Friday, December 13, 2013
My library hosts a birthday party for Emily Dickinson each year on her December 10th birthday. These are quaint little affairs which include that corrupt pleasure, white frosted sheet cake, along with heaps of hot tea. We sit with floral china tea cups and our snowy slices at a large rectangular table and recite our favorite poems and chat a bit about what we imagine or know about Emily and her quiet life. We even sing Happy Birthday at the close!
Ordinarily, our party attracts just a few regulars and our librarian, who is an infectious aficionado of all things Emily. I’m a rather minor participant because I don’t like to speak in public and I only have a few favorite “Emily’s”. I find some of Dickinson sobering in her focus on mourning and death. But I like her buoyant lines that have lingered in my head since first discovering her in high school English Lit. One of my favorite stanzas graces this blog: “Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door”. Some of her poetry is filled with clever lightheartedness and it’s those I love.I think Dickinson was a genius. Her twist of words bewitches and bewilders and often her meaning isn’t truly realized until several seconds after the poem is read. It is then, when the words have a chance to hang in the air like an echo, that the implication washes over one. And so it was at Emily's party when surprisingly, a crowd of 21 souls showed up in the bitter cold, including 8 men!
I appraised that I was the youngest by at least 10 years. Some were retired English teachers, a retired physician and his wife, a retired accountant, among others. The librarian thought it best to bring a microphone which we passed around at least 5 times. Nearly everyone read outloud, including me. Remarkably, the men were the most passionate and the grandfather beside me added charming inflections in his voice as he read his selections from a well-worn anthology. His voice resonated inside my sleepy head like that of a favorite bedtime storyteller. Another participant, a woman, declared her little poetry book “one of my most prized possessions”. It was a slim abridged Hallmark book of Emily that she received from an uncle for her high school graduation in 1964. When I inspected her treasure afterward, I saw that Hallmark used beautiful evocative watercolors depicting the Belle of Amherst with a delightful and intriguing 1960’s slant.
One of my favorite recitations was the poem “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” The reader prefaced it with a treatise on the propagation of reality shows in our culture. The last line, “To tell your name the livelong day to (only) an admiring bog!” had us all chuckling.
Naturally, I wondered why so many people would turn up on cold dark winter night for such a humble library program. I decided it could not possibly be just because of the poet, however wonderful. I believe it is because whatever is beautiful and true, knows no season or century.