Sunday, May 16, 2010

From Belle to Outlaw

My Hero, the Outlaw of Amherst
Growing up in New England, I’d known about her life, or the romantic version of it — how she was a recluse, how she dressed in white — for years. And I’d read many of her nearly 1,800 poems. I was a bookish, verse-writing odd-fit kid with authority issues, looking for a hero. By a hero I mean someone you admire but, more than that, identify with and somehow want to be. In Dickinson I found what I was after. So it was a big experience for me to go to that house that day, and be where she had been.

As I’ve since learned, she’s a hero, or an object of fascination, to many people, which is why she periodically takes a star turn in culture, as she is doing now. She’s the subject of two books, a novel titled “The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson,” by Jerome Charyn, and a new biography by Lyndall Gordon, called “Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds,” due out next month. And through June 13 the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx has an elaborate exhibition devoted to her, with a re-creation of her Homestead garden, a selection of handwritten manuscripts and a marathon reading of her poems.