Entry begun Thursday, January 29, 5:20 am
Since my return from New Bedford on January 4, this month has been full of preparation for our Emily Dickinson Arts Fest on Valentine’s weekend. Emma Rose and I have met several times a week to finalize the Dickinson catalog (we took the fully edited file to the printer on January 9), to begin publication (and distribution) of the poster/flyer, to activate the website for the Fest (including the electronic sign-up sheet for the Marathon Reading), and to lay out a schedule for our final editing of the Moby-Dick catalog. I had, of course, to bring Emma Rose from the Marathon in New Bedford something related to our Moby show in April, so I chose one of the new t-shirts for our Melville Society Cultural Project.
This has mostly been very enjoyable work, though it has had its challenges. We wanted to have the major publicity materials done before January 12, the first day of the new semester, on which we were scheduled to meet with the representatives of the four student groups who will help run the Marathon. But I did not realize that Allie Linkmeyer, our excellent work study student who has activated the web site for us, would not be in during the first week of January, but instead the first week of class. Fortunately, Ryan Clark of University Relations created a customized URL for the website, and got everything up and running.
We have four student groups who will help us with the Marathon: Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society; the Honors Council of the Honors Program; AEGS, the Association of English Graduate Students; and Loch Norse, the Creative Writing group with whom we gave a preview of our Dickinson Fest in December. We had reps from all four groups at the January 12 meeting. Emma Rose and I passed out a copy of the Complete Poems for each group to use in preparing its members for the Marathon; discussed the logistics of running the Marathon; and decided to divide the two-day Marathon into four four-hour shifts during which each group will be responsible for staffing the event. We will have a master list of every person scheduled to read and each group will have two students for its shift—one to sign in the readers as they arrive and distribute catalogs to student artists who had not yet picked them up, the other facilitate the reading itself by keeping track of which of the 1775 poems is being read and when each ten-minute time period is up.
Emma Rose and I are very fortunate in that Matt Ruiz, one of the student artists in the Dickinson show, had volunteered to “do anything we need” to help us. We have made him the “trouble-shooter-in-chief” for the whole event, so he was at this Monday afternoon meeting too.
One of our generous sponsors is the Cold Spring branch of the Campbell County Public Library. They have provided seven copies of the Johnson edition of the poems we will be using in the Marathon, and we loaned one to each of our student groups at the January 12. In addition to providing the books, the Cold Spring library had offered their display cases to us for the month before the event, so the day after I met with the students I took some items out to install. In the vertical case on the far right I placed a sample copy of the Dickinson catalog alongside a copy of the Complete Poems, accompanied by the poster for our Arts Fest. On the left side I installed one of three enlargements, three feet by two, that John Campbell made from his artist book that will be in the exhibition. In the central case I placed two more of John’s enlarged drawings on the upper and lower shelves, with images by Sarah Kellam and Matt Ruiz in the middle.
The Kellam photo in the left center of the case shows the “I’m Nobody! Who are You?” section of the public artwork Emily to the People that Sarah painted under the Twelfth Street Bridge in Covington as her final project in the course. The Ruiz piece is a painting that Matt made after our course was over. He could not get Dickinson’s image of a Buccaneer Bee out of his mind until he had painted it for himself. Janet Arno and Pat Wade at the Cold Spring branch were generous in making so much space available to us, and I was delighted to see above the cases a quilt in the shape of a quail whose color and design complemented our display perfectly.
While attending to Emily matters we had one important Moby matter to attend to too. Gateway Community College near the Kenton County Public Library in Covington had been very interested in hosting part of our Moby-Dick exhibition in April. Their new “gallery” space in the recently renovated TIE building on Madison Avenue in Covington was perfectly suited for some of the larger pieces in the show. Showing some of the work in their gallery would have also made possible a dramatic procession from the one venue to the other on the evening of Sunday, April 26, before the Marathon concluded with the three Chase chapters followed by the Epilogue. Emma Rose and I met Rock Neely and Jack Keller in the Gateway space on Wednesday, January 14, to look at the gallery, discuss what installation methods would be allowed, and address such issues as security. It was an excellent meeting in which we were pretty much in agreement, but our hopes for having Gateway as a venue were dashed when Jack explained that because their building was new, they were not yet able to insure any of the works in the show against theft or damage. This was a big disappointment, but I dropped into the Kenton Country Public Library right after the meeting to see if Gary Pilkington, who is coordinating our Moby show with them, was in, and fortunately he was. He and I discussed some of the spatial challenges of having the entire Moby show in his building, and it feels as if everything will work out.
