by Joyce Carol Oates

Page 5

This poem is of course in specific reference to Emily Dickinson, described, with such infuriating condescension, by the wife of Thomas Higginson, as "your partially cracked poetess." In writing it I thought of the cruelty of the ignorant; the incomprehension that prides itself upon not knowing; not wanting, or daring, to know, to acknowledge, another's high worth. . . .So most of the world dismissed Emily Dickinson as simply a woman-poet, a poetess who, in the presumably enlightened words of the critic R.P. Blackmur, took up poetry as other women took up needlepoint. But the "poetess" takes her revenge. Of a kind.


On my finger an antique ring I hadn't
deserved, but got. Like so much, you're thinking
meanly, and you'd be right.
And now the stone is cracked, a tiny disaster,
the opal's mild fiery light stares out
and no reflection.
Like an eye, in a way. Blind
but still seeing
except, what is it seeing?--
and why?

Technique is constraint, and control. There are poems whose subjects are so horrific, one can only approach them, as Medusa was approached, obliquely: by way of the mirror of art. In my short poems I want an effect that is brilliant, hard, icy-cold, like wires shooting up the nostrils into the very brain. Short poems carry with them the capacity for hurt even when they are, in their tone, lyric. As Yeats said: "A line will take us hours maybe; / Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought, / Our stitching and unstitching has been nought."

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