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2014 Annual Meeting Discussion Workshops

Discussion workshops are one of the most popular features of EDIS annual meetings. Here is a preview of the two planned for summer 2014. Participants need not do the reading in advance.

Emily Dickinson and Henry David Thoreau Take a Look or Two at the Sky
Led by Nancy and William Pridgen

Both Emily Dickinson and Henry David Thoreau observed nature closely and described nature in poetic detail. Additionally, both Dickinson and Thoreau aspired to be poets. While Dickinson became a successful poet, Thoreau gave up this dream early on and focused on prose, particularly about nature. Yet Thoreau’s writing employs poetic devices quite effectively. This workshop will explore the sky as seen by Dickinson and by Thoreau. We will briefly compare Dickinson’s and Thoreau’s poems about sunrise and sunset and rain. In addition we will explore the poetic aspects of Thoreau’s descriptions of the sky in several prose fragments from his Journals. We will focus on poetic sound devices such as rhymes and alliteration, figurative language, and imagery.

Dickinson poems we will explore as time permits are the following:

Fr 204/ J 318 “I’ll tell you how the sun rose –”
Fr 233/ J 204 “A slash of blue! A sweep of gray!”
Fr 572/ J 304 “The day came slow – till five o’clock - ”
Fr 846/ J 794 “A drop fell on the apple tree – ”
Fr 216/ J 194 “On this long storm the rainbow rose - ”
(With the exception of “A drop fell,” the Dickinson poems as edited by Johnson are available on the Internet.)

The Thoreau poems we will consider are the following:

From Henry David Thoreau: Collected Essays and Poems
The Library of America, 1984:

pp. 539-540 “I’m guided by the darkest night”
pp. 599-600 “On Ponkawtasset, since, we took our way,”
pp. 536-537 The Summer Rain
(The Summer Rain is available on the Internet: )

A New England Perspective in Emily Dickinson’s Poems and Elizabeth Strout’s Novels
Led by Lois Kackley and Greg Mattingly

"...I see New Englandly," (F256/J285) wrote Emily Dickinson.

Oh! Really?

We suggest Dickinson's non-provincial, redoubtable, “circumferential” poetry disproves the designation and subverts her “status” as a writer with a New England perspective.

Was to “see New Englandly” another “pose” (similar to that of “wife,” “bride,” or innocent child), this time as a narrow-minded speaker? Or, is the emphasis on “new” an assertion of status as the groundbreaker poet of pioneering New England (and by implication the New World) contrasted with old-world England and its queen?

Nevertheless, geography cannot be denied. The poet was born and reared in a part of the world with distinctive characteristics to impact her work. Likewise, Maine native Elizabeth Strout, who received the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, is conscious of her and her characters’ roots and nurturing in New England’s Puritan asceticism. Strout portrays the thrust of personal independence, wealth, and the lure of sophistication in narratives about New Englanders who move to, or share experiences with, New York City.

In addition to “The Robin’s my Criterion for Tune-”(Fr 256/J 285), the poems and letter listed below may enlarge our discussion of the New England perspective in Dickinson’s work. For Strout’s rendering of a 21st century version of that perspective in narrative responses to New England origins, we will focus on The Burgess Boys.

Fr143/J76 “Exultation is the going”
Fr236/J324 “Some keep the Sabbath going to church-”
Fr307/J271 “A solemn thing - it was - I said-”
Fr445/J613 “They shut me up in Prose-”
Fr800/J1052 “I never saw a Moor.”
From L39 to Abiah Root, late 1850: “You are growing wiser than I am, and nipping in the bud fancies which I let blossom - perchance to bear no fruit, or if plucked, I may find bitter. The shore is safer Abiah, but I love to buffett the sea - I can count the bitter wrecks here in these pleasant waters, and hear the murmuring winds, but oh I love the danger! You are learning control and firmness. Christ Jesus will love you more. I'm afraid he don't love me any.”