Emily’s back-of-the-envelope poems

envelope-poems-layoutThese odd shapes look like finds from an archaeological dig, which I guess they are: in her later years, Emily Dickinson wrote much of her poetry on scraps and the backs of envelopes – then hid it all away. These were never meant to be made public, but well, her sister-in-law published anyway. What could a dead poet do to her?

So, the interesting thing about these snippets dickinson-gorgeous-nothings-5-e1403725439367now is that New  Directions has published two facsimile books of them, the aptly named Gorgeous Nothings (HB, $63.95) which came out a couple of years back, and this newer sampling, called Envelope Poems (HB, $22.95). Each poem is presented with both a high-resolution image and a transcription in the original shape (like this transcription).

The envelope poems make an interesting read, and puzzling them out is the only way through. I wish my Dickinson had included the printed editions of her poems so I could have read them more fluently, but as it was you clearly saw how she used her ‘page’ to help create the poem. There’s an interesting article which talks about symbols Emily used that were never translated into print, like the plus sign.

The little hardback edition makes a lovely gift (thanks, Steph, for my Christmas present). It’s great for those arty types in your life, poets, designers, writing buffs. One customer was inspired by Gorgeous Nothings and showed me her photographs afterwards, so do share your Emily-inspired art with us!




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