Wednesday, November 11, 2015

My Letter to the World and Other Poems, by Emily Dickinson

My Letter to the Worldand Other Poems is a travelogue of sorts, made up of seven of Emily Dickinson’s most famous poems.  Dickinson usually did not feel comfortable sharing her thoughts with other people directly, but several of these poems show how she explored and processed sad times and feelings.  Though My Letter to the World is a Youth book, it might not be for every child—but middle grade readers who like poetry or who might be pondering questions about death or sadness may relate to the lines both of the poems and of the illustrations, and gain affirmation and the promise of better times as well. 

In the first poem, we travel with Dickinson through “a certain Slant of light, / Winter Afternoons -- / That oppresses.” At a funeral “felt . . . in my Brain,” the cadence of a drum and “a creak across my Soul” make the sense of desolation tangible.  In “Because I could not stop for Death,” the specter of Death fades into the background during a carriage ride which ends with the realization that “the Horses’ Heads/ Were toward Eternity –“  

What makes the journey through this little book special, besides the poet-conductor, is the scenery.  Ink, pencil, and paint create collage-like illustrations that float on the pages.  The pale colors and blacks are surprised by unexpected splashes of bright red or gold, just as flashes of humor sparkle through Dickinson’s ruminations.  And that brings us to two of my favorite, more lighthearted Dickinson poems.  “I’m Nobody!  Who are you?” evokes a secret between friends who prefer not to be “public – like a Frog” in a bog.  Finally, showing the path out of sadness, we find “’Hope’ is the thing with feathers --/ That perches in the soul --“ 

Tune in to VBPL Recommends the rest of the week for other Youth books of free verse.  In Edgar Allan Poe, one book of an excellent series called Poetry for YoungPeople, another poet of the dark is presented with lavish illustrations as well as a very brief, understandable introduction to each piece.  The series gives similar treatment to many other poets, including Maya Angelou and Edna St. Vincent Millay, whose poems of everyday life I remember from the children’s anthology my mother read to us.


Review by Lynn K.

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