Entry begun Tuesday, March 3, at 11:25 am
We were back to a clean start for the second day of the Marathon, the Reading Room empty but ready to go, since we had gotten everything in place the day before. At the beginning of the day the biggest question mark was whether we would make it through to the end of Dickinson’s Complete Poems by the end of the Marathon at 4:30 in the afternoon.
I had signed up well in advance to read at 9 am on Saturday morning, figuring this spot might be one of the hardest to fill. Emma Rose, Megan, Matt, and Minadora had signed up right behind me, so we did not have any worries about filling the first fifty minutes.
Students from Sigma Tau Delta, the English Honors Society, were on the morning shift today. Rebecca Hudgins did more than keep track of the readers and the poems. While our early readers were completing the 700s and moving through the 800s of the Johnson edition, Rebecca was bringing in large containers of coffee and hot water from Starbuck’s with which she would keep us alert and irrigated during the rest of the day. By the time she was reading alongside my English department colleague John Alberti at 10 am, she looked as if she had been in that comfortable chair all morning.
It was certainly nice to have coffee handy throughout the morning, and it was also nice to have Kimberly Gelbwasser, who had sung the recital last night, come to take her ten minutes in the Marathon reading. She read right before Diane Gabbard, one of many readers who came from Trinity Episcopal Church in Covington. Kimberly, after studying Dickinson intensively in preparation for her concert, obviously enjoyed hearing the poetry being read aloud, as she stayed long after her own reading was over.
Before we knew it, lunch time was upon us. The Einstein’s in the library is not open on Saturdays, so today I had to make a run up the hill to Chipotle’s to buy lunch for our student helpers. We were now in the transition period between Loch Norse and Sigma Tau Delta, and Megan Beckerich and her twin brother Matthew had also augmented the morning shift. Nine orders were a lot to handle, so Emma Rose’s friend Andrew came along to help. We got all the right orders for all the right people, but forgot two important things: forks and napkins. As we have no food service in the Student Union on weekends, I had to search the campus quite a while before I could find plastic forks for those who took their Burrito in a bowl.
A lot began to happen after our impromptu lunch. Tom Clark came in to read with two of his students form Conner High School, Kylie Gross and Soula Wells. And Matt and John Campbell brought the ten-panels of the Emily Dickinson screen over from the storage at the concert hall. We found a perfect spot for the screen in front of the window to the right of the Figurative works and the Piercefield dress. Now visitors to the Reading Room will be able to examine the details of this amazing story-telling riff on Emily’s life and thought up through early May.
By 2:10 in the afternoon, we realized that we were cruising through those Collected Poems more smoothly than we had expected. We were in the mid-1550s already and we had more than two hours to go, with many of the very shortest poems yet to come. Now we had to begin to think about what we would do with the last readers if we ran out of poems. When our student helpers had entertained this possibility in a very hypothetical way a few days earlier, Rebecca had really liked the idea of moving backward from the end in the opposite direction. So that was one option we had in play today.
As the afternoon readers kept coming in, the reception table became more and more of a place to chat. Some of our later readers, Aaron Zlatkin and Rachel Workman, arrived early and stayed the rest of the afternoon, as did our very last reader, Melissa Gers.
Minadora Macheret was anchoring the afternoon shift for the Associated Graduate Students of English, and she mostly stayed at the registration table. Matt, our trouble-shooter-in-chief, after helping John Campbell transport and re-install the Dickinson screen, kept track of the poems and the readers at the other end of the room. Minadora filled in for a missing reader after my English colleague Jon Cullick and his wife Cheryl had read.
Artist Kevin Muente and curator Tammy Muente took us up to 3 pm, with Aaron, Rachel, and Melissa waiting their turns (Kevin and Tammy are on the far right in the photo below).
At about 3:25 it fell the lot of Rachel to turn us around in the opposite direction after reading poem no. 1775. This is not one of Dickinson’s best-known poems, but its opening line is a single sentence that applied beautifully to the song recital we had heard the night before: “The earth has many keys.”
One of the last readers in the afternoon was Hilda Weaver, whose artist book was up on the third floor. She was now able to take an Exhibition Walk with Nicci Mechler, who had not been able to come last night, but who was now here in advance of the Panel Discussion. Nicci and Hilda were in two different Dickinson classes of mine, but you can see from the photo below, next to Nicci’s Susie’s Girl and Open me Carefully, that they are fast friends.
Melissa Gers was our last reader, and when she hit the end of the Marathon at 4:30 she was on poem 1552. We had read two hundred thirty two poems in the opposite direction since Rachel had taken us to the end of the Complete Poems.
The phrase that ended Melissa’s last poem echoed the ending of Kimberly’s recital the night before:
Within thy Grave!
Oh, no, but on some other flight—
Thou only camest to mankind
To rend it with Good night—
Like Dickinson in the last song of Newer Every Day, Melissa was now saying “goodnight by day.”
In writing this entry, I was surprised by the wide range of ways in which the last of the Collected Poems, J. 1775, applies to our Arts Fest activities. Its opening line, “The earth has many keys,” applies in obvious ways to the songs Kimberly and Ingrid had performed by Copland and Heggie. The next two lines apply not only to the concert but to the “summer boughs” of Illouz’s Dickinsonian book: “Where melody is not / Is the unknown peninsula.” The fourth line of J. 1775 is another single compact sentence: “Beauty is nature’s fact.” This applies not only to the song recital and to Claire’s artist book but to the artwork by the students on the walls of our exhibition. The most explicit presentation of that idea is in the lower left corner of Jordan D’Addario’s Heaven is here, where she wrote in her own beautiful hand, “Beauty is not caused. It is” (J 516).
Dickinson packs three complete sentences into the four-line opening stanza of “The earth has many keys.” The poem concludes in a second stanza of one sentence only:
But witness for her land,
And witness for her sea,
The cricket is her utmost
Of elegy to me.
The most literal equivalent of the elegiac sound of the cricket in this poem was the sound of the “minutest cricket . . . when the sun goes down” in Kimberly’s singing Copland’s “Nature, the gentlest mother.”
The most metaphorical equivalent of that elegiac sound is the “fleshless Chant” that “Rise[s]—solemn—on the Tree” in Claire’s pictorial depiction “Of all the Sounds dispatched abroad.”
The most continuous equivalent of that elegaic sound throughout the two-day Marathon came from the ninety human voices that uttered their “utmost of elegy” to Dickinson herself by reading her complete poems from beginning to end, and part way back again, the “key” of that communal melody modulating with each new voice that entered.
Melissa’s “Good night” ended the Marathon itself, but not yet our second Marathon Day. After shifting some of the furniture around, we moved right into the Panel Discussion by Student Artists that would in turn lead to the Emily Dickinson Tea Party.