Thursday, April 14, 2011

Emily Dickinson weighs in on whether internet relationships are real.

The Fourth Annual Fox Cities Book Festival is on this week, and I have volunteered all four years, although this year I was late to sign up and only worked at one session, which happened to be last night.  The session was called "Turn Up the Volume: A Riff on Creative Writing and Music", and it featured three different writers who incorporated music into their work in various ways.  Stephen McCabe was first - he would lay down repeated loops of guitar sounds with electric vibrophone or something as percussion and then read poems over the top of them; it was all very jazzy and beatnik and I loved it.  The last speaker was Bill Gillard, who read some poems and one story with themes drawn from his previous experience as a musician, including in the opening passage of the story the most perfect, moving description of a girl playing guitar (a Gibson 335 ES through a Fender Twin, to be exact) to make sounds in order to forget the boy she had lost, and also to remember him.  I went up to him afterwards to tell him that it was a perfect description of why girls play guitar - to make a sound that a boy made once.  It nearly made me cry when he read it.

But the one I want to talk about here is Ron Rindo, a Professor of English at UW Oshkosh down the road.  His thing is to set poems of other writers to original music.  Two of the pieces he did were Emily Dickinson poems, and to introduce one of them, poem 249 that starts "Wild Nights - Wild Nights!", he was talking about the different theories of her relationship with Susan Gilbert, the woman her brother had married and then they moved in next door.  There were many theories about this relationship and of what the poem was about, but he was in the camp that read it as a love poem, and believed Dickinson had a lesbian attraction to Susan Gilbert that was intense and passionate but also could never, never be requited.

Emily and Sarah used to pass notes between the houses, they lived next door but would communicate in writing, Emily in the end wrote more than 300 letters to Sarah, and he quoted her view that people in their flesh and blood were always disappointing, but she believed that in writing we are lifted up, and are our highest selves.

So, I thought, here is another vote for verbal relationships


Seeing an academic speak and then thinking of commenting on his work made me think about academic work and its research and rigor.  These little pieces haven't had much research or rigor.  I do know how to write properly rigorous academic prose, supported by full reviews of the existing literature and fully footnoted, revised and refined over months or years, carefully argued and vetted for being an original contribution to the field.  My dissertation was rigorous enough that the good people of the University of California thought it was worthy of giving a Ph.D.  But here, I am working to put out these little pieces for you at a higher frequency.  I read other people's blogs and know they have worked harder to refine their entries, and these in contrast are going to seem tossed off and casual.  I just wanted to make sure you realized that I know this.  I guess what you'll get here are many swift passes through a subject, like many cuts from a rapidly rotating blade.  Eventually I should get to the bottom of them.

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