Posts Tagged ‘Emily Dickinson’

Poetry Challenge 39

February 3, 2010

This week, Emily Dickinson.   One of the questions that always comes up when we read Dickinson is what she meant by all the dashes.  Were they imitations of her speech rhythms?   Ellipses, where more was left unsaid than was said?  A habit, a quirk?

I like dashes–the way they spread out a sentence–the way they give the reader a pause to let the words resonate.

So write a poem with dashes–in odd–places.  See what it does to the line and to the words around it.

And in honor of Dickinson, have a bird fly through the poem.


OK.  So here’s my attempt in three phases.  First,  a poem as I might phrase it, from a random observation of a night time window,  thinking about the time spent outside earlier today.   I’ve added the dashes randomly to this one, but left it as I “dashed” it off in first draft.  Oh, and I forgot to add the bird.


There–is nothing–in my mind—

but snow–and tracks

a dog–makes

crescents–of horses’–hooves

pocked–across flat–white

floor–and you–and dark

and–the trail

smoke—makes–dusk spiral

gray on gray–blue

and how–the cold sits

on its side–of glass–blackly

flat—pressing–that one square–

I can—see–from here.


Now, a second version, adding her most familiar metric form, which can be sung to “The Yellow Rose of Texas” or “Amazing Grace”:


There–is nothing–in my mind—

but snow–and tracks a dog


makes. Crescents–of the horses’—hooves

pocked–across flat—white floor


and you–and dark and–the trail smoke—makes

dusk spiral–gray on gray—


blue–and how–the cold sits–on its side

of glass—blackly flat


pressing–that one square–I can—see—

from here.


(The poem kind of peters out here–breaking the rhythmic scheme.  It gets tougher!)


Now attempting a rhyme scheme with a few slant rhymes:


There—is nothing—in my mind

but snow—tracks—of dog paws


then crescents—hooves—pocked like rinds

across the flat—white floor


and you—and dark—the trail smoke—makes

dusk spiral—gray on gray—


blue—and how—cold its side—takes

flat, black—against the glass—


No birds—fly now—no moon’s light—flakes

snow—to shadowed—waste.


OK.  So I snuck a bird in the last version–or the absence of a bird.  And the rhythm is still not quite Emily’s and the subject matter is too straightforward, and there’s an extra stanza.  But I like the way it opens up the lines, allowing each group of words to hang suspended in the silence around them for a beat as the poem moves along.  And I like the idea of dividing phrases and letting alternate meanings leak out.  And I just plain like dashes–so–there!

OK.  You try one!

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