Emily Dickinson Poetry Discussion Group (2017-2018)

The Emily Dickinson Museum's Poetry Discussion group meets monthly September through May (except for December) for lively conversation about Emily Dickinson’s poetry and letters.  Featured facilitators each month offer fresh perspectives on Dickinson's poetry. While no RSVP is required, participants are invited to e-mail  edmprograms@emilydickinsonmuseum.org to receive a list of poems for discussion.

Time: Noon - 2 p.m.

Location: The Poetry Discussion Group meets at the Center for Humanistic Inquiry, on the second floor of Amherst College's Frost Library. Attendees are welcome to bring a bag lunch; beverages and a sweet snack are provided. Participants should report directly to the Library, and do not need to stop at the Museum.

Parking: Free parking for this program is available in the Amherst College Alumni Lot. Visitors to campus with any official state-issued Handicapped placards are permitted to park in any marked handicapped spot on campus without obtaining any additional permits from Amherst College.

For a campus map, click this link

Fee: The fee for Museum members is $12/session; the fee for non-members is $15/session. Season subscriptions are $80 for Museum members and $105 for non-members. To become a Friend of the Emily Dickinson Museum and enjoy member discounts, click here.

For more information, contact the Program Department: edmprograms@emilydickinsonmuseum.org or call (413) 542-2034.

 2017-2018 Season

  • Friday September 15, 2017

Session Topic: Dickinson's Enigmatic Riddling
Dickinson presents special challenges to readers of her poetry. We will look at several poems that can be seen differently in the ways we as readers experience them in order to begin to recognize Dickinson’s remarkable achievement in slyly challenging simplistic views of life by presenting the complexities of human experience.

 Leader: Margaret H. Freeman is Professor Emerita, Los Angeles Valley College, and co-director of Myrifield Institute for Cognition and the Arts (myrifield.org). She was a founding member and first president (1988-1992) of the Emily Dickinson International Society and moderates the monthly meetings of the Emily Dickinson Reading Circle at Myrifield in Heath, MA. She is a co-editor of the Oxford University Press series in Cognition and Poetics. Her research interests include cognitive poetics, aesthetics, linguistics, and literature. A list of her scholarly publications may be found here.

  •  Friday, October 20, 2017

Session Topic: Emily Dickinson as a Second Language, Part 1
Emily Dickinson wrote in a different time and place, in nineteenth-century American English, and with reference to long vanished cultural contexts. Moreover, this "Private Poet," created her own vocabulary, and many of her poems quote specific local and personal connections. Finally what she leaves unsaid is often most crucial to understanding. A much richer appreciation of the poems is realized by uncovering and understanding such elements of the poet's art.

 Leader:  Greg Mattingly is a retired corporate education and training professional living in the town of Orange, in central Massachusetts. He has been a guide on the staff of the Emily Dickinson Museum, in Amherst, Massachusetts, since 2010, and a contributing member of the Emily Dickinson International Society since 2008.

  •  Friday, November 17, 2017

Session Topic: Emily Dickinson as a Second Language, Part 2
Emily Dickinson wrote in a different time and place, in nineteenth-century American English, and with reference to long vanished cultural contexts. Moreover, this "Private Poet," created her own vocabulary, and many of her poems quote specific local and personal connections. Finally what she leaves unsaid is often most crucial to understanding. A much richer appreciation of the poems is realized by uncovering and understanding such elements of the poet's art.

 Leader:  Greg Mattingly is a retired corporate education and training professional living in the town of Orange, in central Massachusetts. He has been a guide on the staff of the Emily Dickinson Museum, in Amherst, Massachusetts, since 2010, and a contributing member of the Emily Dickinson International Society since 2008.

  • Friday, January 19, 2018

Session Topic: Emily Dickinson's Instruments of Writing
Emily Dickinson wrote poems and letters in both ink and pencil (by order of her eye doctor, after 1864.) How did she view her instruments of writing? Were they powerful, humble, decorative, erotic? Were they weapons, or the means of speaking forbidden messages, or signs of frustration and failure? How do Emily’s poems animate these instruments so that they become extensions of herself? Did she think of pens and pencils as being like painting tools, cutlery, cooking and gardening utensils, toys, or all of the above? 

 We’ll discuss this subject from a variety of angles, and play with it, too. 

