Emily Dickinson Museum

The Dipper - December 2018

"The Dipper" is our monthly newsletter, where we highlight readings, events, calls for submission, and other literary-related news for the coming month. If you have news or events to share, let us know


December News

December is a quiet month in terms of readings and literary events. (If you squint at the month of December on our calendar, it looks a bit like a snowy field dotted with a few bare, beautiful trees.)

This month might be the perfect time to catch up on your TBR pile and your Slow Club Book Club reading. If you’re like Shari, you might want to start searching out titles that you want to add to your wish list for 2019.

In the new year, be on the lookout for our “Year in Reading” posts again, as we follow suit with The Millions.

Remember that books make great gifts! Support your local independent bookstores. Happy Holidays from Literary North!

December’s Shooting Stars

A cool literary find from each of us to help light up your month:

  • BBC Radio 4 invited Cheryl Strayed, Ocean Vuong, and Sharon Olds to visit Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst and to write in her room. Many interesting reflections on her life and work. —Shari

  • Speaking of snowy fields, do you know about Shelley Jackson’s beautiful, slow Instagram story written in snow? She’s been writing the story, word by word, during the snowy months in New York since 2014. I absolutely love the slow pace of this project, and the way it meanders through the months and years. (Tip: If you’re not good at reading a story backwards, you can read at least the first six sentences in their correct order on Electric Lit.) —Rebecca

December Highlights

Leath Tonino

Leath Tonino

Leath Tonino will be at Flying Pigs Books in Shelburne, Vermont, on Saturday, December 1 at 6:30 pm to read from his essay collection, The Animal One Thousand Miles Long.

On Saturday, December 8, at 6:00 pm, Andre Dubus III will be reading from his latest novel at The Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vermont.

Louise Penny, author of the Chief Inspector Gamache mystery series, will be at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord, New Hampshire, on Sunday, December 9, at 1:00 pm. Ticket are $38 and include a signed copy of the latest book in the series, Kingdom of the Blind.

Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith

US Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith will be at The Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Wednesday, December 12, at 7:00 pm to accept the 2018 Hall-Kenyon Prize in American Poetry. Tickets are $5-10.

Mitchell S. Jackson will be at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont, on Wednesday, December 12, at 8:00 pm. Jackson’s new book, Survival Math, is due out on March 5, 2019, and we’ve heard excellent things about it!

On Friday, December 14, at 7:00 pm, George Howe Colt, will be at The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont, to read from his new book, The Game.

Madeleine Kunin will be reading from and discussing her memoir, Coming of Age, at The Norwich Congregational Church in Norwich, Vermont, on Wednesday, December 19, at 7:00 pm.

Visit our calendar for detailed information about these events and more!


Worth a Drive

  • Idra Novey will be reading at Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Massachusetts, on Wednesday, December 5 at 8:00 pm.

  • Also in South Hadley, Massachusetts, poet Eileen Myles will be reading at the Art Building at Mount Holyoke College on Thursday, December 6 at 7:30 pm.

  • On Saturday, December 8, from 1:00 to 4:00 pm, the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts, will hold an open house to celebrate the poet’s 188th birthday. During this free program, visitors can tour the Homestead and The Evergreens at their leisure; enjoy holiday decorations and traditional music; decorate an ornament with a special birthday message; and, of course, enjoy coconut cake made from the poet’s own recipe.

Worth a Listen

Shari has been enjoying the Keeping a Notebook podcast by Nina LaCour. The episodes on writing are short, inspiring and thoughtful.


We're Looking Forward to These December Releases


Calls For Submission and Upcoming Deadlines

The Hotel Vermont has asked the Burlington Writers Workshop to assemble a small collection of Vermont writing for young people to be available to guests in their rooms at the hotel. The hotel already features BWW writing for adults in all its guest rooms and would like to add work specifically aimed at children and teens. If you have work you are interested in submitting for consideration, please contact the Burlington Writers Workshop.

The Burlington Writers Workshop is seeking a writer/editor to write for their Opportunites & Announcements blog once a month. If you’re interested, please contact the Burlington Writers Workshop

Marble House Project is a multi-disciplinary artist residency program in Dorset, Vermont, that fosters collaboration and the exchange of ideas by providing an environment for artists across disciplines to live and work side by side. The three-week Artist Residency is open to artists in all creative fields, including but not limited to visual arts, writing, choreography, music composition and performance. Applications for 2019 residencies are open through December 16. The application fee is $32. For more information, please visit the Residency Applications page.

