An ode to Emily Dickinson

I will be forever grateful to bell hooks for introducing me to the poetry of Emily Dickinson. For hooks, the poetry of Emily Dickinson was a way to find love in a world where no one understood what that world meant. “Poems came in another language”, hooks recalls as she remembers her childhood self,  “nobody could find or hurt you there… poems were the way to leave pain behind – to forget. They were a kind of suicide, a death. Her real self could drown in them” (Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life, 1997, p. 3)Like the name “Virginia Woolf”, Emily Dickinson was similarly the name of a famous woman writer that I told myself I needed to read and if Emily Dickinson was a muse for bell hooks’ writing, then it was definitely time for me to take a turn reading the words of this nineteenth century poet.

“I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,

And Mourners to and fro

Kept treading – treading – till it seemed

That Sense was breaking through –”

There is so much to say about Emily Dickinson and I feel like I have only just met her. She wrote nearly 1,800 poems in her lifetime. She was a contemporary of Walt Whitman but had never been allowed to converse with him. She was socially shy and seemingly conforming to the gender norms of ther time, but in her writing unafraid to word the world as she lived it from her standpoint as a woman. She was outspoken, spoke with emotion, and spoke her truth – she was a quiet in-sister. 

“I felt a funeral in my brain” was one of the first poems of hers I read and it seemed to capture a sense-ability that lingers longer than it should about what it means right now to think, wonder and write as a feminist academic yearning for – well, for something else to happen, something other than being on repeat, reproducing and reinscribing, as Helene Cixous laments, “death-dealing binary thought”. My “Ode to Emily Dickson” braids our words together in conversation between the there and then of her world and the here and now of mine in a sense-ability which break through to the other side of the “funeral in our brains”. 


This is my letter to the World

That never wrote to Me —

The simple News that Nature told —

With tender Majesty


Her message is committed

To Hand I cannot see —

For love of Her — Sweet — countrymen —

Judge tenderly — of Me


Fly me away to the world of dreams

Let me become writing

Take me away writing so that I might




The sweetness of life

Every – day

Throw me away out into the cold

My humble plea to you

Outside the hallowed halls of academia

Walk me away writing

Pick up the pieces of our broken hearts

Shattered on the stone

And we’ll find the lost homes

Near and far

To return to ourselves




She dealt her pretty words like Blades —

How glittering they shone —

And every One unbarred a Nerve

Or wantoned with a Bone —


She never deemed — she hurt —

That is not Steels Affair —

A vulgar grimace in Flesh —

How ill the Creatures bear —


To Ache is human — not polite —

To the Film upon the eye

Mortality’s old Custom —

Just locking up — to Die



Hodge podge, dash and dodge

This over here and that over there

Her words flitting from place to place

With a screaming mind in tow

Not quite sure where she is

Screaming resistance

There’s too much mess!

Don’t wait for the dust to settle

For god’s sake!

Clean up that room of your own

before the Great one-eyed father gets home!

Untidy words she dutifully locks away

Topsy-turvy your bones will break

She knows she should be the right way up

Con-centrate on conforming and con-straining to be con-ventional

Compliant without complaint

But the more she turns

The more undutiful and affective she becomes

She throws her words onto the page and laughs



I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,

And Mourners to and fro

Kept treading — treading — till it seemed

That Sense was breaking through –


And when they all were seated,

A Service, like a Drum —

Kept beating — beating — till I thought

My Mind was going numb —


And then I heard them lift a Box

And creak across my Soul

With those same Boots of Lead, again,

Then Space — began to toll,


As all the Heavens were a Bell,

And Being, but an Ear,

And I, and Silence, some strange Race

Wrecked, solitary, here —


And then a Plank in Reason, broke,

And I dropped down, and down —

And hit a World, at every plunge,

And Finished knowing — then —



Oh Emily Dickinson!

I wish I was with you, sitting here in a room of my own, the two of us feeling ever so feminine and fine in our pretty poppy-coloured dresses

How did we not notice?

That our pretty poppy-coloured dresses began to stain and sour as the procession of grey suited did not knock before they entered

Is it the moment when we two/too?

Began to speak from a position of power in our pretty poppy-coloured dress about the powerless in a room full of the powerful?

Was it when me, you and we?

Began to sense, standing still and listening in our pretty poppy-coloured dresses, that they don’t have the hearts and minds to hear?

It doesn’t matter!
We two think as we write with black ink about the funerals carried by birds locked in our brains and who dared to give us these pretty poppy-coloured dresses anyway?

But we bared all, we cry!

Our her-story/s, thinking back through our mothers, all of our lives and loves adored and adorned in our pretty poppy-coloured dresses

Did the pretty or the poppy matter to them?

They took off our dresses, tore them to shreds and threw them away; and here we are, bearing all because that is all



They shut me up in Prose —

As when a Little Girl

They put me in the Closet —

Because they liked me “still” —


Still! Could themselves have peeped —

And seen my Brain go round —

They might as well have lodged a Bird

For Treason — in the Pound —


Himself has but to will —

And easy as a Star

Look down upon Captivity —

And laugh — No more have I —



A star gazing storm rider

Stirs the tempest

Naked and bare in respair

Bra in hand

Black and white

Belt in between

Steam and sweat

Meld bodies together

Weather and woman

Becoming delicious monster

Destined to destroy

De/story the joint

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