I am not Emily Dickinson, nor was meant to be

January 26, 2009

As I approach the launch of my first book, I can’t help regretting the loss of my exclusive relationship with the poems inside it. Once it was just me and these works, with no third parties looking over our shoulders. Of course, I am pleased to be published. But one part of me, a part that I have shamelessly nurtured over the years, prefers the life of fantasy and dreams to the real world of readers and print.

It’s a well-worn trope (I bought it at the second-hand trope store) to compare a book with a baby. I always suspect a hidden insult to reside in this sort of comparison, at least when applied to the writings of women. It’s as if the work is less an intellectual endeavour than an extension of biology; poet as womb. Of course that is to ignore the intellectual aspects of pregnancy, and the fact that in advanced societies at least, the continuation of pregnancy is a willed act, no longer a question of mere chance. But there is something about the way my book now has a life of its own that does recall childbirth, in all its terrifying complexity.

I admire Emily Dickinson for her steadfast refusal to seek publication once she understood that it would mean compromise. That and the fact that she was unique and seemingly almost timeless in the invention of her own poetic language. But we can’t all be solitary geniuses, can we? (Most of us aren’t any sort of genius at all, not even noisy, self-promoting ones.) And publication, that rendering of the personal into the public sphere, the changing of monologue into dialogue, is necessary, if our conversations are to stretch beyond our immediate community.

All very serious. But here is a poem written about my first book. You can see why I say I am not Emily. But, on the other hand, so what?

The poet addresses her first book

Oh my little treasure, with your spine just like a real spine
and your two short footnotes; smooth, appropriate and small.
I would swaddle you in gossamer, rock you in a golden crib.
All too soon you’ll be waddling out amongst dangerous critics
(if one so angelic and slim could ever so perambulate.)
Strange readers may not see your brilliance, and overlook you
for the thicker, slicker, tarmac roads of easy fattening prose.
Those lard-backs, perched like obese babushka dolls
above the Muse’s cuter, lighter, cuddle-worthy spawn.

Hush, dear bookie. Drink deep.
No-one will ever love you as I do.

P.S. Cottier

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