Thursday, April 3, 2008

Emily Dickinson, Fun Home, and a new warehouse!

Hi folks,

The past two days have been very action-packed and interesting. Yesterday I took the day off and went on a quick trip to Amherst, Mass. where Alison gave a talk at Amherst College about her book, Fun Home. We got down there a little early so we went to the Emily Dickinson Museum. It was so powerful to be there in her house. Fortuitously, we were the only ones there and the house manager was trying to wrap up the day and gently usher us out. It was during this chit chat that he gave us an interesting scoop on the polyamorous relationships going on in Emily's life. For instance, it appears that Emily and her sister-in-law (her brother's wife) were romantically involved, while her brother had a long-standing extramarital relationship with a married woman! Here's a picture I found on the web of her house...

Alison gave her talk in Converse Hall after we had dinner with some nice folks from the Pride Alliance, and then coffee with an exceedingly bright and lovely student (that's her in the book signing picture below). It was a great talk, moving and interesting, and well attended by some really cool people. Gotta love that valley! As an aside, in the lobby (behind where Alison is sitting in the picture below) there are hanging plaster friezes from the Parthenon! It was sort of shocking, quite frankly.

...Alison Bechdel signing her Fun Home

And today's big news is that the Waste Free Living warehouse is lined up and ready for the good goods! It's tucked away in the artist's warren on Pine and Howard in Burlington--the same area as the Burlington Glass Studio (where I'm taking a stained glass class), Liza Cowan's Pine Street Art Works, and many other cool stores and studios.


I'll leave you with a poem. It's from one of my favorite books: Picnic, Lightning by Billy Collins.

-the compost maven

Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes
by Billy Collins

First, her tippet made of tulle,
easily lifted off her shoulders and laid
on the back of a wooden chair.

And her bonnet,
the bow undone with a light forward pull.

Then the long white dress, a more
complicated matter with mother-of-pearl
buttons down the back,
so tiny and numerous that it takes forever
before my hands can part the fabric,
like a swimmer's dividing water,
and slip inside.

You will want to know
that she was standing
by an open window in an upstairs bedroom,
motionless, a little wide-eyed,
looking out at the orchard below,
the white dress puddled at her feet
on the wide-board, hardwood floor.

The complexity of women's undergarments
in nineteenth-century America
is not to be waved off,
and I proceeded like a polar explorer
through clips, clasps, and moorings,
catches, straps, and whalebone stays,
sailing toward the iceberg of her nakedness.

Later, I wrote in a notebook
it was like riding a swan into the night,
but, of course, I cannot telly you everything--
the way she closed her eyes to the orchard,
how her hair tumbled free of its pins,
how there were sudden dashes
whenever we spoke.

What I can tell you is
it was terribly quiet in Amherst
that Sabbath afternoon,
nothing but a carriage passing the house,
a fly buzzing in a windowpane.

So I could plainly hear her inhale
when I undid the very top
hook-and-eye fastener of her corset

and I could hear her sigh when finally it was unloosed,
the way some readers sigh when they realize
that Hope has feathers,
that reason is a plank,
that life is a loaded gun
that looks right at you with a yellow eye.



Maggie Jochild said...

Oh, my -- one of the few places I've been to in New England is Emily Dickinson's house and grave. I've written about her twice at my blog, once on her birthday at and the second time to plug some new information available online about the art collecting of her family at . Lots of photos, lesbiana, and the short story I wrote about my trip called "The Muffdivers of American Literature Tour" which, yes, really happened.

I share this NOT to toot my own blog but because Emily addicts always want to find each other.

CONGRATS on the warehouse, it's beautiful.

Maggie Jochild said...

Well, damn. The links didn't work, forgot about that with blogger. Here, I'll html it:

Emily Dickinson 10 December 1830 - 15 May 1886

As I Read My Emily Dickinson

Alison Bechdel said...

Huh. That Billy Collins poem reminds me of this freaky story I heard Joyce Carol Oates read when she was at the Burlington Book Festival last fall. It was about a couple who bought a kind of Emily Dickinson robot. The robot came to live with them, but mostly stayed in the upstairs bedroom. It was sort of funny, and sort of disturbing. The husband tries to rape the robot, and the wife makes the robot give her feedback on her bad poems.

Alison Bechdel said...

P.S. Sweeeet freakin' warehouse!

June said...

This line from the Billy Collins poem has me reeling:

the way she closed her eyes to the orchard

In Spanish, the phrase "llevarse al huerto," literally, "to take [her/him] to the orchard," means to have sex--though sometimes with an element of manipulation, as in talking someone into having sex.

I wonder if Collins was aware of that echo?

Liza Cowan said...

I've been a tenant in the "artist's warren" aka the Unsworth Property, for six years and I've never seen this space. Anyway, welcome, and I look forward to seeing you around the alley.

Holly Rae Taylor said...

Hi everyone!

Maggie, thanks for the Emily links!

June, I really like that orchard line, too. I actually just spent a few minutes trying to find contact info for Billy Collins, to no immediate avail, to pose your interesting question. I thought we all might be interested in hearing his take on that. But being poet laureate or whatever he is now probably means he's too busy to comment. Actually, the orchard reference reminded me, and I'm not just saying this because Alison reads this blog, of the time Mo and Sydney were getting busy in an orchard, titillating each other with their love for words, like syzygy. I mean, I know syzygy does it for me every time!

Liza, I'll give you the grand tour of the warehouse sometime soon!

June said...

Totally with you on the Mo and Sydney orchard scene!