TOWARD A POETRY THAT MATTERS:
EMILY DICKINSON AS ACTIVIST/ACTIVATOR
by Frances Payne Adler
Page 43) Third, she creates an external and internal writing environment that supports her: she chooses to stay in her room, as Rich says, "having it out on her own premises." Years later, she would write to Higginson on the question she herself had answered: "Is it Intellect that the Patriot means when he speaks of his 'Native Land'?" (May 1874). Through metaphor, Dickinson was claiming the country of her mind.
4 & 5) Fourth and fifth, she recognizes, develops, and documents what Rich has since called the authentic woman's voice--the one your hear when no one is listening. "If your nerve deny you - " she writes in a poem, "Go above your nerve - " (JP 262). And in another: "I took my Power in my Hand / And went against the World / 'Twas not so much as David - had - / But I - was twice as bold - " (JP 540).
She imagined her world as she perceived it, not as she'd been taught to perceive and imagine it. She fought and won the selfless/selfish battle--the one Suzanne Juhasz would later discuss in her essay, "The Double Bind of the Woman Poet"--and developed a strong sense of self, what Juhasz calls "that primary male attribute, the ego." Dickinson knew she was a strong poet. Knew her life, her views, her images mattered. As she says in the last stanza of a poem:
And then - the size of this "small" life -She wrote to Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson of having what she called that "old king feeling" (February 1852), and "The purple - in my Vein - " (JP 663). She said no to going to church, and no to the traditional woman's role. She also said no to the destructive effects of negative criticism and the rejection of her poems. And said yes to her poems, packeted them carefully, and kept on writing. Despite Higginson saying that she wasn't ready to publish. Right.
Dickinson designed her own cosmos, wrote her vision for women: a morning as yet "unseen," a day in the future on the first of May, when women would put down their lives--as designed in her time--and come together to celebrate their freedom:
There is a morn by men unseen -
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