I made slow Riches but my Gain was steady as the Sun

Entry begun Thursday, March 5, at 8:00 pm

 I had never studied Emily Dickinson in graduate school.  When I entered the Master’s program at Columbia University in 1966, the guiding text in our American Literature proseminar was Eight American Authors, all of whom were male.   It is hard to believe it now, but Thomas Johnson’s pioneer edition of the Complete Poems was only eleven years old.  I have a vague memory of our being assigned a few Dickinson poems as a curiosity during that one-year M. A. program, but I have no memory of encountering Dickinson or her poetry during my doctoral studies in 19th-Century American Literature.

The way the field of American Literature was presented to me in graduate school in 1966

The way the field of American Literature was presented to me in graduate school in 1966

I began to really enjoy Dickinson when teaching as a young professor straight out of graduate school in the 1970s.  Northern Kentucky University was a brand-new university and we had very few upper-division literature classes.  Our four-course teaching load each semester consisted of three courses in Freshman Composition and either an Introduction to Literature or a survey course.  I began to love selected poems by Dickinson while teaching them to my Intro to Lit or American Lit Survey courses.

When we got more chances to teach upper-division English course in the 1980s, I considered teaching a course on Henry James, who had been one of my graduate school interests.  But I feared that his long, complex novels might be too much of a burden for our students, many of whom were commuters who worked 20-30 hours a week, over the course of a fifteen-week semester.  I had always felt that James and Dickinson were very similar in their psychological insights even though he wrote mammoth novels and she wrote tiny poems, so it struck me that a one-semester course alternating between these two authors might strike up a good rhythm for my students.  The fact that that each author never married, living a single life whose emotional affiliations and possible celibacy remained mysterious, seemed another reason to bring them together for at least one fifteen-week engagement.


ED from ED museum


It was after Fred North in my 1994 class in Melville and the Arts asked if he could create a painting rather than write a research paper as his final project that I decided to open that option to students in my other literature courses.  Jill Schlarman in my American Literature Survey course in 1999 was my first student to use this option to create visual art inspired by Dickinson.  She presented four charcoal drawings as her final project at the end of the semester, and I liked one of them so much I asked if I could buy it from her as an inspiration for future students.  When I acquired that drawing in 1999 I never imagined that eighteen years later it would be on exhibition with 39 other works inspired by Dickinson in my literature classes.  Only now, can I say in retrospect, in the words of J. 843. “I made slow Richest but my Gain / Was steady as the Sun.”

Jill Schlarmans’s They shut me up in Prose (1997) next to Sarah Dewald’s Modern Deguerreotype (2014) in 2015 NKU student exhibition I took my Power in my Hand

Jill Schlarmans’s They shut me up in Prose (1999) next to Sarah Dewald’s Modern Deguerreotype (2014) in 2015 NKU student exhibition I took my Power in my Hand

During the first decade of the new century, I would occasionally acquire works from my students that I thought might be of interest to future students.  As soon as Camilla Asplen presented I took my Power in my Hand, and Ellen Bayer’s presented Emily, 2001, near the end of the 2001 Fall Semester, I knew that I wanted to show these to future classes.  I felt the same way when Brian Morris presented I cannot see my soul but I know ‘tis there, and Alan Johnston presented his Alaskan landscape The Sun went Down—no Man looked on, at the end of the 2005 Fall Semester.  Fortunately, all four students were willing to part with these works so future students could enjoy them.  But I never dreamed that these works by Camilla and Brian would one day adorn the front and back covers of a full-cover catalog.Dickinson cover_white with spine

Paging through our Dickinson catalog makes it easy to identify the other works I had acquired by the end of the first decade of our current century. From my Dickinson and James class during the 2008 Fall semester I acquired Julie Viltrakis’ riff on Dickinson’s Over the Fence and my first two Dickinson videos, Emily Grant’s film trailer inspired by a Joyce Carol Oates short story, and Ashley Theissen’s film trilogy inspired by poems 1173, 1632, and 630.  That was also the class that produced my first Dickinson quilt, Laura Beth Thrasher’s Henry and Emily.  When Emma Rose and I began creating our Dickinson catalog, I realized why I had been saving those classroom presentation photos and artist statements all these years.

08-09 Laura Beth Thrasher

Students in my 2010 Fall Semester course in Dickinson and James created another diverse set of works that I was able to acquire for the benefit of future students. These included Kimberly Estey’s photographic panorama of Dickinson’s Amherst home, Emily Christman’s fictional antique newspaper Dickinson News, and Carol Scaringelli’s mixed-media drawing of a Dickinsonian woman reaching out to grasp beauty.  I was happy to have all of these on hand when we began installing our current exhibition, with Kimberly’s photographic panorama fitting perfectly on the shelf above Emily’s antique newspaper, Julie Viltrakis’ Over the Fence, and Molly Blackburn’s Fame diptych from my most recent class.

Kimberly Estey’s photo panorama of the Dickinson homestead above Mollile Blackburn’s Fame diptych, Julie Viltrakis’s Over the Fence, and Emily Christman’s antique Dickinson News

Kimberly Estey’s photo panorama of the Dickinson homestead above Molly Blackburn’s Fame diptych, Julie Viltrakis’ Over the Fence, and Emily Christman’s antique Dickinson News

I did not yet realize in 2010 that my sporadic collection of Dickinson artwork was already reaching the condition of those “Riches” in the second stanza of J. 843:

All days I did not earn the same

But my perceiveless Gain

Inferred the less by Growing than

The Sum that it had grow.

I did already sense that the whole was becoming more than the sum of its parts, but I had not yet envisioned what those parts might add up to.

The magnitude of my “Gain” remained “perceiveless” until I taught my first graduate class in Dickinson and James during the 2011 Fall Semester.  Although many of these students responded well to James, the intensity of their response to Dickinson was evident as soon as we began reading and discussing her poetry.   When this semester ended with Nicci Mechler presenting her life-size painting Susie’s Girl, and Heather Braley her Emily Dickinson Quilt, and Carola Bell her artist book Only Safe in Ashes, and Tom Clark his multi-media, multi-disciplinary evocation of Emily’s Civil War, and Lauren Magee her time-travel podcast of Emily at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, I knew a new “solstice” had been “passed” in my teaching of Dickinson.  It was time to give Henry a rest and teach my first all-Emily course : Dickinson and the Arts.

Lauren Magee, Nicci Mechler, Carola Bell, and Heather Braley presenting their final projects from the Fall 2011 Semester at NKU’s 2012 Celebration of Student Research and Creativity

Lauren Magee, Nicci Mechler, Carola Bell, and Heather Braley presenting their final projects from the Fall 2011 Semester at NKU’s 2012 Celebration of Student Research and Creativity

One year later, my first course in Dickinson and the Arts was everything I hoped it would be.  It was wonderful to teach songs by Aaron Copland, Jake Heggie, and others along with visual art by Lesley Dill, Joseph Cornell, and others, while also making the artwork created by my previous NKU students more integral to the course than ever before.  I was delighted when this entire class took the creative option at the end of the semester in a variety of projects that included an original song inspired by “I could not stop for death” and a live performance adapted from the Belle of Amherst in addition to the vast variety of visual art by Molly Blackburn, Stacey Barnes, Hilda Weaver, Minadora Macheret, Keianna Troxell, Caitlin Neely, Rachel Harpe, and Jordan D’Addario that has found a place in the current exhibition.  I was also delighted when Shawn Rehkamp, like Melissa Gers before him, devoted the next semester to an Independent Study project in which he made a website featuring the creative work of all of his classmates.  His Blossoms of the Brain website is posted alongside Melissa’s website on the computer in our current exhibition.  You can see it right here with this link: http://www.nku.edu/~blossoms/index.html

