TOWARD A POETRY THAT MATTERS:
EMILY DICKINSON AS ACTIVIST/ACTIVATOR
by Frances Payne Adler
Page 6I knew, from Dickinson's example, that I needed my version of a locked room. I chose a simple steel locked box. And began the search for self-definition.
At that time, living a traditional marriage, I knew little about the process of my "voice gone underground." I didn't even know that I had. What I knew was that I was holding back. I was writing lines, at this time, like "I often hold back a part of me / hold back the great dark beast / sleek and shuddering beneath my skin." I sensed Dickinson to be my guide. The simple steel locked box provided mind space, where anything was safe to write about, even something that felt dangerous. "If your nerve deny you - / Go above your Nerve - "
This at a time when those in Washington were saying there was no hunger in America. I was in graduate school at the time. And some of those who were my writing professors were questioning my writing about the homeless. It was not, they said, my experience. It was not, they said, about me. Stick, they said, to your own experience. In 1984, it felt dangerous to talk to people living on the street. It felt dangerous to write about it. The country was flying high economically. The Presidential Task Force had concluded that, "There is no evidence of rampant hunger in this country." The papers weren't making much of it. And certainly no one I knew in the "poetry community" was writing about it. My then-husband thought I was crazy and "putting the family in peril" by talking to the homeless. Dickinson made me bold. I wrote poem after poem about it. As in "Los Desaparecidos"
Like the mothers of Plaza de Mayo, I cannot put out like fire
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