness, but reading this line made me think about ways having overwhelming power could bring pain. Furthermore, when first reading “The Spider holds a Silver Ball” I felt quite helpless, like I was feeling the emotions of the spider. He moves and weaves, but only for an hour can he create his web. For after the hour has passed, all his hard work is swept away by the “Housewife’s Broom” and forgotten. Overall, this block of poems made me think and realize many things that I often overlook and never really give a second thought about.
The transistion between mortality and death to mind/brain power was such a fascinating journey to take. Dickinson spoke of death as if it were a person she knew quite well, someone she saw every Thursday at 8:00 to have a cup of coffee and talk politics with. She relates to death in her poems by personifying it, and describing the affects it has caused her and others. In the second block of poems, Dickinson talked about the power of the mind. In "The Brain- is wider than the Sky-", she described this power in an inspiring and thought provoking way. To think that the mind is so much larger, than the sea or the sky, that the mind can take you places you feet cannot. She introduced to me the idea that a single thought can out weigh a boulder if you believe in it enough to keep it strong and powerful! This section was so engaging to explore and visualize!
SUMMARY #5 GROWTH AND CHANGE OVER TIME + DESIRE BORN FROM ABSENCE Though they seem quite different, they both have similar qualities. Growth and change over time can be both a literal growth like getting taller, but also emotionally and mentally like getting into a relationship. Desire coming from absence is normally thought of as a negative thing that actually happens a lot. An example of this in my life is that practically everyone I know has a phone, but I don’t. If I got a phone however, I would realize I didn’t need it and just move on to wanting something else. They both however happen over time and both have affects on your life, negative or positive. And I also think that Emily Dickinson really expresses the differences and similarities within this set of poems.
As we’re being exposed to Dickinson’s work, I’ve noticed that imagery pervades her poems. I can’t even read a line without my brain whipping up an animation. The similes, metaphors, and other literary devices assist the imagery to create a stunning work of art. When I read “The Spider holds a Silver Ball”, I was reminded of the various dew-covered webs I encounter on my morning walks, and the cobweb hanging on my kitchen ceiling. I think of the ceiling cobweb as the foundation of something that once was.
Let me know if you have any questions!