By the time Shawn and several of his Fall 2012 classmates presented their Emily Dickinson projects at the Celebration of Student Research and Creativity in April 2013, Emma Rose Thompson was building the scale model for a hypothetical exhibition that she would presenting two weeks later as her final project in my class in Moby-Dick and the Arts.  Emma Rose and I had already decided that we would like to collaborate in finding a venue for a full-scale exhibition that we could co-curate in Moby-Dick art created by NKU students.  I realized by then that I had already accumulated enough excellent student work inspired by Dickinson to make a very interesting, if considerably smaller, companion exhibition.  Our ideal venue would be the Fine Arts galleries at NKU.  Because Emma Rose would be proposing that the work she would do on the Moby-Dick exhibition would serve as her Senior Show as a BFA Art History major, we thought our Moby proposal had a good chance of being accepted for the Main Gallery.  We also proposed a concurrent exhibition of Emily Dickinson art in the much smaller Third Floor Gallery just across the hall.

We very disappointed when these proposals were both rejected, but we had enjoyed the process of envisioning these exhibitions, so we decided to search for other venues.  This actually worked out well in terms of the Dickinson exhibition, because it made available the exceptional range of quality visual art that students presented as final projects in my 2014 Spring Semester course in Dickinson and the Arts.  Of these, the ones that are displayed on the walls and display cases of our current exhibition include the artist books by Jack Campbell, Megan Beckerich, and Austin Alley; the poem dress by Lindsay Alley; the portrait pieces by Rachel Harpe and Sarah Dewald; the landscape and nature pieces by Zack Ghaderi, Shannon Adcock, and Jovana Vidojevic; the human figure pieces by Kelsea Miskell, Matt Ruiz, and John Campbell; and Emily to the People, Sarah Kellam’s YouTube version of the public artwork she painted under the Twelfth Street Bridge in Covington.  Within  nine months of the end-of-the-semester photograph of his class out on the lawn of the Honors House in early May 2014, our exhibition was opening in the Farris Reading Room and Third Floor Entrance of the Steely library in early February 2015.

spring 2014 grouip photo 1

2014 class in Dickinson and the Arts outside NKU Honors House at end of semester

None of these Dickinson events would have happened—not the exhibition, not the catalog, not Marathon Reading, not the new art works by Piercefield and Illouz, not the song recital by Gelbwasser and Keller, not the Exhibition Walk or the Panel Discussion or the Tea Party—had not Emma Rose Thompson, during the 2013 Spring Semester, agreed to take on the idea of an Emily Dickinson student art exhibition as well as a Moby-Dick one.  The work we have  done together since then would not have been possible without the support of a great number of individuals and offices who have been mentioned appreciatively in the course of this blog.  The one person who most made it all possible is Michael Providenti, who liked the idea of the Dickinson exhibition as soon as we proposed it, and then secured the approval of the exhibitions committee of the Steely Library.  I am glad I got a photo of him and Emma Rose together during a quiet moment in the Arts Fest, as a visible reminder of how he has been there to help us address any challenges or suprises along the way.

Michael Providenti and Emma Rose Thompson soon after John Campbell's Dickinson screen had been installed in the Farris Reading Room

Michael Providenti and Emma Rose Thompson soon after John Campbell’s Dickinson screen had been installed in the Farris Reading Room

Michael, in addition to being quite photogenic himself, is a fine photographer.  He was here for much of the Arts Fest to document the event for the library, and occasionally I would be taking a photo of a scene in which he was present with his camera taking a photo in the direction of me, as in the image immediately below from the second day of the Marathon:

Michael Providenti taking a photograph frm behind the Marathon reader

Michael Providenti taking a photograph from behind the Marathon reader

Among the many “Riches” I received immediately after the Arts Fest was the link Michael sent to the one hundred plus photos of our events he had uploaded to a Flicker account.  Most of the photos he took are much better than those I took of the same subject, so I invite you to cruise through them with this link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/steelylibrary/sets/72157650955336776/with/16430885307/

Another form of Riches care from The Northerner, our student newspaper.  In the online issue published a few days after the Arts Fest, Kiana Berry published an excellent overview of the whole range of activities, interviewing an impressive number of student artists and alums:  http://www.thenortherner.com/arts-and-life/campus-arts/2015/02/18/three-day-arts-fest-sparked-by-a-collaboration-of-passion/ 

Yet another form came from Lindsey Rudd, the videographer from The Northerer who with Kiana had interviewed Emma Rose and Matt Ruiz right after the Piercefield / Illouz presentation while the rest of us were going downstairs to the Archive.

Kiana Berry interview, and Lindsey Rudd recording, Emma Rose

Kiana Berry interviewing, and Lindsey Rudd recording, Emma Rose

I had seen the interview in process as I was leaving the Reading Room, but I did not know the content until Lindsey sent me this YouTube link:

I love especially the way the short video interview ends, with Emma Rose saying she was “really happy things turned out the way they did,” because “if someone had told me how to do it, I wouldn’t have made those mistakes that helped me learn things,” a dynamic she then compared to the process of many of the students whose work was in our show. .

I was amazed that Emma Rose had learned so much about Dickinson, and intuited so much about Dickinson’s poetry, without having studied Dickinson herself, but only from what she had picked up second-hand, so to speak, from the works of visual art students in my successive classes had created in response to that poetry.  On the day that John Campbell’s screen came over from Greaves Concert Hall, we found a spot for the picture of us together we’d always wanted to have taken while working on this project.

bob and emma rose 6

I think we chose this part of the screen because we liked it visually as a background.  I also like the fact that these three panels represent (a) the writing implements Dickinson used, (b) the fascisles into which she stitched the poems she write, and (c) the “gorgeous nothings” that had tumbled out of some folders in a library archive early in our own century, miscellaneous scraps, receipts, and shaped envelopes on which Dickinson, in her daily life, had scribbled down poetic fragments on the run, as it were. Those are only the most recent of the “slow Riches” she left for us to savor and treasure.


Emily Dickinson Tea Party

Entry continued on Thursday, March 5

I am guessing it was at 6 pm sharp, or maybe a few minutes earlier, when I called the Tea Party to order and thanked our signature chefs.  Mary and Lexie had laid out a wonderful spread for us.

mp of tea party opening

Thanking the signature chefs at the beginning of the Tea Party. Photo Michael Providenti

One table featured Kitty Beckerich’s version of Emily Dickinson’s Black Cake, Nicci Mechler’s version of her Coconut Cake, Thomas Thompson’s versions of her Corn Cakes and her Rice Cakes,  Mary Vieth’s version of her Ox-Blood Cake and Mary’s original Portrait Cake, and two signature dishes by Rhonda Gelbwasser, Mandel Bread and White Chocolate Chip Macademia Cookies.

tea party from emma 2

The other table of the Tea Party included Dickinson’s Federal Bread and Brown Bread by Thomas Thompson, her Ginger Bread by Kitty Beckerich and her Coconut Bread by John Campbell, and one store-bought concoction, the famous Opera Cream Cake that John had brought from Bonbonnerie in Cincinnati.

tea party from emma 3


Certainly one of the most unique creations was the Portrait Cake that Mary Vieth made in homage to Brain Morris’s I cannot see my soul but know ‘tis there.  Mary liked the challenge of trying to replicate the way in which Brian had recreated the appearance of Dickinson’s youthful daguerreotype portrait by the way he spaced the words of her poetry that he wrote with colored pencils on paper.  As the physical base of her Portrait Cake, Mary baked 48 Hummingbird and Honey cupcakes from Dickinson’s recipes.  Her equivalent of Brian’s colored pencils was the icing in black and read she “wrote” over a layer of white.  Look into the three rows of cupcakes on the left and you will see the distinctive features of young Emily’s daguerreotyped face slowly take shape.