Bloodroot Literary Magazine is accepting submissions of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction for their 2019 Digital Edition through December 31. For submission guidelines, please visit the Bloodroot website.

The Frost Place is accepting submissions for their annual Chapbook Competition. The competition is open to any poet writing in English. The submission fee is $28. Submissions will be accepted through January 5, 2019. For more information, please visit the Chapbook Competition page.

Applications are now open for the Dartmouth Poet in Residence program at The Frost Place. This is a six-to-eight-week residency in poet Robert Frost’s former farmhouse in Franconia, New Hampshire. The residency begins July 1 and ends August 15, and includes an award of $1,000 from The Frost Place and an award of $1,000 from Dartmouth College. The recipient will have an opportunity to give a series of public readings across the region, including at Dartmouth College and The Frost Place. Applications will be accepted through January 5, 2019. For more information, please visit the Residency page.  

Every summer, the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, awards residency Fellowships to artists in seven disciplines, including literature. A Fellowship consists of exclusive use of a private studio, accommodations and three prepared meals a day for two weeks to two months. The deadline for the 2019 Summer MacDowell Literature Fellowship is January 15, 2019. The application fee is $30. For more information, please visit the Residency Application page.

The Juniper Summer Writing Institute in Amherst, Massachusetts (June 16-22) is now accepting applications. The institute includes manuscript consultations, craft sessions, workshops, readings, and other events, led by a wide range of instructors, including CAConrad, Gabriel Bump, Ross Gay, Khadijah Queen, Bianca Stone, Ocean Vuong, Dara Weir, and Joy Williams. The non-refundable application fee is $40. For more information and to apply, please visit the Juniper Institute website.

Upcoming Workshops and Classes

The Burlington Writers Workshop annual meeting will be held on December 2, from 2:30 to 5:00 pm at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, Vermont. All members are invited to attend. To RSVP, please visit the BWW website.

The League of Vermont Writers’ annual business meeting and winter writing craft workshop will take place at Trader Duke’s in South Burlington, Vermont, on January 19, 2019. For more details and registration information as it becomes available, visit the League’s Facebook page.

The New Hampshire Writers’ Project is hosting a Travel Writing workshop, led by author Dan Szczesny on the campus of SNHU in Manchester, New Hampshire, from 10:00 am to noon on January 19, 2019. Registration is $50 for NHWP members; $70 for non-members. For more information and to register, please visit the NHWP Workshops page.

Interview: Ivy Schweitzer (Part 2)

This is part 2 of our conversation with Ivy Schweitzer, Professor of English at Dartmouth College, and the driving force behind “White Heat,” a blog that chronicles Dickinson's creative life and poetry week by week for the crucial year 1862, and provides cultural and historical contexts to this poet’s notoriously difficult work.

p.s. You can read part 1 here.


(continued from part 1)

R: So how do you structure the posts in “White Heat”? 

I: After we choose our theme for the week, we go off and do research for the sections called “This Week in History,” and “This Week in Biography.” The first contains snippets from newspapers and magazines we know Dickinson read, and the second summarizes relevant biographical information from letters, etc. Then, we choose a group of five or six texts, mostly poems from this period, but also letters, that illuminate the weekly theme, and write a short introduction, “On Choosing the Poems,” that talks about literary influences and important elements in the poetry. For each poem, we reprint a transcript of the manuscript, give links to the EDA, and offer some suggestions on how to approach the poem, what to look for, questions to ask.

What I'm trying to do is not give you a reading or interpretation of the poems, because I don't believe in that. My students always say, "What does it mean?" And I reply, "No, let go of that." I don't know what it means and, with Dickinson, it never means only one thing. We're never going to figure that out and it’s not the most important part of reading poetry. We have to pay attention to how the poem make its meaning and what it does to us, the readers. How does it make us feel? And Dickinson's poems can elicit a wide and deep range of feelings from frustration to existential angst to “transport,” one of her favorite terms.

R: That's absolutely one of my favorite things about what you're doing, aside from all the rich content, is that, as odd as it seems, though there are links to the poems, the poems are not central, they're all throughout, but not the only focus.

I: That’s right. I am trying to show that they're not hermetically sealed off from the history and biography, yes. And the more I work with them, the more I see how she filtered so many aspects of her world into her work. For example, I did a post on Astronomy, on the discovery of the comet, and found Dickinson wrestling with the ideas of Darwin and other prominent scientists of her day. In another post on volcanoes, she enters the raging debate at the time about geology and whether it could be squared with Christian doctrine.

