The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems
Editors: Jen Bervin and Marta Werner
Publishers: New Direction/Christine Burgin (2013)
Product Dimensions: 12.7×11.8×2
Source: Library copy
How did she do it? How did she write so many wonderful poems. This book provides a bit of a look at Emily Dickinson and her process.
One of the treasured finds at the library last week was this art book. In December I posted a short piece on the writing page concerning Emily Dickinson and this book. It sounded so interesting. I hoped I would be able to find it. And there it was at the Southeast Branch of the St. John’s County Library.
How to best share this book of illustrations, a book that depends on the visual, using words is the question. The first paragraph of Susan Howe’s preface is helpful. I lean on her words.
This book is an exhibit created by a textual scholar and a visual artist. It presents facsimile reproductions of Emily Dickinson’s envelope writings. It allows the reader to “look and touch, and turn from one (envelope) to another.” A transcription accompanies each poem. Dickinson’s characteristic handwriting––something like bird tracks––can be easily read.
In her opening essay Jan Bevin tells us something of Emily Dickinson and the “scraps” that are her manuscript. Her writing tools become visual art to hold her text. We can only imagine how one affected the other.
In the largest section of the book the reader is treated to a visual display of envelope shapes and words. Looking, reading and thinking, one feels connected to Dickinson and her time. Marta Werner takes readers on a tour of the visual and the textual in the third section titled “Itineraries of Escape. I am not a Dickinson scholar, yet I want to spend time with this book reading lines of poetry, letters from her life and Werner’s explanation.
There is more. It is a large book. If you love Emily Dickinson’s poems, if you are interested in the process of writing, if you revel in the beauty of visual size and shape, I urge you to take some time with this book. A unique experience is waiting for you.