How dare the robins sing,
When men and women hear
Who since they went to their account
Have settled with the year! –
Paid all that life had earned
In one consummate bill,
And now, what life or death can do
Insulting is the sun
To him whose mortal light,
Beguiled of immortality,
Bequeaths him to the night.
In deference to him
Extinct be every hum,
Whose garden wrestles with the dew,
At daybreak overcome!
Book artist Charles Hobson interpreted Billy Collins’ “Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes” in a wonderfully inventive way; reading this book requires one to deal with mother-of-pearl buttons with a “light forward pull” and contend with the “hook-and-eye fastener” to get to the pages between the covers.
While you’re visiting Hobson’s site, be sure to look at the other interpretations he offers: of stories and essays by Barry Lopez, poems by Richard Wilbur and Margaret Atwood, paintings and monotypes by Edgar Degas, and Balzac’s thoughts on coffee. They are rich and tactile expressions that merge words and print and paper and images in fascinating ways.
Kurt Anderson’s Studio 360 rebroadcasts a 2006 piece on Emily Dickinson as part of the show’s American Icons series. Focusing on Dickinson’s The Chariot (a.k.a. “Because I could not stop for Death”), the piece highlights the strange and gnomic characteristics of Dickinson’s poetry, particularly as opposed to the loquacious style of the Fireside Poets.
Interviewed for the show was Belinda West, who portrays Dickinson (among others) for the Vermont Humanities Council, PBS and the History Channel. She wove Dickinson’s words about the perils of publication (“the auction of the Mind of Man”) and the pitfalls of fame into her responses in a natural, witty way.
The “common meter” peril–singing Dickinson to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” “Gilligan’s Island,” or any number of hymns–is, of course, brought up; but so is the wordplay and subtlety of the poems that Dickinson dressed in such homespun garb. (Or in gossamer gown and tulle tippet; Billy Collins has his say, too, with thoughts on taking off Emily Dickinson’s clothes.)
Inspired by Billy Collins’ Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes, hayleylovesyou2 offers an alternately creepy-sensual-odd Amherst strip involving Barbie and Ken. And as Barbie-and-Ken-interpretations-of-Billy-Collins-poems-about-Emily-Dickinson go, it’s pretty good.