S: So, you're trying to encourage people to look beyond figuring out what her poems mean...

I: Right. I say to my students, "If you try to lock down the poem’s meaning and understand it, you're nailing it down, it’s finished." You don't let all the other connotations swirl around. Also, given the variants that Dickinson provided, you are going against the little glimpse we have of how she wanted her poems read; not as finished products but as always in process, always evolving.  That's what's interesting about all the new work being done on the fascicles, including by my recent Honor’s Thesis student, Madeline Killen. She worked on Fascicle 18, put together in 1862. A chapter from her thesis was selected as the Best Undergraduate Research Essay this year from the Emily Dickinson International Society. I was so proud. Many scholars are now saying that the Fascicles are the closest thing we have to how Dickinson herself wanted her poems to be presented.

It's not really self-publication, but a kind of self-editing, or organizing. Why did she put those poems next to each other in those groups?

It’s an amazing story and the beginning of the bloody editorial history of Dickinson’s body of work. After Dickinson’s death, her sister Lavinia found the forty fascicles and loose pages in her dresser drawer. They knew she was writing poetry, but not at that rate or with that intensity. Lavinia [Dickinson’s sister] gave them first to Sue and asked her to publish them, but Sue didn’t act quickly enough for Lavinia, and so Lavinia took them back and asked a young woman, Mabel Loomis Todd, to edit them and Mabel promptly snipped the fascicles and cut them apart. Mabel had become lovers with Austin, Dickinson’s brother and Sue’s estranged husband. So, Lavinia really pissed Sue off by going to Mabel.

Mabel Loomis Todd     Image   : Todd-Bingham Picture Collection, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University

Mabel Loomis Todd

Image: Todd-Bingham Picture Collection, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University

R: That's snipping apart of the fascicles is a really interesting mindset...

I: It is. Of course, we have to love Mabel because, with the pull of Higginson, she published several volumes of Dickinson’s poems after her death, while Sue didn’t publish any of the hundreds of poems she received in letters; her daughter took that on. Martha Nell Smith makes an argument that Sue was preparing a volume that was much more wholistic about Dickinson and that Mabel's volume is much more literarily edited and conventional. I know there's the Camp of Sue and the Camp of Mabel and never the twain shall meet, but I like them both. I think both did good things and not-so-good things to the Dickinson editorial history, which is complicated and, as I said, bloody––hence, the mutilations, probably done by Mabel and Austin who wanted to eradicate any trace of Sue in Dickinson’s work.

While Mabel got Dickinson’s work out there—the first Poems 1890 sold out quickly––she also went around lecturing and portraying Dickinson as the “White Myth of Amherst.” And she regularized the poetry to conform to current standards of taste. But Dickinson was a maverick, a rebel (that’s why I love her). As I mentioned earlier, Sharon Cameron's brilliant book Choosing Not Choosing argues that Dickinson deliberately chose not to choose. It wasn’t that she couldn’t decide. She deliberately chose, not indeterminacy, but multi-vocality, dynamism, freedom… I think she didn't want us as readers to be tied to a final version. She deliberately set it up so that we had to see those two words or phrases—the variants—working in a poem. It's kind of like hypertext before hypertext. It's like saying, okay, well, you can read the poem this way, you can read the poem that way, or then you could…

R: Choose your own adventure…

I: Exactly! I mean it's really like digital before the digital.

S: Do your students take turns with you writing? Or how does the collaboration work?

I: I'm not a control freak and I think the more the merrier. But I do like getting in there and being able to do it and I have a vision of how I want the posts to be and I don't want it to be super scholarly. I want it to appeal to scholars, but…

S: You want it to be accessible.

I: Exactly. And I want to reach all those zealous Dickinson fans out there who don't know what "performative" might mean or who don't know what structuralism is. I don't want to scare them away with that jargon. Even the post about the Dickinson’s meter . . . I was nervous about not getting too technical, but I think some technical is good.

R: I like the way you did it because you include a little bit of the technical information and then you give a link. You're saying, "Here, if you want to know all about meter, go over here."

I: That's what a digital site is great for. You can do layers and give options. This is how we worked. Each team member picked out which themes we wanted to work on. That person then writes the short overview in the beginning about the theme and suggests a few poems/letters that will work with it. Then we kibbitz back and forth on what poems we want, etc. So, for the first six months we were really writing the posts together. This summer, with the students away, I've been doing the posts myself, with Emily providing the historical material. I have also been asking friends, colleagues, and scholars to write the reflections, so there is a kaleidoscope of views and voices.