While we were working on our catalogs, publicity, and venues, our artists were preparing for their parts in the Arts Fest. Kimberly and I were disappointed to hear from Doug Pew that he would not be able to complete the three Dickinson songs he had planned to premiere because of commissions he had to fill, including the premiere of a new opera at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC on January 23. We had good news, though, from Kurt Sander, who will be premiering three instrumental pieces inspired by Dickinson poems. He had now selected the third of the three poems in his set—“A Burdock—clawed my Gown”—and is excited to write the music for it. He and I had some email correspondence about this poem (J 229), and he showed an impressive eye for literary symbolism, seeing a strong sexual, as well as botanical, dynamic in the way the “Burdock” clawed the “Gown.”
I heard more of Kimberly’s exceptional vocalism when she performed songs by Ned Rorem, Maurice Faure, and Kurt Weill in a recital with two former colleagues from Eastern New Mexico University on Sunday, January 25. I loved the sequence of the composers, with five Rorem songs inspired by Sylvia Plath, followed by five Faure songs inspired by a Greek wedding, followed by three bittersweet songs by Weill. Kimberly’s voice was equally response to the lacerating angst of Rorem’s Plath, the sophisticated joy of Ravel’s Greek wedding, and the sardonic drama of Weill’s sung narratives. She sang with score when accompanied by pianist Kayla Paulk and clarinetist Jennifer Laubenthal in the Rorem/Plath set, but stood alone on the stage without any score when singing the Faure and the Weil accompanied by Paulk at the piano. I wrote her an email the next day in which I tried to express my sense of “what a singer can express of her essential self when standing alone and singing so transparently, without even a score, the music and words of others.” It will be so wonderful to hear her sing the Dickinson cycles by Copland and Heggie just two weeks from now.
While Kimberly was getting ready for one recital after another, Claire Illouz in Chérence, France, was completing her Dickinson artist book and sending her first announcement of Summer Boughs out into the world. How wonderful to see the first announcement of an edition of 30 books, one of which will be acquired by our own library two weeks from now. This announcement shows the cover of the book and two of the double pages inspired by “Of all the Sounds dispatched abroad,” the poem that contains the phrase “Summer Boughs” (J 321). How exciting it will be to hold the whole book in one’s hands and turn page after page.
Two days after this, Claire sent me two double-page samples inspired by the second of her three poems, “Presentiment—is that long Shadow—on the Lawn—“ (J 764). You can see from the sample posted here how her treatment of these two poems differs. She said that her response to the third poem must remain “a secret” until she arrives to present the book itself, so I will try to have some kind of surprise for her, too.
While our artists and musicians have been preparing for our Arts Fest, so have our culinary artists. At least five talented cooks are preparing special treats for the Emily Dickinson Tea Party on Valentine’s Day. John Campbell is looking seriously into making a “black cake” from Emily’s recipe, an “over-the-top” Victorian concoction it would be a delight both to see and to eat. Nicci Mechler is likely to bake a “coconut cake” from Emily’s recipe as she did for our class several years ago—unless she decides to do something entirely different. Emma Rose’s father Thomas will be bringing his skills as a pastry chef at Panera to the world of Dickinson in some as yet unspecified way. Kimberly’s parents will come to the concert from South Carolina, and her mother Rhonda will be baking her favorite “Mandel bread” for the tea party.
This Tuesday I had the pleasure of visiting the Fort Thomas home of Mary Vieth, a good friend of my good friend Elise Hyder, who loves to bake for special occasions. Mary had volunteered to create something for the Tea Party as soon as she heard about it. I had sent Mary the Dickinson recipe book and a couple of samples of the artwork in the show so she could begin to generate some ideas, and these ideas flowed fast and furious as we talked over the possibilities in her kitchen while sampling three of the best cupcakes she had found on a recent trip to St. Louis, accompanied by tea brewed freshly for my arrival. Mary found a number of dishes in the recipe book she would like to make for the Tea Party; one of the possibilities would be to make some kind of culinary variation on the artwork by Brian Morris on the back of our Dickinson catalog, I cannot see my soul but know ‘tis there. It will be exciting to see, and to taste, whatever she brings from her kitchen.
