Featured Poet: Emily Dickinson

This isn’t technically a Women Writers Wednesday review, but I have to give a shout-out today, on a Wednesday, on Earth Day, to Emily Dickinson. She has been known to many as one of the greatest American poets, or as “The Belle of Amherst,” or as “that crazy lady in the white dress locked in her house all her life.” (True story, I knew someone who referred to her like that, not out of abject disrespect so much as out of frustrated curiosity.)

No matter what you call her, she was and remains a force majeure of American letters. The more I read of her work throughout my life, the better I can appreciate the depth of her intellectual and poetic gifts.

Today I came across one of her poems I had not seen before. Since it’s Earth Day, I wanted to feature a poem about nature, and this seemed like a good one to include. It’s number as 668 in the source I encountered (PoemHunter.com).

 

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668

 

“Nature” is what we see—
The Hill—the Afternoon—
Squirrel—Eclipse— the Bumble bee—
Nay—Nature is Heaven—
Nature is what we hear—
The Bobolink—the Sea—
Thunder—the Cricket—
Nay—Nature is Harmony—
Nature is what we know—
Yet have no art to say—
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.

 

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What can I tell you about Emily Dickinson that you don’t probably already know? How about this: one of my favorite National Poetry Month posters ever is from 2005 — incidentally, the month my daughter was born — and was designed by Chip Kidd. It features Emily Dickinson’s dress on a black background and a marvelous quote from her letters. “Nature is a haunted house — but Art — is a house that tries to be haunted.”

 

Emily Dickinson NPM 2005

 

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Featured Poet: Michele Battiste

I met Michele Battiste about twelve years ago at the Nimrod conference in Tulsa, and at the poetry reading that Saturday afternoon, she read this amazing poem, and I fell in love with it.  Since today is Earth Day, I wanted to share it.  (And by the way, Happy Earth Day!  Please do something wonderful for the planet all week.)

Michele Battiste is the author of two poetry collections: Ink for an Odd Cartography (2009) and Uprising (2013), both from Black Lawrence Press. She is also the author of four chapbooks, the most recent of which is Lineage (Binge Press, 2012).  Her poems have appeared in journals and magazines such as American Poetry Review, Beloit Poetry Review,  Anti-The Awl, and Verse Daily, and her reviews have appeared in Rain TaxiOpen Letters Monthly, and Rattle.

She has received grants, awards, and residencies from The Center for the American West, AWP, the Jerome Foundation, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Poetry Society of Virginia, and the Blue Mountain Center. Michele has taught creative writing and literature at Wichita State University, the University of Colorado, and Gotham Writers Workshop in New York City, but she currently raises funds for nonprofits undoing corporate evil.

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Precita Park, April 22

 

For once it’s warm enough to uncover skin and I
do normal things.  Like this.  A festival.  Two buses
and dozens of walked blocks to get here, but it was
either this or laundry.  Wash the kitchen floor.  We
all make choices and the ad said Earth Day.  Free.
Come.

Eleven months ago you said come to San Francisco.
I said no.  You asked why not and I had no reason
other than it made no sense to haul my mother’s
bedroom set 3,000 miles and so.  Here.  Precita Park
in the Mission’s heart and only four porta-johns for
a crowd of thousands.  Most drinking beer.  We all
make choices and I could shed my sweater, shoes.
Uncover skin.  I always complain about the cold but
you love this city.

A rock icon takes the stage to back a sit-com star
preaching bio-fuel, woodless paper, travel mugs and
I want to call my mom.  My parents share Earth Day
with their anniversary, not by choice, by chance.
And so by chance I confuse ecology with devotion
and act accordingly.  Compost food scraps.  Reuse
plastic sandwich bags.  I never planned to stay past
the year.

An eco-singer asks us all to touch the earth and I do,
thinking somewhere, sometime today you’ll touch
it, too, but for now I’m part of something larger
than self-inflicted circumstance: sequestered
redwoods, Leonard Peltier and marijuana for purely
medicinal purposes.  B.E. Smith walked point in
Vietnam and today he’s walking point in the drug
war.  Served time for self-medicating post-traumatic
stress.  We all make sacrifices for something larger
than ourselves, or should, and see, I’m learning
something.  It’s warm enough today and I’m
forgiving you for leaving.

I do normal things.  Yesterday I made cornbread, I
watch lovers all the time, I walked miles to see a
rock star read someone else’s speech.  Sign
petitions, mailing lists.  I wasn’t ever staying past a
year but you love this city.  Hated leaving.  I only
hate the fog, hate it some times.  You said come,
never love, but maybe I did, and we all make
choices.  Turn away when we should.  I wanted to
see redwoods and you took me to the forest before
you left.

The microphone cuts out and celebrities are
jumping up and down in the crowd to hold our
attention.  In San Francisco nothing seems odd
except, for once, I’m warm, thinking of devotion
when I should be thinking pesticides, buying
products made from hemp.  Be a little more
supportive.

Today is Earth Day and I’m barefoot in Precita
Park, forgiving.  Yesterday, walking home from
market, loaded down with cageless eggs and local
milk, I turned onto our block.  Twilight caught the
windows of every house and transformed the street
to strange, unfamiliar.  For a moment, I thought I
had it wrong.  Thought I turned too early.  Or too
late.