Emily Dickinson’s 'Envelope Poems' Revealed

Envelope poems showcase another side of poet's artistry
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 6, 2013 10:52 AM CST
A portrait of Emily Dickinson.   (Wikipedia Commons)

(Newser) – Emily Dickinson's use of small, often oddly-shaped bits of paper torn from 19th-century envelopes—on which she wrote sentences, stanzas, and entire rough poems in pencil—have been published, as a group, for the first time. Historian Marta Werner first came across one in the 1990s. Known as the "envelope poems," 52 have since been identified and assembled, and are now displayed in a full-color coffee table book edited by Werner, Emily Dickinson: The Gorgeous Nothings—"a visual phenomenon," writes Holland Cotter for the New York Times.

Showcased "like paintings on a gallery wall," each piece was photographed against a white background where "shapes rather than words are the first things that register," writes Cotter. In some poems, the words and shapes appear connected. One line referencing a house, for instance, is written on a flap that looks like a home with a peaked roof. Others involving death and danger appear on paper shaped like grenades or arrows, though "the envelope writings adhere to no fixed method of composition, or none that I can discern," Cotter writes. He concludes: "Are they art? Sure. Why not? But they are something else—poetry—before that." Click for his full piece. (Read more Emily Dickinson stories.)

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