Mary Vieth’s Portrait Cake, inspired by Brian Morris’s I cannot see my soul but know ‘tis there

Mary Vieth’s Portrait Cake, inspired by Brian Morris’s I cannot see my soul but know ‘tis there

At Mary’s suggestion, I had provided Dickinsonian quotes for each of the signature dishes, which she identified with ornate labels, of which here are a few samples I salvaged from the end of the feast:

signature cards

We did our best to consume these treats before the Tea Party ended at 7, but given the sumptuous extravagance with which our signature chefs had answered the call, there were plenty of goodies to be taken home for private enjoyment and more than one church coffee hour the next morning.   Somewhere in the midst of the Tea Party, I thought to ask Mary and her assistant Lexie if they would pose for a photo together.

Mary Vieth and Lexie Dressman-Dowling, Tea Party Grand Marshals

Mary Vieth and Lexie Dressman-Dowling, Tea Party Grand Marshals

Emily Dickinson began poem 791 with these words:  “God gave a Loaf to every Bird— / But just a Crumb—to Me—.”  Throughout her life she made loaves of bread and plates of cake for everyone she knew while keeping her poetic gifts mostly to herself, somehow confident that in the ultimate economy of the spiritual world, “It might be Famine—all around,” yet “I with but a Crumb / Am Sovereign of them all.”  Dickinson the baker / poet ultimately did find a way to have her cake, and eat it too.

Any of us who heard the artists lecture or the musicians perform on Thursday or Friday night, who participated in the Marathon Reading on Friday or Saturday, or who attended the Exhibition Walk on Friday or the Panel Discussion on Saturday, are the richer for it.  The same can be said for those who savored the student art exhibition or its catalog over the weekend, or who indulged in the Reception for Student Artists on Friday or the Tea Party on Saturday.  One can only wonder what Dickinson herself would have made of this three-day Fest in celebration of her life and art.

As we were packing up the remains of the Tea Party feast on Saturday evening, Emma Rose and I remembered that we had one more thing to do before leaving.  Tonight was the end of the Dickinson Arts Fest, but our exhibition would be up through early May.  In anticipation of that, we had ordered a large poster for the exhibition itself, designed by David Bushle in the NKU print shop.  We had provided the text, but we left it to him to create the design and to chose the art from the exhibition that would enhance it the most.  Since Emma Rose had designed the catalog and installed the exhibition, she had the honor of turning the next big page of our Spring Semester.

emma rose turning the page

Emma Rose replacing the Arts Fest poster with the Exhibition poster before we leave the Tea Party



Panel Discussion by Student Artists

Entry begun Thursday, March 5, at 12:30 PM

It was difficult to choose student artists for the Panel Discussion because so many would have been so good to hear.  We would have liked to include the artists whose work we chose for the front and back covers of the catalog, but Camilla Asplen and Brian Morris had only been able attend on Friday, not Saturday, night.  We were more fortunate with Melissa Gers and Nicci Mechler, who had each co-authored essays with me about our classroom work published by the Emily Dickinson International Society Bulletin in 2003 and 2012, respectively.  With Melissa and Nicci as the anchors, we also invited Minadora Macheret and Keianna Troxell from my Spring 2012 class, and Megan Beckerich and John Campbell from Spring 2014.

edis cover 2012

Issue of Bulletin including essay co-authored with Nicci Mechler

The furniture for our Panel Discussion consisted to two adjacent tables at which the panelists faced several rows of chairs for the audience, plus a podium with a microphone for each successive speaker.  Our plan was for each panelist to speak for 8 – 10 minutes, after which we would have 30 minutes for questions and discussion.  After introducing each speaker, I sat down to the right of the podium, Emma Rose sitting to the left of the panelists on the other side.  The Northerner, our student newspaper, showed the full width of the room in the photo published in its online story about the Arts Fest.

kiann picture sharp panel

Photo from the online issue of The Northerner, February 18, 2015

My perch at the far right was perfect for listening, although it was almost too “up close and personal” for taking getting a good camera angle.  It was such a pleasure to hear each of these student artists speak about her or his learning process in Dickinson and the Arts.  We went chronologically from the earliest Dickinson class to the most recent, so Melissa Gers, from the Fall Semester 2001, went first.

Melissa Gers (Baker) opening the panel discussion

Melissa Gers (Baker) opening the panel discussion

Melissa got a Master’s degree in Professional Writing from the University of Cincinnati after completing her English major here.  She has since had an excellent job in marketing at Proctor and Gamble.  In addition to creating her sculpture This is a Blossom of the Brain in the Fall 2001 class, and creating a sophisticated website showcasing the work of all of her classmates, Melissa had leapt at the opportunity to co-author the essay we called “Dickinson’s Power in Student Hands” for the EDIS Bulletin.  In all of these endeavors Melissa had been extremely articulate about the liberating power of creative freedom at the heart of the learning process.  To hear her revisit that theme today from her position as a young professional, surrounded by the artworks that her classmates Camilla Asplen and Ellen Bayer and three dozen subsequent Dickinson students had produced, was deeply satisfying.

Nicci Mechler as our second Dickinson panelist

Nicci Mechler as our second Dickinson panelist

Nicci Mechler is the kind of student for whom interdisciplinary is not enough.  I first met her as an undergraduate Art major who won a prize in a contest we had for students responding to themes of the Underground Railroad.  After pursuing graduate study at the Savannah School of the Arts in Georgia, she returned to NKU to earn a Master’s in English, in the course of which she took my class in Dickinson and James.  The intensity of her interest in Dickinson over the course of the semester extended from the poetry itself, to Dickinson’s emotional life (especially with Sue), and to her culinary talent (which Nicci researched by baking Emily’s coconut cake for the entire class).  We called our joint essay for the EDIS Bulletin “’Getting Creative in the Kitchen’: Dickinson Inspires Student Art.”

Nicci Mechler, Open me Carefully, 2013.

Nicci Mechler, Open me Carefully, 2013.

Nicci did not want to sell the exceptional painting Susie’s Girl she presented as her final project in the course, so I had been keeping it on extended loan in my office until it went up in the current exhibition.  I will get to keep Open Me Carefully, one several small, exquisite works that Nicci created and exhibited after the class was over.  Among Nicci’s Fall 2011 classmates who have work in our exhibition or who read in the Marathon are Carola Bell, Heather Braley, Tom Clark, Lauren Magee, Sarah Moore (Wagner), and Amy Fugazzi.

minadora panel 1

Minadora Macheret as our third Dickinson speaker

Minadora Macheret, like Nicci Mechler, shows the strength of our Master’s program in English, which is still quite new.  Minadora was an undergraduate in my 2012 Spring Semester class in Dickinson and the Arts; now in 2015 she is presenting a very ambitious portfolio of poems for the M. A. degree and is applying to doctoral programs.  She is the kind of student whose restless mind is always looking for new imaginative experience and finding fresh ways to express it.  The idea behind her double-sided Dickinson letter box was exceptional  Since we do not know now to whom Emily Dickinson wrote the famous “Master letters” expressing unrequited love, why not try to imagine who those people were and what they might have written back to Emily after receiving what she wrote?

