An 8‑Hour Marathon Reading of 500 Emily Dickinson Poems

It’s unlike­ly that reclu­sive poet Emi­ly Dick­in­son would have want­ed much fuss made over her birth­day while still alive to cel­e­brate it.

But with the lady safe­ly ensconced in Amherst’s West Cemetery’s plot 53 for more than a cen­tu­ry, fans can observe the day in the man­ner they see fit.

The Library of Con­gress’ Poet­ry and Lit­er­a­ture Cen­ter threw in with the Fol­ger Library in cel­e­bra­tion of her 184th, invit­ing poet­ry lovers to the free marathon read­ing of her work, above (and below).

Poet Eleanor Hegin­both­am cit­ed Dickinson’s let­ter to her edi­tor, abo­li­tion­ist Thomas Went­worth Hig­gin­son–“Are you too deeply occu­pied to say if my verse is alive?”–before prim­ing the break­fast crowd on what they should expect from the 8 hour marathon:

We’re just going to have a day with no dis­cus­sion beyond… And it will be frus­trat­ing that we can’t ask ques­tions, we can’t stop and say, “Oh, my good­ness.  Let’s do that one over again.”  We’re just going to read and read and read.  And from this moment on, the voice of Emi­ly Dick­in­son, through those of you in this room, that’s the only voice we’re going to hear, and won’t that be fun?

Yes, though you may want to pack a nutri­tious snack to keep your ener­gy up. The read­ing slots were secured by means of an online sign up sheet, and while such egal­i­tar­i­an­ism is laud­able, it does not nec­es­sar­i­ly con­fer per­for­mance chops on the inex­pe­ri­enced.

Nat­u­ral­ly, there are stand outs.

Mar­i­anne Noble, Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor of Lit­er­a­ture at Amer­i­can Uni­ver­si­ty, is a high­light with Poem 75, (2:36:40, above). Her Emi­ly Rocks t‑shirt is pret­ty rad too.

Pro­fes­sor Hegin­both­am is anoth­er sort of treat with Poem 416, 30 min­utes and 40 sec­onds into the sec­ond video, below.

All told, the vol­un­teer read­ers held the podi­um for 8 hours, mak­ing it through 500 poems, slight­ly less than a third of the poet’s out­put.

A tran­script of the event, with the read­ers’ names record­ed before their cho­sen vers­es can be found here.

Sin­gle tick­ets for the Fol­ger’s 2017 Emi­ly Dick­in­son Birth­day Trib­ute, co-host­ed by poet and  fem­i­nist lit­er­ary crit­ic, San­dra M. Gilbert, go on sale August 1.

This marathon read­ing of Dick­in­son’s poems will be added to our col­lec­tion, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Online Emi­ly Dick­in­son Archive Makes Thou­sands of the Poet’s Man­u­scripts Freely Avail­able

The Sec­ond Known Pho­to of Emi­ly Dick­in­son Emerges

Bill Mur­ray Reads Poet­ry at a Con­struc­tion Site: Emi­ly Dick­in­son, Bil­ly Collins & More

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Dis­cuss Emi­ly Dick­in­son with her infor­mal­ly at Pete’s Mini Zine­fest in Brook­lyn this Sat­ur­day. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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