It is rare to find someone who doesn’t recognize the name Emily Dickinson. This is why University at Buffalo professor Cristanne Miller, who has written extensively about the American poet, chose to begin the tradition of a community reading of every one of Dickinson’s poems over the course of a day during National Poetry Month.
“Dickinson … has a very broad public appeal, which attracts people of all ages and walks of life to such an event,” Miller said.
This was quite apparent last Saturday as the Emily Dickinson Marathon Reading brought in teenagers, college students, professors and even Mayor Byron W. Brown to take a turn reading some of Dickinson’s poetry. The event took place at the Westminster Presbyterian Church on Delaware Avenue. Each participant sat in a circle of chairs and, one by one, took turns reading one of Dickinson’s 1,789 poems.
Although the task of covering the entire body of work of an author as prolific as Dickinson may seem daunting, Miller said that few poets are better suited for such a reading.
“Dickinson wrote almost exclusively very short poems,” Miller said. “One could not read all Whitman’s poems, for example, in 13 hours.”
Miller planned an all-day event that began at 8 a.m. and ended at approximately 10 p.m. Anyone was free to come and go. At 1 p.m., a group of singers that called itself “Bolts of Melody” sang five songs set to the poems.
The marathon reading was a very unique way to experience literature. I was not too familiar with Dickinson’s work beforehand so to hear her poetry for the first time all at once, as a sort of blur of ideas and images, made it feel very immersing. Dickinson’s voice is intriguing, and it’s great that it’s being preserved by the community in this way.
Stephen Valeri is a senior at City Honors.