Minadora Macheret’s double-sided letter box on the right; Keianna Troxell’s Gib’s Room on the left

Minadora Macheret’s double-sided letter box on the right; Keianna Troxell’s Gib’s Room on the left

As part of her panel presentation, Minadora chose to read the second of the return letters she wrote in the imagined voice of an imagined recipient.  This is the one Minadora wrote in a female voice, reflecting the strong interest many of my students have shown in Dickinson’s strong emotional ties to women.   To compose and write out the three imagined letters in an antique style would itself have made an impressive end-of-the-semester undergraduate project, but then to write out the three corresponding letters from Dickinson too, staining and baking all six of the letters so they looked antique, and then arranging the imagined correspondence in a box as if found in an attic—well, this whole project epitomizes why I love to give students the creative option, because they think of wonderful things to make that I could never have thought to make myself.

Keianna Troxell (Gregory) as our fourth Dickinson panelist

Keianna Troxell (Gregory) as our fourth Dickinson panelist

Keianna Troxell was a classmate of Minadora in my Spring 2012 class.  She also burrowed back into Dickinson’s actual life in an evocative and revealing way.  As she emphasized in her presentation, she had no idea what she wanted to do for her final project.  She liked the idea of creating something artistic, since she had already written so many research papers as an English major.  But she had no experience as an artist, and was floundering for a subject as the deadline for submitting a proposal approached.  Then she saw what she needed: Jerome Liebling’s recent photo of the back of the door that led into the former bedroom of Emily’s beloved nephew Gib, who had died at the age of eight.  Seeing Leibling’s photograph of the images Gib himself had pasted on the back of his bedroom door more than a century ago immediately gave Keianna the idea for the project in which she would clothe an image of Gib with the images he had loved, in the process unlocking her own feeling for a nephew who had died much too young, memorializing each of them by writing the words of Emily’s “After great pain, a formal feeling comes” (J 341) across the black surface of her Gib’s Room (seen next to Minadora’s double letter box in the exhibition photo above).

During Keianna’s talk I finally got up from my perch against the wall to get a photo of our panelists.  Melissa, Nicci, and Minadora are intent on Keianna herself, while Megan and John are looking at the reproduction of Gib’s Room in our exhibition catalog.

Keianna presenting as panel members look and listen

Keianna presenting as panel members look and listen

Throughout the presentations attention was intense from the audience as well, as you can see from the photo immediately below.  My only regret about the panel presentations is that I did not think to film or record them.

Audience listening to panel discussion

Audience listening to panel discussion

Megan Beckerich is the youngest in age of our six panelists, currently a junior International Studies major after entering NKU as a home-schooled freshman.  I had the pleasure of teaching her and her twin brother Matthew in my 2012 Fall Semester class in Honors Freshman Composition.  Megan had been extremely shy–while doing outstanding work in that class.  She was still somewhat shy—while also making extremely perceptive comments throughout the semester—as a sophomore in my upper-division course in Dickinson and the Arts.  The artist book she did for the Dickinson course, now up on the third floor of our exhibition, is a tour de force of artistic versatility and poetic apprehension.  I had a feeling that Megan might enjoy speaking about the making of this book in our panel.  When I finally got a chance to put the question to her (at one of our Loch Norse events at Bow Tie on Mount Adams), I was delighted when she quite fiercely said, “Yes.”

Megan Beckerich as our fifth Dickinson panelist

Megan Beckerich as our fifth Dickinson panelist

John Campbell was the oldest of our six speakers, as he had been among Megan’s Spring 2014 classmates, each of them adding so much to the class in entirely contrasting ways.  When I had asked John if he would consider being a part of a future Dickinson class after meeting him during Claire Illouz’s first visit in February 2011, I had no idea that so much would come from it, either during the Spring 2014 semester or in all the ways that John has contributed to the success of this Arts Fest that was now nearing its end as he stepped forward as our last speaker.  The artist book in the classroom and in our current exhibition, the enlargements from that book in the Cold Spring library and now in the exhibition itself, the Claire Illouz broadside, and the Emily Dickinson screen—this man is an absolute dymano of thought, feeling, and action.

John Campbell as the last of our six Dickinson panelists

John Campbell as the last of our six Dickinson panelists

I had not been sure whether John could make this Saturday afternoon speaking assignment.  He was coordinating a Claire Illouz printmaking workshop here at NKU during this same day. He was also transporting the Emily Dickinson screen from Greaves Concert Hall and installing it in our Reading Room.  And he had pledged to contribute some signature dishes to the Tea Party that would immediately follow the Panel Discussion.  But here he was, taking his spot with some students young enough to be his grandchildren, in sharing his own story of the creative urge from Dickinson’s poetry that had led him into multifarious artistic adventures of which he’d had no glimmer when had entered this class with those youngsters one calendar year ago.  It is just another of those many crazy coincidences that he and Megan were sharing their experiences from the same class one after another while their two artist books from that same class were sharing the same display case one floor up from where we were now sitting.

Megan Beckerich and John Campbell together in the exhibition space.  Photograph Michael Providenti

Megan Beckerich and John Campbell together in the exhibition space. Photograph Michael Providenti

After the six presentations, we had a very spirited discussion session with questions from the audience.  Emma Rose posed the question that provoked the most varied responses, asking how writing the artist statement for their work in this class differed from other kinds of writing each had previously done.

Emma Rose asking panelists about writing the artist statements

Emma Rose asking panelists about writing the artist statements

The questions and answers were very good, but as it got closer to 6 pm, more and more of us were sneaking glances to the other end of the room, where Mary Vieth and her assistant Lexie Dressman-Dowling were dressing the two tables for the Tea Party and setting out some of the signature dishes, Rebecca in the meantime having been to Starbuck’s and back with fresh coffee and hot water for tea.


Running a Dickinson Marathon, Part 2

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.

saturday morning empty

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.

Minadora, Emma Rose, Matt, and Megan in the readings chairs, with Lauren Magee awaiting her turn

Minadora, Emma Rose, Matt, and Megan in the readings chairs, with Lauren Magee awaiting her turn

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.

John Alberti and Rebecca Hudgins reading early on Saturday morning

John Alberti and Rebecca Hudgins reading early on Saturday 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.

Kimberly Gelbwasser reading as Diane Gabbard listens

Kimberly Gelbwasser reading as Diane Gabbard listens

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.

 Lunch break (clockwise from left) for Matthew, Matt, Minadora, Emma Rose, Andrew. Megan, and Rebecca

Lunch break (clockwise from left) for Matthew, Matt, Minadora, Emma Rose, Andrew. Megan, and Rebecca

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.

Emily Dickinson interpretive screen moves to the Farris Reading Room

Emily Dickinson interpretive screen moves to the Farris Reading Room

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.

Afternoon readers Rachel, Aaron, and Melissa joining student helpers Megan, Minadora, Emma Rose, and Andrew

Afternoon readers Rachel, Aaron, and Melissa joining student helpers Minadora, Emma Rose, Andrew, and Megan

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.

Jon Cullick and Minadora Macheret

Jon Cullick and Minadora Macheret

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).

kevin and tammy 5

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.”

sat afternoon group

Kevin, Tammy, Rachel, and Aaron in the reading chairs

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.

nicci and hilda 1Melissa 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.