S: There're so many side projects you could do in addition to what you already have.

I: I really want to add lots more. Harriette created a White Heat YouTube channel and we've started uploading videos of my daughter Rebekah Schweitzer singing the Aaron Copland song cycle of 12 Dickinson poems set to music. It’s really challenging stuff, but she is doing a great job, accompanied by Annemieke McLean on piano. I want to include more audio because Dickinson was a skilled pianist and improviser. There's one whole post on Dickinson and music.

I have to say the other part I'm really loving about this project is the linking. Of course, this is dangerous because you don't know when your links are going to disappear. I've linked a lot to Wikipedia, because, frankly, I don't think Wikipedia is going to disappear. And lots of people start with Wikipedia. I don't think we should end there, but it's not a bad place to start.

S: Right. You want to make it accessible to people, like you said, who don't necessarily come with a scholarly background.

I: Exactly. And they can go from there and get into it more deeply if they want. So, the links to me are really important, to be able to read along and be able to just click and find out what you need to know…

I really wanted this site to be cultural. I wanted to be able to see images and picture Dickinson’s world: what members of her family and friends looked like, what Frazar Stearns looked like, what the Confederate cannon looked like that they sent to Amherst in his honor, what the Homestead looked like. I'm fascinated with that. But it's touchy because if the pages go away, then there are broken links. People hate broken links. When we do the eBook, it might be that I have to scale down a little bit or choose where I link to.

Frazar Stearns

Frazar Stearns

The fun part is feeling like you have it all at your fingertips. This is what the web was meant to do, to give us a sense that it's all here. And we use it for the larger purpose of creating a very rich context for the poems, to help us read these challenging poems in a more informed way. I think Dickinson has been read in little vacuums. We read an individual poem that blows our mind. I'm trained as a close reader. I love to do that, but when you read poems in a larger context like the Fascicles, or the context of the Civil War, or Dickinson’s relationship to Higginson or Emerson, or Thoreau, or her knowledge of volcanoes, then the poems take on a totally different, richer meaning.

So that's part of what I’m trying to do, to expand our view, because I am sensitive to the power of the “myth” and I want to counter it. When I introduce Dickinson to students and ask, "What's your image of her?" they say, "She was a recluse and she lived in her dad's house for her whole life and she never married and..."

R: And her white dress.

S: And her white dress.

Photo   : Jerome Liebling, Mt. Holyoke Art Museum

Photo: Jerome Liebling, Mt. Holyoke Art Museum

I: And her white dress. That's what they say. "The Belle of Amherst!"

I really want to provide a different version. Look at the post on “White” and you will see how resonant this color is in her work. It doesn’t just mean purity or innocence but is a very multi-faceted symbol. I want to present Dickinson in the World. A citizen of the World, even if she was just living in her father's house. She traveled the world in her imagination. She was networked. She wrote to everyone who was anyone, she received mail from around the world (from her missionary friends).

R: She wasn't oblivious to what was going on outside that house.

I: No. And in fact, there's a lot of evidence for her connections, if you look at the letters—the letters are amazing. That has been a real revelation to me. I'm trying to do a lot more with the letters to bring them to readers’ attention because she was a brilliant letter writer and that was another form of her creativity. They're aesthetic texts in their own right, you know what I mean?

What you see through the letters is that when she starts to go into seclusion in the 1860s, she starts to write to everybody and her letter production expands. She is withdrawing physically, but she's actually expanding verbally or textually, and she is really in touch with many people. I think there was a trade off for her and that's what Adrienne Rich says in her amazing essay from 1975, "Vesuvius at Home." That Dickinson knew that her genius wouldn't make it out there, that she would be misunderstood, criticized, or ignored and really driven mad by the restrictions. I think she knew she was sensitive, and she decided, "Ok, I'm not doing that. I'm going to be in here. I'm going to have my safe space. And I am going to write whatever I want to write in whatever way works for me.”

She could really control her life in the sense of keeping away the very negative parts. This is another thing my students don't really understand: how hard it was to be a woman in the 19th century. She had some things easy because was a member of an elite class, she had servants, but the constraints on women physically and psychologically were enormous. The whole “cult of true womanhood.”

