Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hero Worship

As I age and change, I am both more selective and more adventurous in what I read. Not too long ago, I set myself a goal to read the collected works of an impressive list of American women poets, beginning with Emily Dickinson. Well, I just finished poem #610 out of 1789, as well as much of the collection of letters she wrote to her beloved sister-in-law, Susan. And you know what? I'm tired of death and abstraction, of slanted truths and that coy, little-girl persona. Granted, when Emily hits her stride, she's great, but I'm not sure I can slog through the entire collection. I had the same attitude toward Eliot's collected poems. The ones I already knew through anthologies were stunning, still are. But I didn't make a lot of discoveries. R. W. Franklin's The Poems of Emily Dickinson--let's thank him for a masterful editing job--will sit on my poetry shelf as a reference and a reminder that all poems are not created equal. Sorry, Emily, I know you did us all a favor by breaking the mold, or scraping off the mold, of American poetry, and for that I do admire your work.

A more recent writer, Annie Dillard, still amazes me. I pulled down her Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, a book that matters to me, to take an excerpt to a writing group. I wanted to display my idea of detailed writing that is more than a catalogue of the obvious, and her first paragraph (Are you taking notes?) is a marvel. So much so, that when I walked Duncan this morning I wished that I had her skill in noticing the world. I must admit Dickinson had that too; she saw snakes in the grass, the shapes of clouds, every daisy that ever grew, and every robin that lit in her yard. I sit here, day after day, without knowing what to call the trees in front of my eyes. I see the squirrels and rabbits, the geese and ducks. I hear the coyotes in the middle of the night singing around their dens, but I don't have the depth of vision that Dillard and Dickinson have. Maybe that's a thing I can change. I'll try; I promise.

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