2012-07-28 / Top News

Marathon Reading To Honor ‘Foremost American Woman Poet’

By James Dau

While only a handful of her 1,789 poems saw publication during her lifetime, the works of Emily Dickinson are today revered as the writing of a visionary and gifted, if eccentric, figure in American literature. Schools and libraries today bear her name, and she is counted alongside the likes of Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, and T.S. Eliot as among the greatest writers of of all time. The Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts, occupying the original homes of Miss Dickinson and her brother, tells the story of the poet and her work.

On Saturday, July 28, through this museum, Mackinac Associates, and Penny and John Barr, Miss Dickinson will be celebrated here in a marathon reading of her collected poems, titled “Emily Meets Mackinac Island.”

“Emily Dickinson is the foremost American woman poet,” said Penny Barr, a member of the Emily Dickinson Museum board of governors. Mrs. Barr is a representative of the Chicago-based Poetry Foundation, and a Mackinac Island summer resident. “Along with Walt Whitman as the man, she’s the most important poet in our history.”

The Emily Dickinson Museum holds an annual Emily Dickinson reading marathon, and she and Mary K. McIntire have been planning a similar exercise for Mackinac Island.

“I think it’s important to share the work of such an influential poet,” Mrs. Barr said, “and the atmosphere on Mackinac Island seemed perfect.”

A 12-hour, continuous reading session is planned, and everyone is invited to participate. Throughout the day, visitors and members of the community, adults and children alike, are welcome to come to any or all of four venues to read Emily Dickinson’s poetry, beginning at 6 a.m. and concluding at 6 p.m. The venues are the Island Bookstore, Mission Church, Mackinac’s Little Gallery, and Little Stone Church. The program will conclude at 6 p.m. at Mission Church with a candlelit reading of the final poems by select members of the Mackinac Island community and representatives of the Emily Dickinson Museum. One of the white dresses which Miss Dickinson was famed for wearing will be on display at Mission Church, hung on an antique dress frame donated for the day by David Kronberg of Cheboygan, Michigan. Throughout the day, musicians from Fort Mackinac will play at Mission Church as people read Miss Dickinson’s poetry.

According to the Emily Dickinson Museum, Miss Dickinson began writing poetry as a teenager living in Amherst with her family, but it was during her mid-20s and 30s that she produced the majority of her work. During that period of her life, from 1858 to 1865, she wrote more than 1,100 poems, the vast majority of which remained hidden in her second-story bedroom. They were discovered after her death in 1886 by her sister. The collection, first published in 1890, has never been out of print since.

“Her work is so accessible for anyone,” Mrs. Barr said. “The poems are usually only eight to 12 lines long, and most of them rhyme. They’re easy to read and understand, but they speak to very deep parts of our lives. They have real meaning for adults, while still being suitable for children.”

Several books on Miss Dickinson’s life and works have been recently published, with others soon to be released.

“We’re seeing a growing interest in her,” Mrs. Barr said. “Her work is concise. It’s short and to the point, and it’s what the world is looking for.”

Mrs. Barr divided the works of Miss Dickinson into four volumes, one for each venue. Those poems left will be read in the Mission Church reading at 6 p.m.

Participants in the reading will receive a six-month membership with the Emily Dickinson Museum, as well as a gift from the event’s hosts. All participants are also welcome at a Grand Hotelcatered cocktail party following the final reading at Mission Church, to be held at Mary K. McIntire’s cottage, Lago Vista.

Those wishing to volunteer with the event should contact Mrs. Barr at (914) 329-9253.

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