I include in one post the image of a woman wearing the mourning dress of the times and it looks like a burqa. It's essentially a 19th century burqa, except she doesn't have the little eye holes.

Mrs. Howes in deep mourning, c. 1860s

Mrs. Howes in deep mourning, c. 1860s

S: She can't even see...

I: Right! What was it like to walk around like that? We forget how restrictive 19th century gender conventions were for women. So that's the context for the white house dress. Dickinson decided, "I'm not going to wear all that fancy, heavy stuff," I'm going to wear essentially what is the jeans and t-shirt, or sweatpants, of the 19th century! That's what she chose to wear.

R: With pockets.

I: Yeah, with pockets, so she could carry her little pencils and scraps of paper to write on in there. And buttons down the front so she didn't need somebody to help her dress.

S: That is radical.

I: That's why the context is important. Also, white was an important color to her, it had deep symbolism for her and also at a historical moment when the nation is fighting over slavery. You can’t ignore that. She wrote several poems scholars think are about racial issues; for example, “The Malay took the Pearl,” and “The Black Berry – wears a Thorn in his side.” Dickinson picked the white dress because it was easy and because she didn't want to walk around in corsets and stays or in black because many people around her were dying. Perhaps it was also a way to refuse the color of mourning.

There are so many layers, so many connections. This project has been a real mode of discovery.

One thing I’ve learned about teaching—and I learned this from my collaborator Pati Hernandez and from my spouse Tom Luxon— is that teaching should empower people. Knowledge should empower people, not humiliate them or intimidate them. And that's what I want this project to do. I know Dickinson can be really hard—and maybe that's why I picked Dickinson, she's hard, there are riddles, the center is missing, there's complicated symbolism, allegory, there is so much she's not really telling us... but, it's our responses to the language that's important. How does it make us feel? What does it do to you? Emily Dickinson is one of our great poets because she questioned everything. Her poetry is profoundly moving. The more we let go of “solving the riddle,” of what it means, the more it gives you.


Ivy’s Tips on reading the poems

Read them out loud. As you read, think about how the words and images and dashes and rhythms make you feel. Look at how the poem makes its meaning. Let the poem speak to you in its form, in its layers. What happens when the rhythm falls apart? Circle the words that interest you - go to the Emily Dickinson Lexicon to see how Dickinson uses and reuses words, what they meant to her. Circle places where you begin to stumble and ask why? Maybe she wants you to stumble there, to stop and think about it. She is a disrupter, a maverick. Look at the breaks in sentences; she wants to make her point using the literary tools available to her.

Recommended Online Resources

  • The Emily Dickinson Archive (EDA) – This site makes high-resolution images of Dickinson’s surviving manuscripts held in multiple libraries and archives available in open access. The present version includes images for the poems identified in The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Variorum Edition, edited by R. W. Franklin (Cambridge: Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press, 1998), and allows you to search by poem number, first line or words, acting as a virtual concordance to the poems.

  • Dickinson Electronic Archive 1 (DEA 1) and Dickinson Electronic Archive 2 (DEA 2) – These two websites (the second is an expanded version of the first) are “a scholarly resource showcasing the possibility of interdisciplinary and collaborative research and exploring the potential of the digital environment to reveal new interpretive material, cultural, historical, and theoretical contexts.” The DEA devoted to the study of Emily Dickinson, her writing practices, writings directly influencing her work, and critical and creative writings generated by her work. It contains archives of manuscripts by Dickinson and members of her circle, as well as critical essays and teaching resources.

  • The Emily Dickinson’s Lexicon, edited by Cynthia L. Hallen – This website helps illuminate Dickinson's word choice by examining the meanings recorded in Noah Webster's An American Dictionary of the English Language (1844 printing of 1841 ed.), which she used throughout her writing life, and also listing the usages of words in Emily Dickinson's writings. Indispensable.

  • The Emily Dickinson MuseumThe home of Emily Dickinson, a National Historic Landmark owned by the Trustees of Amherst College, and well worth a visit. Their web site also includes information about the Evergreens, home of Susan and Austin Dickinson, and provides a good introduction to Dickinson and Dickinson-related topics.

Recommended Books

Below are just a sampling of books about Emily Dickinson. Books marked with an asterisk (*) are some of Ivy’s favorites and a great place to start if you’re just beginning to plunge into the deep waters of Emily Dickinson studies.

Primary Sources




Critical Works


Fun Stuff

And more…

For even more resources, see DEA’s Emily Dickinson Bibliography.