One of the great things about being a professor is that I was always getting (and reading) new books. Publishers shipped them to us constantly because they hoped we would adopt them for our classes. If it’s a popular class it can mean hundreds and hundreds of sales. In addition to Review copies of books, it seemed that I was always picking up something or another for class. Something wonderful and exciting to share (to go along with one of the BEST things about teaching, always something new to LEARN). Which leads me to mention my latest reading musts!
I was reading HOW TO WOW IN FLASH on the plane. Written by Colin Smith, the book is nine chapters of the things you most need to know and use when building a flash website … things like incorporating a dynamic image page, a scrolling text box and bitmap caching for faster image loads. Best of all, it’s written from a designer’s point of view. So, it included the code but emphasis is on how it’s going to look and work. Great book. I’m looking for more books like it.
I think I already mentioned the Rockable Press book HOW TO BE A ROCKSTAR WORDPRESS DESIGNER. Still amazed at how accessible PHP, CSS and WP became after reading that book. I’ve taught CSS in the past and, had this book been around, it would have been required reading because it takes you really far, really fast.
While I’m unpacking (groan), I also like to take time to read things for pleasure (gasp). I’m working on the Emily Dickinson story so I’ve got two wonderful pleasure books I’m perusing (now that I’ve got my books unpacked). The first is the Emily Dickinson HERBARIUM, a copy of the 400+ plants and flowers that 14-year-old Emily collected, pressed and labeled in her own inimitable hand. In later years, she would use plant and flower imagery in many of her poems. The HERBARIUM is the genus of her genius. Alec picked this up for me in Manhattan at Strand Bookstore (18 miles of rare books). I love it, absolutely love it.
I’m also reading Martha Dickinson Bianchi’s FACE TO FACE WITH EMILY DICKINSON. The daughter of Austin and Susan Dickinson, the niece of Emily, Martha has the unique perspective of someone who grew up in the presence of these two amazing women. Her firsthand account of their lives is fascinating.
On my Facebook account, I’ve been updating my status frequently with the comments about my work on “the Emily and Susan” story. I’m always a bit obtuse about it because, like all writers, I have this basic fear that someone else will see the story and decide to do something similar. And I think this is a really good, really amazing story.
A bit more than two years ago, I was “in a poetry phase.” I’d recently re-watched SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE and was enamored of the written word. I started messing around with sonnets … again … almost with the same enthusiasm as when I was in college. Soon, the rigor of the form dampened creativity and the sonnet lost its appeal. So I started playing with free verse and, for inspiration, I spent time re-reading my favorite poets. I stumbled back into Emily Dickinson. Her biography was well-known to me. Unmarried, probably agoraphobic, woman dies with only ten (10!) poems published. Following her death, over 1700 (that’s one thousand, seven hundred) poems are discovered in her home in bound books she called “fasicles.” One thousand, seven hundred.
I started writing a poem a day using Dickinson as my standard bearer. I loved her imagery, her cadence, her style.
Her breast is fit for pearls,
But I was not a “Diver”–
Her brow is fit for thrones
But I have not a crest.
Her heart is fit for home–
I–a Sparrow–built there
Sweet of twigs and twine
My perennial nest.
I started noticing the tenderness and longing and eroticism in her writing. So, how does a reputed agoraphobe have these sorts of thoughts? Did she have relationships in her adolescence of which I was unaware? So, I started reading more. More on her biography and more of her poetry.
WILD nights! Wild nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild nights should be
Futile the winds
To a heart in port,—
Done with the compass,
Done with the chart.
Rowing in Eden!
Ah! the sea!
Might I but moor
To-night in thee!
Who the heck is she mooring in? Wild nights with whom? Whose breasts? Doesn’t sound much like a (male) editor that she’s pining for, does it? And then I find information on Susan Gilbert Dickinson, her sister-in-law. A woman she knew from school, a woman who married her brother, Austin, and lived next door to family home for Emily’s entire adult life. About half of Emily’s correspondence was to Susan and many poems were written TO her or ABOUT her (in spite of efforts by others to obliterate Susan from Emily’s writings.
Scholar Martha Nell Smith‘s wonderful books OPEN ME CAREFULLY and ROWING IN EDEN offered a more complete, richer biography of Emily. Using the poetry and correspondence of both Emily and Susan, Professor Smith brought an entirely new understanding of Emily Dickinson and her work.
Tomorrow, more about the mistress of Austin Dickinson and the writings of Susan Dickinson. If you haven’t figured it out, I’m working on a screenplay about the Dickinsons.