by Martha Nell Smith

Page 4

In Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich sees a woman writer who was compelled to make the writing of poetry practical, a woman of a class and circumstance to afford the care and feeding of her inspiring obsession with language, with making meaning; for Rich, Dickinson is a woman:
for whom the word was more
than a symptom--

a condition of being.
(Necessities of Life 33)

As Betsy Erkkila has pointed out, with her 1975 essay, "Vesuvius at Home," Rich mothered "a whole new level of discourse" in Dickinson study. Rich writes:
The poet's relationship to her poetry has, it seems to me--and I am not speaking only of Emily Dickinson--a twofold nature. Poetic language--the poem on paper--is a concentration of the poetry of the world at large, the self, and the forces within the self; and those forces are rescued from the formlessness, lucidified, and integrated in the act of writing poems. But there is a more ancient concept of the poet, which is that she is endowed to speak for those who do not have the gift of language, or to see for those who--for whatever reasons--are less conscious of what they are living through. It is as though the risks of the poet's existence can be put to some use beyond her own survival ("Vesuvius" 181).

83-year-old Ruth Stone likewise sets about reclaiming and renaming the poet, her work, her practicalities, her putting her risk to uses beyond her own survival:
When I read Emily Dickinson's poems, these original hard as steel poems, and I feel the intensity in every word, words used in new ways, beat to her will, then I think she was self-sufficient, an artist whose mind was never asleep, whose concentration recreated, made fresh, all that she saw and felt, as though she saw through the ordinary barriers not as a visionary but as a laser beam. But when I think of how little recognition she received in her lifetime, and how devastated she must have felt, though her fierce pride concealed it, then I am angry and sad. Yes, a great artist knows and can work in almost total isolation, but it is a terrible thing to have to do. The original mind seems eccentric, even crazy sometimes. In her cryptic inventions, she broke the tiresome mold of American poetry. We still stand among those shards and splinters.

Similarly, the late Amy Clampitt noted: "The moral world as a great, splendid, terrible auditorium- -this was the vision by which, it would appear, she staved off a greater terror, that of vanishing without notice" (Precessors, Et Cetera 54). Louise Bogan proclaimed that Dickinson's "power to say the un-sayable--to hint of the unknowable--is the power of the seer, in this woman equipped with an ironic intelligence and great courage of spirit." In a letter to Bryher, H.D. writes: "Dickinson is a great value for the mind and conscience."

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