Immediately after my informal tea party with Mary, I met for the second time with the representatives of my four student groups to refine the logistics for the Marathon weekend. This time we met in the Farris Reading Room on the second floor of the Steely Library so they could see the exhibition space in which the Marathon will occur. Emma Rose and I had previously met with Tracy Insko, who will coordinate our IT needs, so once we developed the ground rules for how we would handle the Marathon we went to the third floor and discussed how best to deploy the four display cases that will house our six artist books and a variety of 3-D objects. Fortunately, Minadora Macheret, one of our Dickinson artists, was representing the Association of Graduate Students of English in our meeting, and she helped us come up with a plan for displaying her Emily Dickinson double letter box.
On Tuesday Emma Rose and I completed our final edit of pages 10-81 of the Moby-Dick catalog, and she found as many errors as I did. It’s great to have an undergraduate student who is so good at proofreading and so committed to getting everything right. Wednesday was the day the Dickinson catalogs were to be delivered at C. J. Krehbiel, our Cincinnati printer. We had set an appointment for 2:30, as that was the only window in Emma Rose’s schedule that day. On Tuesday, Chris Casey, our contact, did not yet know exactly when the book would arrive. He still did not know on Wednesday morning. But on Wednesday at 2 in the afternoon he texted to me that Fed Ex had finally delivered the books, leaving Emma Rose and me just enough time to arrive by 2:30 from our different directions. The books are beautiful. All the issues of color fidelity and binding seemed to be well addressed. We now have 80 copies of an Emily Dickinon catalog, one for each of our forty student artists, the rest to be distributed to those who have helped us, and to be made available at the Marathon. We are both extremely grateful to Chris for the care his has taken in getting everything right. On February 6, the day the Dickinson exhibition opens in the Farris Reading Room, we are scheduled to bring him our final edit of the Moby-Dick catalog, ready for production.
Now that we are getting ready to begin installing the show today, and to begin distributing catalogs to the student artists, I’ve begun to try to catch up with those students who have not yet brought in their artworks or whom I have not yet been able to inform about the exhibition or the Marathon. This has for the most part been a true pleasure, full of nice surprises. Last night I had dinner with Melissa Gers, who has worked for many years at Proctor and Gamble. She will be one of our panelists on February 14, discussing the website she created to showcase her 2001 Fall Semester classmates. We had not seen each other for a long time, and she thought that someone in her family may have preserved her sculpture for that class, Blossom of a Brain, wrapped in plastic in an attic. If she can find it, Emma Rose and I would both love to have it in the show.
Another pleasure was to track down Carol Scaringelli, who last I heard had been teaching on the West Side of Cincinnati. None of the old emails I had for her brought a response, even though she is always a very responsive person. With the help of Ann Harding in our departmental office, I got another email address to try and found out that Carol is living happily in San Diego, studying for a Master’s degree in teaching English as a second language, and for community development, work at which I expect she will excel. She will not be able to make it here for the Arts Fest, but I hope to be able to see her next time she is back in town, and now we know where to send her copy of the catalog.
While all of this Dickinson activity was going on, there was one Moby-Dick development too exciting to omit from this entry. Monday, January 26, was the date on which Matt Kish was scheduled to drive down to Cincinnati after completing his work day at the Dayton Metro lilbrary to examine the exhibition space in the museum that was considering mounting an exhibition of Moby-Dick art by Kish and Robert Del Tredici in 2016. Matt came down with his wife Ione, and our plan was to meet with the museum curator at 6:30 and then have a leisurely dinner before they would have to drive back to Dayton around 9. The curator was Steven Matijcio and the museum was the Contemporary Art Center.
I can mention the names of both Steven and the CAC here because Steven announced in the course for our meeting—which was already a very stimulating exploration of the most likely area of the building for the show, should the show happen—that he has in fact decided to schedule the Kish-Del Tredici show as part of his 2015-16 season, to be announced officially in April of this year. I had not expected a decision so soon, and neither had Matt or Ione, so we had, as you can imagine, a most enjoyable dinner at Arnold’s, a few blocks away, before they headed back to Dayton. Steven has put on some wonderful shows at the CAC since arriving here a year and a half ago, and it is a real honor to have our Moby show accepted for his museum. I had originally proposed the show because Heggie and Scheer’s Moby-Dick opera was expected to be produced here in June 2016. I am delighted that Steven has decided to do the show even though the opera production has been postponed to some subsequent season.