Melissa ending the Marathon in the 1550s

Melissa ending the Marathon in the 1550s

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).

The lower left corner of Jordan D’Addario’s Heaven is here.

The lower left corner of Jordan D’Addario’s Heaven is here

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.

amy in the afternoon

Amy Fugazzi, the next to the last of our Marathon readers

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.

Gelbwasser and Keller perform Dickinson Song Recital

Entry begun Friday, February 27, 8:30 am

Entering Greaves Concert Hall after a quick walk through the frigid air, we saw the long rows of seats on stage already filling with people.

audience gathers

Kimberly and Ingrid were waiting in the wings, eager to perform the music.  Ingrid still had a warm coat on, Kimberly was feeling better than the day before, and when Kurt arrived we confirmed the order in which he and I would be making our opening remarks.  While we were chatting in the wings, people kept streaming in.  Jonathan Eaton was now setting up two new rows of chairs that filled all the space on the stage.  By the time Kurt and I walked out to begin the program, we had first-row, far-right seats because those were the only seats left.

The view from the first-row, far-right seats

The view from the first-row, far-right seats

Kurt welcomed the crowd by discussing the appeal of Dickinson’s poetry for contemporary composers.  He spoke of his process in composing the three works he had hoped to hear performed tonight.  For him, the concision of Dickinson’s poetry and the expansiveness of her thought are just what a composer needs to find his own voice in response to her work.  Kurt regretted that there had not been sufficient time to fully rehearse his three new pieces for the concert tonight, but he was hopeful that they would have their premiere in April.

Kurt Sander opening the program by discussing his own compositions inspired by Dickinson poems

Kurt Sander opening the program by discussing his own compositions inspired by Dickinson poems

I began my remarks by quickly summarizing how tonight’s concert related to the rest of the Dickinson Arts Fest at NKU this weekend.   I then mentioned how the idea of this concert began when I met Ingrid after a concert she played last April; how she had recommended Kimberly, a soprano who would be joining our Music faculty this Fall while Ingrid was moving to Oregon; and how the Music Department had sponsored Ingrid’s return for this very special concert tonight.  I then introduced John Campbell, who gave us a quick overview of Dickinson’s life and legacy as illustrated in the ten panels he had designed and painted before assembling the two screens between which Kimberly and Ingrid would be performing.

Screen to the right as audience is getting settled

Screen to the right as audience is getting settled

As a brief introduction to the music we would be hearing, I mentioned Aaron Copland’s pioneering role in composing his twelve Dickinson songs in 1951, before Dickinson was yet recognized as a major American author.   And I explained that Jake Heggie had composed Newer Every Day, his five most recent Dickinson songs, last summer for the seventieth birthday concert of soprano Kiri Te Kanawa at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, where Heggie had accompanied her at the piano.   In November Heggie had visited NKU to coach Kimberly in these five new songs, and I concluded my remarks by reading an email he had recently sent about that session with her.  When I sat down to hear the concert, I had an excellent view of Kimberly, but was unable to see Ingrid behind the piano.

kimberly on statge

Kimberly ready to perform

You don’t hear all twelve Copland songs performed in person very often.  Kimberly and Ingrid’s performance was a unforgettable treat, from the pianistic phrase that introduces “Nature, the gentlest mother is” to the last words of “Because I would not stop for death”–in which the speaker “first surmised the Horses’ Heads / Were toward Eternity.”  Ingrid is extremely vivid and expressive as a pianist while exquisitely attuned to the phrasing, inflection, and rhythms of the singer she is accompanying.   This song cycle requires equal partners for the music to be fully realized, and we had them tonight.

Kimberly and Ingrid at dinner after concert

Kimberly and Ingrid at dinner after concert

Last night Kimberly gave me a copy of the CD Jonathan Eaton made of the concert, and I am going to listen to it now before continuing with this entry.  Before doing this, I want to say that my one strongest impression after hearing the concert in person is best expressed in the Dickinson poem that immediately follows “Of all the Sounds dispatched abroad” in Johnson’s edition of the Complete Poems. The poem is “There came a Day at Summer’s full” (J 322).  The phrase that came to mind on the way home from the concert: “As if no soul the solstice passed.”  I had listened to recordings of all the Copland songs many times after I began to teach my course in Dickinson and the Arts, but to hear them performed by Kimberly and Ingrid only a few feet away from where I was sitting, on a full stage framed by John Campbell’s Emily Dickinson screens, was something entirely different.

kimberly dickinson 1

“Crystalline” is the marking Copland gave to the piano entrance of the first song, “Nature, the gentlest mother” (J 790), and that is what Ingrid’s playing was throughout the evening.  Together, they took a very deliberate tempo throughout this song, but when Kimberly reached the phrase “When all the children sleep,” our collective breath stopped.

We were swept out of our trance by the rushing introduction to “There came a wind like a bugle” (J 1593), nature’s tumult in this song leading to Kimberly’s emphatic delivery of Dickinson’s astonished closing lines: “How much can come / And much can go, / And yet abide the World.”

When Kimberly hit the first emphatic high note on “loud” in the third song, “Why do they shut me out of heaven?” (J 248), we knew she had her full voice back after being ill earlier this week.  Then came the yearning tenderness of “Wouldn’t the angels try me / Just once more,” the piano, deliberate, letting every note breathe.  Again, audience and performers were one.

emma rose and andrew

I love the deliberate pace at which Kimberly took the opening lines of the fourth song, “The world feels dusty, / When we stop to die” (J 715), Ingrid’s piano providing the warmth and tenderness behind this startling statement.  When Kimberly sang “Mine be the ministry / When thy thirst comes,” Ingrid’s piano line gently spread the “dews” of this spiritual “balm.”

“Heart, we will forget him” (J 47) is probably the best known of the twelve songs.  Kimberly’s voice took us seamlessly from the yearning of the opening “Heart” to the intensity of a high E natural on “I will forget the light,” to the heart-throbbing emotion of “I may remember him” on a sustained, pulsating E-flat.

The sixth song, “Dear March, come in!” (J 1320), shows the collaborative virtuosity of these two artists in an unforgettable way.  The poem itself is delightfully fresh and flexible in its contrast of March and April, but in the performance the piano itself became the voice of March, brilliant and gusty, in full dialog with the welcoming soprano voice.

Ingrid’s vigorous right hand an equal partner to Kimberly’s voice

Ingrid’s vigorous right hand, an equal partner to Kimberly’s voice

The proclamatory opening notes of the seventh song, “Sleep is supposed to be” (J 13), hold promise of some special message.  Kimberly quietly answers in the calm, searching melody of “Sleep is supped to be” and “Morning is supposed to be.” This makes all the more striking the spiritual revelation breaking forth on “That is the break of day,” rising to a double forte on the concluding E natural fermata.

In “When they come back, if blossoms do” (J 1080), the flow of the piano below the melody makes you feel blossoms are opening all around you.  All of the doubt as to whether we can ever return to the experience of joy felt long ago turns hopeful with “If I am there, / I take back all I say,” Kimberly’s soulful fermata on “There,” another high E natural, holding that joy.

The relentless piano sets the tone of the next song, “I felt a funeral in my brain” (J 280), whose “thudding” pulsation Copland instructs the pianist to “exaggerate” even further.  Ingrid boldly follows the composer’s contrast between the “bell-like” and the “thud-like” until Kimberly is left to sing, in a disbembodied, halting voice: “And I and silence, some strange race / Wrecked, solitary, here.”

kimberly singing

In the tenth song, “I’ve heard an organ talk sometimes” (J 183), the gently flowing introduction picks up in intensity and volume, but it was the quietest line in the voice, punctuated by off-beats in the piano, that captured the full mystery of the experience as Kimberly sang, “Yet held my breath the while.”

