Monday, January 26, 2015

Emily Dickinson and the Art of Dwelling in Possiblity

In I dwell in possibility Emily Dickinson compares Possibility - the world of the imagination: not simply the frivolous imagination, but the very occupation of writing poetry - to a house, a place to live in and feel at home.

What she makes clear to us, her readers, is that this is no ordinary dwelling. Compared to prose, it is superior. It is “More numerous of Windows”, and paradoxically has a roof that is not your usual roof. It does not hem in or coddles the inhabitant. It is the "everlasting sky". Those who appreciate this dwelling and are attracted to visit are simply “the fairest”. Her imagination draws progressively closer to Nature - “the Cedars”, “the Sky” - until “Paradise” itelf is within her grasp.

In Dickinson's depiction of Poetry we can also detect that living there has been a choice. The activity of writing poetry has been chosen for its advantages and superior qualities. By comparing this state of dynamic being to a dwelling, Dickinson is also subverting the traditional place of the woman, namely the home. She is reclaiming the home as her home, a dwelling of her own making, untouched and unspoilt by others. In short, a Paradise.

Rebecca Resinski takes Emily Dickinson’s poem and creates a new poem. Yet, like Dickinson’s, Resinski’s poem is no ordinary poem. She pushes the possibility of Possibility to the very limit. In Dwelling: An Inventory she breaks the poem into its constituent parts and takes Kenneth Goldsmith’s project, of literature as material, to one of its logical conclusions: exhibiting it as the catalog of its lexical units.

As Goldsmith observes in Uncreative Writing, his treatise on the subject, words can never be other than expressive. Even in their newly sundered form their ordered groupings produce nearly-phrases that are on the brink of meaning: "a an and as", "more my / narrow numerous".

Resinski’s version, however, is wrily witty and ironic. A poem is itself a dwelling, and these are the words that live in Dickinson's. Yet while the poem appears at first inert and a(na)tomised in its dissected state, closer inspection reveals the promise of life brimming within words. These words are ready for new compositional possibilities.