Leader: Susan Snively grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and now lives in Amherst, MA, where she is a guide, discussion leader, and film script writer for the Emily Dickinson Museum. She was the founder and first director of the Writing Center at Amherst College, where she worked from 1981 until 2008.  She taught courses in writing and autobiographies of women, and has published four collections of poems. Snively has also published essays both personal and critical, and published a novel in 2014, The Heart Has Many Doors, about the love affair between Emily Dickinson and Judge Otis Phillips Lord. She has edited a new version of Poetry for Kids: Emily Dickinson. It was published in October, 2016, by Quarto Publishers, and illustrated by Christine Davenier.

  • Friday, February 16, 2018

Session Topic: Dickinson’s Arctic Flowers
“My flowers are near and foreign, and I have but to cross the floor to stand in the Spice Isles,” Emily Dickinson wrote to her friend Elizabeth Holland in March 1866. The miraculous transformation of climate and place that she refers to in this letter is, of course, the conservatory erected when the Dickinsons renovated the Homestead in 1856 (L315). The Emily Dickinson Museum has now reconstructed the Dickinson conservatory. To warm this February poetry discussion, we will look at poems in which Dickinson replicates the everyday magic of her conservatory: using words to cross seasons and geography,  and transform time and space.

 Leader:  Karen Sánchez-Eppler is Professor of American Studies and English at Amherst College. She frequently teaches college seminars on Dickinson at the Museum and is a member of the Emily Dickinson Museum Board of Governors. She is the author of Touching Liberty: Abolition, Feminism, and the Politics of the Body and Dependent States: The Child’s Part in Nineteenth-Century American Culture. She is presently engaged in co-editing, with Cristanne Miller, The Oxford Handbook of Emily Dickinson. See her faculty profile for a fuller account of her scholarship and interests. 

  • Friday March 16, 2018

Session Topic: "A Revolution in Locality"
This discussion explores a grouping of poems from Fascicles 36-40, which focuses upon the idea of “locality.”  After the theme is presented in the last poem of the collection, F839A – “Unfulfilled to Observation,” participants will look back into selections from the fascicles to explore how Dickinson eyes, pictures and patterns her world from different vantage points.  We will unpack some subtle spatial metaphors and consider how these poems involve the reader in a poet’s sense of place.  Finally, as a group, we will refocus on Fascicle 40 from Cristanne Miller’s  Emily Dickinson’s Poems: As She Preserved Them.  By focusing on a brief period from winter and spring 1864,  we will be able to locate the poems biographically and in the context of a new war of attrition in Virginia. Dickinson’s definition of “locality” will be examined in geographic and political contexts as well as in terms of natural and domestic environments.

Leader: David Razor 
In addition to planting and weeding at the museum’s Garden Days each spring, David Razor is a May 2018 PhD Candidate in 19th Century American Literature at Brandeis University.  His work explores the intersection between literature, toxic public rhetoric and private languages in the work of Poe, Hawthorne, Melville and Dickinson.  He has presented papers at the Herman Melville Society, the American Literature Association and the National Humanities Conference, where he documented pedagogical approaches from teaching 10-Week seminars that were able to focus exclusively on “big” novels such as Moby Dick as well as Emily Dickinson’s beloved Middlemarch.  At Brandeis, David was awarded the University Prize Instructorship.  His course, “Separated by a Common Language,” focused upon the transatlantic exchange between 19th Century American and British novelists.  Previously for 9 years in a California high school, David taught AP English, as well as British Literature with a focus on Shakespeare, Milton and the Romantics.  He served as a Master Teacher for the California State University. 

  • Friday, April 20, 2018

Session Topic: Poems about Poets & Poetry
In honor of National Poetry Month, the April discussion will focus on some of Emily Dickinson’s poems about poets and poetry. For comparison’s sake, we will also look at  other poets’ poems on the same topic, including poetry by Marianne Moore, Archibald Macleish, and Pablo Neruda. Some of the Dickinson selections are familiar; others less so.

Leader: Bruce M. Penniman taught writing, speech, and literature at Amherst Regional High School from 1971 until 2007. He is the site director of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project and lecturer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In 1999 he was Massachusetts Teacher of the Year and a finalist for National Teacher of the Year, and in 2009, and he is the author of Building the English Classroom: Foundations, Support, Success (NCTE, 2009).  He has served as a teacher curriculum mentor in all three NEH Emily Dickinson: Person, Poetry, and Place workshops and has facilitated discussions in the Poetry Discussion Group on topics ranging from Emily Dickinson and the Bible to Emily Dickinson and Science.

  • Friday, May 18, 2018

Session Topic: Revival, Temperence, and Intoxication in Emily Dickinson's Amherst
Leader: Melba Jensen