We speed up considerably, and change gears often,” in “Going to Heaven!” (J. 79).  Kimberly’s voice was fully responsive to the humorous doubts expressed by the poem, but also to the faith of the loved ones the speaker had “left in the ground.”  Her sustainted high F on the third “Heaven!” at the beginning of the song showed she was still in full voice.  So did the low, long, unmoving E natural on which the poem ends, again with the loved ones “in the ground.”

The last song, “The Chariot” (J 712), is marked “with quiet grace,” and Kimberly’s singing and Ingrid’s playing sustained that spirit throughout.  When “the carriage held but just ourselves, and Immortality,” Kimberly, like Dickinson, gives no special inflection to “Immortality,” as if its presence was simply to be expected or quietly accepted.  Their united performance of the rest of the song extends this feeling of being in another world, in which all that ails us is past, “Eternity” having been our natural destination.

audience left

Audience ready to hear the next set of songs

When Jake Heggie sent an email recalling his November coaching session with Kimberly, he also responded to my question as to whether there had as yet been any other performance of his five new songs since he and Te Kanawa had premiered them in Chicago.  Here is what he wrote:  “As far as I know, there hasn’t been a performance of the complete cycle since the premiere—so Kimberly goes right after Kiri! I can tell you that I was delighted and moved by my session with Kimberly—because she was already deeply invested in the poetry. She had her own feelings about the poems—and she brought those feelings to my score to further illuminate the songs. In addition to a wonderful humanity, beautiful voice, and depth of feeling, Kimberly also brought joy: the joy I feel is essential to singing—and sometimes missing! She loves to sing and she loves to sing songs. I’m grateful she has included some of mine.”   All of these qualities that Jake had heard in Kimberly’s voice, and intuited in her personality, in November, were very her much in evidence as she and Ingrid put their own stamp on Newer Every Day.

Jake and Kimberly in her NKU studio in November 2014

Jake and Kimberly in her NKU studio in November 2014

I had heard that Ingrid loved all five of Heggie’s new songs as soon as she saw the score, and you could hear that in every note of the rhapsodic piano introduction to “Silence is all we dread” (J 1251), her two hands filling the sound world both vertically and horizontally until Kimberly’s voice entered, sang the song, and departed with a lyrical, spirited vocalise in the free play of song beyond words.

A different kind of joy is found in “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” (J 288).  Kimberly punctuated this song’s satirical humor with the hard “g” sound she gave to both ‘Frog” and “Bog” in “How public like a Frog / To tell one’s name / The lifelong June  / To an admiring Bog!”  Here, too, she showed great freedom in the scat-like “la da dee da da” that took us, with the singer, into a world of unfettered play.

“Fame is a bee” (J. 1763) went quickly, the “song,” the “wing,” and the “sting” each linked by the buzzing sound that Heggie gives to each of these elements.  Here, as in the previous song, Kimberly’s comedic gift went right to the heart of the audience, entirely in the service of the song she is singing.

kimberly after concert

The piano changes the mood in the slow, soulful introduction to “That I did always love” (J 549), a song whose aching melodic lines for a speaker who wishes to convince a loved one of her enduring love brings out all the best in a singer and pianist, each successive stanza building up to the declaration that “This—dost thou doubt—Sweet— / Then have I / Nothing to show / But Calvary,” the dissonance of the B flats in “But Calvary” dropping us into the singer’s heart.

Kimberly had always wanted to end this concert with the last song of Newer Every Day, which begins “Some say goodnight—at night— / I say goodnight by day—” (J 1739).  She sang it with infectious playfulness, giving just enough gravity to emotional essence of the poem that “parting is night” and “presence, simply dawn.”  Her transition to “Look back on Time, with kindly eyes— / He doubtless did his best—” (J 1478) brought a beautifully bittersweet reflection before the opening stanza repeated, twice, for the final “Good night.”

Kimberly and Ingrid receiving applause at the end of the concert

Kimberly and Ingrid receiving applause at the end of the concert

This all-Dickinson concert ended with a standing ovation. A very diverse audience had assembled, music majors mixing with literature students, Marathon readers with music faculty, members of my church choir from Covington with Kimberly’s voice students, out-of-town visitors including Kimberly’s parents and Ingrid’s mother from the East Coast and Claire Illouz from France.  The program was well adapted to this diverse audience, Heggie’s more openly accessible songs appealing more to some of the non-musicians who had not savored the Copland pieces as fully as those for whom that set of twelve was an absolutely unforgettable experience.

Standing ovation after Kimberlys final "Good-night"

Standing ovation after Kimberlys final “Good-night”

Audience members lingered, and lingered, many of them looking at John Campbell’s Dickinson screens as well as sharing their impressions of the concert and waiting to greet the performers.

after the music 2

Of course I got a photo with Kimberly, telling her and Ingrid that they had tonight delivered to me the most beautiful and meaningful musical gift I had ever received.

bob and kimberly 2

After the crowd finally cleared the stage, John Campbell, Jonathan Eaton, Matt Ruiz, and I disassembled the screens and moved each panel into a storeroom from which John and Matt would retrieve them the next day, moving them across the plaza into the library building so they could be reinstalled in time for the Emily Dickinson Tea Party that would conclude our second Marathon day.

Listen here to the live recording of Kimberly and Ingrid performing the last two Copland songs, “Going to Heaven!” (J. 79) and “The Chariot” (J 712):


Exhibition Walk and Reception for Student Artists

Entry begun Monday, February 23, 7:30 am

Emma Rose and I had not planned out the Exhibition Walk in great detail.  Our main idea was to begin in the Reading Room after the day’s last Marathon reader, inviting each of the student artists to stand by his or her work here in the Reading Room or up by the display cases on the Third Floor so viewers could ask them about their work.  This worked out more or less as we had planned, and by the end of the walk most of us had drifted up to the Third Floor.

Camilla had picked the last reading slot on the first day because she knew she would not be able to stay too long with Jude.  So I made sure I got a photo of them next to her work in the show.

Camilla and Jude near mixed-media drawing from 2001

Camilla and Jude near mixed-media drawing from 2001

Just a little to the left on the same wall, Kelsea Miskell stood next to her mixed-media drawing from 2014, I Came to buy a smile—today.  Behind Kelsea’s right shoulder is Carol Scaringelli’s untitled painting of a female figure reaching for beauty; to the right of her artwork is Matt Ruiz’s Cleaving Mind.

Kelsea Miskell with her I Came to buy a smile—today from 2014

Kelsea Miskell with her I Came to buy a smile—today from 2014

My photo of Matt Ruiz and his friend Taylor Ross along the same wall earlier in the day caught only a corner of Cleaving Mind, with both of them covering John Campbell’s Bandaged Soul.

Matt Ruiz and Taylor Ross to the right of his Cleaving Mind

Matt Ruiz and Taylor Ross to the right of his Cleaving Mind

I had been very happy that this whole project had put me back in touch with Brian Morris, whose minute color pencil drawing I cannot see my soul but know ‘tis there had been such a highlight of my 2005 class in Dickinson and James.  Brian brought his brother and grandfather to the Exhibition Walk.  He was delighted to see that we had chosen his drawing for the back cover of the catalog.

