By way of an INTRODUCTION:
AMERICAN WOMEN'S POETRY & DICKINSON'S LEGACY,
the Inaugural Lecture of the Emily Dickinson Lectureship in American Poetry, The Pennsylvania State University, October 1999.
Endowed by George and Barbara Kelly.
by Martha Nell Smith
Page 1I am deeply honored to have been asked to give this inaugural lecture of the Emily Dickinson Lectureship in American poetry. I'd like especially to thank
the Kellys - Barbara & GeorgeThis talk is in tribute to George and Barbara Kelly, and their generosity at making such face-to-face exchanges possible. And I feel confident they will not only not mind but will in fact take pleasure in sharing that honor with our late friend Louis Forsdale. Though I only knew him online, I became familiar enough with his character so that I was not at all surprised to learn that, before retiring to Santa Fe, he had taught at the Teacher's College of Columbia University for 40 years. A committed and dedicated student, a conscientious, thorough, gentle yet forceful teacher he remained to the end of his days.
When I pondered what I wanted to talked about for this lectureship series in American poetry, I knew that Emily Dickinson's work would play a major role. And it does. But I want to consider some of her work's reverberations in contemporary American poetry, and I do so because I want to think out loud about the role of poetry in United States' culture, society, and for its readers at the end of the twentieth century. Mulling over the present state of Dickinson Studies, which is a very rich field indeed, but one rife with ad feminam arguments, served to launch my musings, which will lead, I hope, to conversations extending well beyond our intercourse today. These remarks are an extension of what I first imagined as a book interacting with televisual interviews, a volume to be named "Titanic Operas: Dickinson & American Women's Poetry." In collaboration with Professor John Harrington of Seton Hall University, I had imagined that book after I attended the marvelous centennial tribute he organized there in South Orange, New Jersey. That tribute featured contemporary women poets reading hour after hour, from morning until night "to commemorate the centenary of the death of Emily Dickinson," which occurred on May 15, 1886. Adrienne Rich, Ruth Stone, Amy Clampitt, Katha Pollitt, Sharon Olds, Marilyn Hacker, Carolyn Kizer, Toi Derricotte, Maxine Kumin, Mary Oliver, Joyce Carol Oates, Sandra Gilbert, Alicia Ostriker, Gwendolyn Brooks, Denise Levertov were all there-- "Poetry-in-the-Round" it was called, an apt descriptor not only because of the shape of the theater in which the readings took place, but because of the taking turns, the offerings making their way around a range of our contemporary poets who have at least two things in common with Emily Dickinson--they are each and all women, and poets. Though it is not a volume, in the sense that it is not a book one can hold in her hand, that collection of poetic responses to Dickinson's legacy goes by the same name and is now an online publication available at the Dickinson Electronic Archives.
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