Emily Dickinson's 1,789 Poems Will Star at Poetry Month Marathon Reading

Community members are invited to read from her poetry and try a piece of her black cake

Release Date: March 25, 2009 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- It may take 13 or 14 hours and some readers will be more experienced than others, but for those who would bask in the glow of every poem ever written by 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson, April 11 is the day to pack a lunch, grab a pillow and waltz on down to the Karpeles Manuscript Museum.

That day, in honor of National Poetry Month, the University at Buffalo Department of English will sponsor a free, public marathon community reading of all 1,789 of Dickinson's poems from 8 a.m. to about 9:30 p.m. at the museum, 453 Porter Ave., Buffalo.

Anyone who wishes is welcome to listen or read aloud some of the most arresting verse in the English language. There is no formal schedule of readers and no preregistration is required, but three Buffalo celebrities will kick off the readings that morning: New York State Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, actress Josephine Hogan of the Irish Classical Theatre and UB President John B. Simpson.

Cristanne C. Miller, Edward H. Butler Professor of English and chair of the UB Department of English, herself a Dickinson scholar, says, "Everyone is welcome to show up, sit in a circle with other participants and take a turn reading the poems.

"We will read them consecutively, in the order they are printed in Ralph Franklin's 1999 edition, 'The Poems of Emily Dickinson,'" copies of which, she says, will be provided to the readers by Talking Leaves Books.

Miller says the reading will open with Dickinson's early valentine, "Awake ye muses mine…" and will end with her undated reflection on the "magical frontier" between beauty and death, or pleasure and sorrow. The latter begins, "The saddest noise, the sweetest noise…" and ends with the stanza, "An ear can break a human heart / As quickly as a spear. / We wish the ear had not a heart / So dangerously near."

From 1-1:30 p.m. there will be a brief break in the reading while the Unitarian Universalist Choir directed by Barbara Wagner performs settings of Dickinson's poems written by composer Leo Smit (1921-99). A professor in the UB Department of Music from 1962-84, Smit set more than a hundred of Dickinson's poems to music.

Although the readings will not be interrupted for discussion, those interested will certainly find willing discussants outside the reading circle.

Coffee and tea will be available during the readings along with a "black cake" -- a molasses-based raisin cake -- made according to Emily Dickinson's own recipe, for as long as it lasts. Snacks will also be available at various times during the day.

The reading will end with a party, celebrating Dickinson, Buffalo readers of her poetry and National Poetry Month. Organizers recommend that those who plan to stay for several hours bring a bottle of water.

Readers who want to take a break can also explore an exhibition hosted by the Karpeles Museum and the UB Poetics Collection, including two manuscripts of Dickinson's poems and first editions of her books of poetry and of books she herself loved to read.

Talking Leaves Books will also host a book table at which copies of the Franklin edition of poems and other books having to with Dickinson will be for sale.

More information, including biographical material on Dickinson, is available at the event site: http://www.edmarathonreading.org/index-2.html.

In a related event, Miller will give a free public lecture, "Emily Dickinson and the Creative Process" at 3 p.m. March 29 at Fables Café, Buffalo and Erie County Central Library, Lafayette Square, as part of the Library's "Sundays at Central Series."

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