Brian Morris with his brother, grandfather, drawing, and teacher

Brian Morris with his brother, grandfather, drawing, and teacher

Rachel Harpe was not here for the Exhibition Walk, but her mixed-media response to Dickinson’s My Cocoon tightens—colors tease was a favorite of Anthropology professor Judy Voelker.  Emma Rose had learned a good deal about exhibition installation from a course with Judy.  As Judy and I were talking next to Rachel’s artwork (a female silhouette surrounded by cut-out butterflies), I discovered that Judy was a favorite professor of Megan Beckerich too.

Judy Voelker and Megan Beckerich with works by Brian Morris and Rachel Harpe in Portrait section

Judy Voelker and Megan Beckerich with works by Brian Morris and Rachel Harpe in Portrait section

Over in the Landscape and Nature section, I was happy to get a photo of Jovana Vidojevic with her Orchids painting and poem.  She brought a friend to the Exhibition Walk and of course was looking forward to her return to Serbia in April.  It was probably no accident that the colors she was wearing matched those in her painting.


Jovana Vidojevich with her Purple Orchids painting

Jovana Vidojevich with her Purple Orchids painting

Jordan D’Addario’s Heaven is Here was to the left on the same wall, and I was happy tonight to meet her housemate.  Jordan is in the second year of law school at the University of Cincinnati and has just gotten a clerkship for the summer, so I thought she would enjoy meeting her fellow Dickinson artist Brian Morris, who is graduating from NKU’s Chase Law school this semester.

Jordan D’Addario and Brian Morris in front of her Heaven is Here

Jordan D’Addario and Brian Morris in front of her Heaven is Here

Back on the other side of the room, it was a delight to see Heather Braley alongside her quilt, which had brought us so much pleasure during the reading today.  I was delighted to meet her husband Christian after having met their son Clayton a few days before, when Heather delivered the sleeve by which the quilt is now hanging.

Heather Braley with the Dickinson quilt she had sewn with her grandmother’s thread

Heather Braley with the Dickinson quilt she had sewn with her grandmother’s thread

Heather had been a classmate of Tom Clark in my first graduate class in Dickinson and James during the Fall 2011 semester.  Tom’s final project, his fifteen-minute multi-media video of Emily’s Civil War, was now looping with three other videos on the monitor we had used for Claire’s talk the night before.  Tom had added vintage photographs and music to the Dickinson poems he had selected, and it was wonderful to see and hear the result on such excellent equipment.  Tom teaches at Conner High School and two of his students had already read in the Marathon.  He would be back with two more students the next day.

Tom Clark with “A slash of Blue— / A sweep of Gray” in Emily’s Civil War

Tom Clark with “A slash of Blue— / A sweep of Gray” in Emily’s Civil War

Before moving up to see the student artists near the display cases on the Third Floor, I was delighted to see Emily Grant Vater arrive in the company of not only her husband but of her friend Lisa Beaumont.  Lisa had been Emily’s co-star in the film trailer EDickinsonRePhLuxe that Emily created as her final project in my Spring 2008 Dickinson and James course.  I could not resist the opportunity to photograph them together in front of our video monitor as it was displaying the surreal scene in which Emily, playing a robot, was about to breathe.

Emily and Lisa in front of the monitor showing their spooky kitchen scene

Emily and Lisa in front of the monitor showing their spooky kitchen scene

Up on the Third Floor quite a large crowd had gathered around our display cases.  It was a wonderful opportunity for our student artists to reunite with some of their classmates and meet students who had created artworks in other classes.  Most of the students with artworks in these display cases were here tonight, and it was great to see them mix with each other as well as with those who came up from the installation in the Reading Room.

Gathering together near the Third Floor cases

Gathering together near the Third Floor cases

The four artists outside the vertical case looked as good as their works did inside it.

Molly Blackburn (McCuistion), Keianna Troxell (Gregory), Minadora Macheret, and Emily Christman

Molly Blackburn (McCuistion), Keianna Troxell (Gregory), Minadora Macheret, and Emily Christman outside vertical case

Here is Emily Christman standing next to Two Cents, the shadowbox featuring Dickinson Times, the fictional antique newspaper for which she wrote the kind of stories “yellow journalists” might have written about Dickinson’s life.

emily with two cents

Here is Minadora Macheret with the double-sided letter box she had filled with her own antique invention, letters she composed as if in response to three of the “Master Letters” that Dickinson had written to addressees still unknown to this day.

minadora and letter box

Here is Molly Blackburn (McCuistion) next to her diptych I’m Nobody! Who are you! and Fame is a Bee, contrasting celebrity fame with the more lasting kind Dickinson is currently enjoying.

molly with diptych 2.And here is Keianna Troxell (Gregory) next to Gib’s Room, her poignant tribute to Emily’s dear nephew who died as a child, Keianna dressing him here in photographs you can still see today on the back of the door to his room in Amherst, “across the hedge” from Emily’s house.

kianna with gib

Seeing each of these students singly was a real treat, and even more so, seeing them all together.  We also had an excellent turnout from the student artists whose artist books were displayed in the flat cases.  The only problem with this part of the exhibition is that we can only show one opening in each book at a time.  Emma Rose and I plan to turn the pages every week, so that those who are interested can see the richness and scope of each of these projects.

Carola Bell, who was a classmate of Heather Braley and Tom Clark in my Fall 2011 class on Dickinson and James, was here with Only Safe in Ashes, the artist book in which her original poem exploring a complex personal relationship is handprinted letter by letter on pages singed by flame and protected by a hand-colored leather cover.

carola with book

Hilda Weaver was a classmate of Minadora, Molly, Keianna, and Jordan in my Fall 2011 class in Dickinson and the Arts.  A retired psychologist, she put her own original poems in conversation with those of Dickinson in a beautifully crafted book whose every two-page opening was a pleasure to behold.

hilda with book

Megan Beckerich was here for the Exhibition Walk as she had been for the entire day.  It was particularly unfortunate that we could not display each two-page opening of her artist book because each one, in addition to a different subject, features a different artistic medium.  The “purple page” on display during the opening weekend was one of many reasons were all associating Megan with the color purple by the end of the semester.  She had chosen a skirt for the Exhibition Walk that beautifully matched not only the color but the design of the dress to which her artist book was open.

megan with book

Although John Campbell had been extremely busy this afternoon getting the ten panels of his Emily Dickinson interpretive screen assembled and installed for the evening concert, he also made it to the Exhibition Walk in time to meet with his fellow artists and enjoy what they had created.   He had been a classmate of Megan, Keianna, Kelsea, and Matt in my Spring 2014 class in Dickinson and the Arts, and he continued to associate with his young classmates with an ease not often found in one whose age and life experiences differ so sharply.  His artist book was next to Megan’s, as it had been in the classroom, and today it was open to the Bandaged Soul whose enlargement was exhibited downstairs.

John Campbell with his artist book opened to his depiction of the Bandaged Soul

John Campbell with his artist book opened to his depiction of the Bandaged Soul

By the time the collegial, comfortable gathering next to the Third Floor display cases began its migration back down to the Reading Room, the food for the Reception sponsored by the Friends of Steely Library was in place and warming up.  People continued to chat in small  groups and look at the artworks until the food was ready.  Our exhibition now had one new work.  Kathleen Piercefield had agreed to loan the multi-media print of Emily Dickinson’s white dress she had premiered the night before until the end of our show in May.

