Emily Dickinson Poetry Discussion Group (2018 - 2019)

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 Friends is $12/session; the general fee 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.

 2018-2019 Season

  • Friday September 21, 2018

Session Topic: Tropic Hints
This discussion will take its inspiration from Dickinson's 1879 exchange with her Amherst childhood friend Helen Hunt Jackson. Jackson was much taken with Dickinson's bird poems, and suggested Dickinson try her hand at the oriole. Dickinson obliged with "One of the ones that Midas touched," and added, for good measure, her famous riddle poem "A route of evanescence." We will explore the themes and strategies of some of Dickinson's bird poems ("To hear an oriole sing," for example), with the discussion opening out on such topics as Dickinson and the tropics and Dickinson's riddle poems.

 Leader: Christopher Benfey is Andrew W. Mellon Professor of English at Mount Holyoke. He is a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books and the The New York Times Book Review. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is the author of four books about the American Gilded Age, including A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade, which won the 2009 Christian Gauss Award of Phi Beta Kappa. Benfey was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2012.

  • Friday October 19, 2018

Session Topic: A Revolution in Locality, 2: Deep Cuts from the Middle Fascicles
In this discussion, we will examine how Dickinson surveys and represents a very intimate locality, which positions her natural surroundings from her point of view at the Homestead

Leader: David Razor
In addition to planting and weeding at the museum’s Garden Days each spring, David Razor is a May 2019 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, and in 2018, led two Dickinson seminars for the Brandeis BOLLI Program. Previously for 9 years in a California high school, David taught AP English, as well as British Literature.  He served as a Master Teacher for the California State University.

  • Friday November 16, 2018

Session Topic: Emily Dickinson's Planet
When Emily Dickinson wrote to Thomas Wentworth Higginson about “Planetary Forces,”  was she thinking about astrophysics? geopolitics ? environmental changes? Something more philosophical? What did the idea of earth’s planetarity mean to Dickinson and her circle, and what does it mean to us?

Leader:  Renée Bergland
Renée Bergland is the Hazel Dick Leonard Research Professor of English and Simmons University, and Visiting Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Dartmouth. She is the author of The National Uncanny: Indian Ghosts and American Subjects and Maria Mitchell and the Sexing of Science: An Astronomer Among the American Romantics Bergland is also an Emily Dickinson scholar. Recently elected to the board of the Emily Dickinson International Society, she has served as the Book Review Editor for the EDIS Bulletin since 2014. In 2009, she was awarded the EDIS Scholar in Amherst Award for archival research on her current book project, Planetary Poetics: Emily Dickinson and Literary Relativity.  Since 2001, Bergland has presented sixteen conference papers on Dickinson and astronomy. On top of her book reviews for the Bulletin, she has published two major essays on Dickinson: “Urania’s Inversion: Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, and the Strange History of Women Scientists in Nineteenth-Century America,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 34:1 (Autumn 2008); and “The Eagle’s Eye: Emily Dickinson’s View of Battle,” in Blackwell’s Companion to Emily Dickinson, Ed. Mary Loeffelholz and Martha Nell Smith (Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers 2008).

  • Friday January 18, 2019

Session Topic: “White:” An Exploration of Dickinson’s Iconic Color with “White Heat: Emily Dickinson in 1862: A Weekly Blog”

There is no color more connected to Dickinson than white, the color of the house dress she began wearing sometime around 1862. What does this color stand for? Innocence or spiritual/sexual purity? Coldness, snow, and the forbidding blankness of New England winters? Bones and marble, alabaster chambers, pearls, death shrouds and ghosts? Or renunciation of society? As her assumption of white clothing occurred during the years of the Civil War, we cannot ignore the meaning of white as a racial marker of class privilege and power, a category of identity that was undergoing cultural re-consolidation during this period.

 The name of Ivy Schweitzer’s year-long blog project on Dickinson comes from her poem, “Dare you see a soul at the ‘White Heat?'” because it captured Dickinson’s intensity and the refining forge of creativity that characterized the year 1862 in her life. With her extensive knowledge of astronomy, Dickinson would have known that white is not so much a color as a compendium of the full spectrum of colors. We will use the White Heat blog with its sections on history, biography and poetry to explore this intriguing color.

Leader: Ivy Schweitzer

Ivy Schweitzer is Professor of English and past chair of Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Dartmouth College. Her fields are early American literature, American poetry, women’s literature, gender and cultural studies, and digital humanities. She is the author of several scholarly studies of early American literature and co-editor of several anthologies of primary texts. She is the editor of The Occom Circle, a digital edition of works by and about Samson Occom, an 18th century Mohegan Indian writer and activist, https://www.dartmouth.edu/~occom/, and co-producer of a full-length documentary film entitled It’s Criminal: A Tale of Prison and Privilege, https://www.facebook.com/ItIsCriminal/, based on the courses she co-teaches in and about jails. She is currently blogging weekly about the year 1862 in the creative life of Emily Dickinson, https://journeys.dartmouth.edu/whiteheat/, and co-editing with Gordon Henry a collection of essays entitled The Afterlives of Indigenous Archives: Essays in honor of the Occom Circle. She is also a published poet. 

  • Friday February 15, 2019

Session Topic: “To a discerning Eye - ”: A Look at Emily Dickinson’s Artistic Milieu

In her second letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Dickinson cites Victorian art critic John Ruskin as one of her particular favorites “For Prose": suggesting that the poet may have possessed a keen eye for both natural wonders and manmade artistry. Pairing poems with nineteenth-century paintings and photographs, this session will explore the metaphorical gallery of landscapes and figures evoked in the imagery of Dickinson’s writing. No art historical experience or artistic skill required: just a willingness to engage thoughtfully with Dickinson’s words and the art of her time, which may include works by such artists as Thomas Cole, J.M.W. Turner, and Julia Margaret Cameron. 

Leader: Keely Kempster Sarr

A guide at the Emily Dickinson Museum since 2017, Keely Kempster Sarr is a current Master’s candidate at the University of Massachusetts: Amherst specializing in Victorian fairy painting and the Pre-Raphaelites. Through her prior work in museum education at the Mead Art Museum and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Keely has gained a companionable familiarity with the nineteenth-century landscape art of both sides of the Atlantic.


  • Friday March 15, 2019

Session Topic: Thank you for the surgery: Dickinson Revising/Revising Dickinson

One of the founding scandals of Emily Dickinson's publication history is the revision of her work in early editions – including the alteration of punctuation, addition of titles, changes of words and rhymes, and rearrangement of line- and stanza-breaks. These revisions are now generally considered violations of Dickinson's work, but were once considered more or less standard editorial interventions, part of the process of bringing handwritten manuscripts into print editions. However, Dickinson herself revised many of her poems, and, in one well-documented exchange, did so in response to specific criticisms from her sister-in-law.

 In this class, we will consider the knotty questions surrounding revising Dickinson by examining Dickinson's early letters to Thomas Wentworth Higginson and three of the poems she sent him, each of which exists in two or more versions, and her exchange with Sue regarding revisions of one of those poems, “Safe in their Alabaster Chambers.” 

 Leader: Joy Ladin, Gottesman Professor of English at Yeshiva University, is the author of Soldering the Abyss: Emily Dickinson and Modern American Poetry, nine books of poetry, and two books of creative non-fiction. She began teaching classes on Dickinson's poetry in the early 1990's, in the various rooms of the Homestead before it became a museum. 

  • Friday April 19, 2019

Leader: Susan Snively

  • Friday May 17, 2019

Leader: Polina Barskova