Kathleen Piercefield with the new White Dress print she has loaned to the exhibition

Kathleen Piercefield with the new White Dress print she has loaned to the exhibition

Once the lids on the hot dishes on the serving table were lifted, I made a brief announcement congratulating our student artists, and the Reception got underway in earnest.

friday reception 1

My abiding impression was of a square surrounded by a revolving circle until most of the excellent food was gone and it was time, for those who were going, to go down one floor and across the narrow plaza to Greaves Concert Hall for the Dickinson song recital.

friday receptioin 3

At some point, Emma Rose and I realized that we had not yet got a good photo of ourselves together during all the time we had been working on this project.  We had a photo taken before we left for the concert hall, and we’ll see if we need another one.

with emma rose at reception 1

Running a Dickinson Marathon, Part 1

Entry begun Sunday, February 22, 7:15 am         

I had never run a Dickinson Marathon before.  The first question was how much time it would take.  Cindy Dickinson, director of interpretive programming at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, has run several recently, and she said theirs usually takes 14 to 15 hours.  To be safe, I decided to run ours for 15 hours, from 9 am to 4:30 pm on two consecutive days.

The next question had been exactly when to hold the Marathon, around which our whole Arts Fest would be based.  Looking at the Spring Semester schedule, Valentine’s weekend seemed perfect.  This would help our readers remember when to come, and it would be a nice tribute to Emily’s unknown love life.  The first poem in her Complete Poems is in fact a Valentine, written during “Valentine week, 1850,” and beginning with these words:

 Awake ye muses nine, sing me a strain divine,

Unwind the solemn twine, and tie my Valentine! (J 1)

Emily was then nineteen years old, about the age of some of my students who would be reading in this year’s Marathon.

I had decided early on to use the Johnson edition of Complete Poems because Franklin had imposed an entirely new numbering system when adding a few poems to the 1775 poems published by Johnson in 1955.  Bringing both editions into play would have been a nightmare.  We had plenty of copies of the Johnson edition on hand, thanks to the generosity of John Campbell and the Cold Spring branch of the Campbell County Public Library.

Student artist Kelsea Miskell reading on Friday

Student artist Kelsea Miskell reading on Friday

Emma Rose and Matt and I arrived at 8:30 on Friday morning to get everything set up for the 9 am start.  Jonathan from IT had arrived well before us and had moved the digital monitor used for Claire’s talk the night before to the other end of the Reading Room, where the four student videos in our exhibition would be playing in a continuous loop for the rest of the Arts Fest.  Keeping the podium in place, we moved the comfortable chairs into the semicircle for the readers, and left only a few rows of chairs from the reading the night before.  The intimacy of this arrangement was enhanced by the four fabric pieces on the nearby wall.  We were ready for our first readers–Sharyn Jones, chair of our Anthropology, Sociology, and Philosophy department, and Roxanne Kent-Drury, my colleague in the English department.

From right: Sharyn Jones and Roxanne Kent-Drury prepare to read as Matt adjusts the video equipment

From right: Sharyn Jones and Roxanne Kent-Drury prepare to read as Matt adjusts the video equipment

Also arriving before 9 am was our first shift from the student groups who were helping us run the Marathon.  Megan Beckerich was here from Honors, and she was ably assisted by her friend Constance McCafferty.  Throughout the morning one would be at the reception table to sign in readers and distribute catalogs to student artists, while the other sat near the readers and signaled the end of each ten-minute time slot.

Megan Beckerich and Constance McCafferty

Megan Beckerich and Constance McCafferty

At the registration desk, we asked each reader to announce the number of each poem before reading the poem itself. This would make it much easier for everyone to know exactly where we were.  Sharyn Jones had the honor of reading “Number 1.”

Sharyn and Roxanne getting us off to a good start

Sharyn and Roxanne getting us off to a good start

I could not hear all of the readings because there were so many other things to attend to, and so many students, friends, and colleagues to greet.  On that first morning bits of Emily came in snatches.  I was surprised early on to hear Daniel Boone’s name in one of the poems (J 3).  It was wonderful, among the early verse, to hear Emily’s first heartfelt tribute to her friend Sue (who may have been the love of her life before Sue married Emily’s brother Austin):

One Sister I have in our house, / And one, a hedge away (J 14).

And then, still very early on, came two extraordinary poems that remain among her best-known today, “Heart! We will forget him!” and “I never lost as much but twice” (J 47 and 49).  Hearing poems such as these surface among the lesser-known ones was one of many pleasures this morning.

Another pleasure was to see former students such as Sara Moore Wagner, from my first graduate class in Dickinson and James, who had since been chosen as a resident poet in Amherst.  It was also a pleasure to hear Sara reading Dickinson poems again, as she had done in the classroom.  She was reading in a sequence with three of my English department colleagues, Steven Leigh, Tonya Krouse, and Bill McKim.

Marathon readers from left: Steven Leight, Tonya Krouse, Sara Moore Wagner, and Bill McKim

Marathon readers from left: Steven Leigh, Tonya Krouse, Sara Moore Wagner, and Bill McKim

I was also happy to meet Sara’s husband Jon and son Cohen, seen from behind in the above photo.  Sara has a second child on the way, who maybe heard some soothing prenatal rhythms while his expectant mother listened to several subsequent readers.

Sara Moore Wagner and family listening to subsequent readers

Sara Moore Wagner, with husband Jon and son Cohen, listening to subsequent readers

Another highlight this morning came when we got to poem 148, “All overgrown by cunning moss.”  Katherine Frank, our Dean of Arts and Sciences, was the reader.  She was as surprised as I was to find herself reading Dickinson’s tribute to Charlotte Brontë, who had died in 1859.  Katherine had visited the gravesite of the Brontë sisters near the Haworth Parsonage when researching the juvenalia they had written as part of her dissertation.  It was a true delight to see her face light up after reading these lines that end this poem:

Oh what an afternoon for Heaven, / When ‘Bronte’ entered there!

Dean Katherine Frank (with Honors Director Belle Zembrodt) realizing she has a Brontë poem

Dean Katherine Frank (with Honors Director Belle Zembrodt) realizing she has a Brontë poem

As we got close to lunch time, I decided to make a run upstairs to Einstein’s Bagels in our library lobby to get lunch for myself and our student helpers.  The convenience of this reminded me of our first decade at NKU in the 1970s, when the only food in campus buildings came from vending machines.  Megan and Constance were on duty until 1 pm, with Kaitlin Mills and her Loch Norse colleagues arriving at 12:30 for for the transition.  The Marathon went on without a break while we had lunch, sharing good impressions of the day so far.

Megan and Emma Rose at Registration Desk (with video monitor behind Megan's head)

Megan and Emma Rose at Registration Desk (with video monitor behind Megan’s head)

One notable event during the afternoon was the reading by Taylor Ross, the music major who had sung two of Aaron Copland’s Dickinson songs at her recital back in October.  As she is Matt’s girl friend, that gave him an opportunity to sit next to her as she read.  Before Taylor left, they accepted my invitation to stand for a photograph near Matt’s Cleaving Mind painting.

Taylor Ross (reading) with Matt Ruiz

Taylor Ross (reading) with Matt Ruiz

Soon after Taylor read I had the pleasure of greeting Janet Arno, who had coordinated all the support we received from the Cold Spring branch of the Campbell County Public Library.  She brought two other Marathon readers from her reading groups at the library, Gail Blair and Sean Delisch.  It was wonderful to have this kind of support from out in the community, and all three read the poetry very well.  Janet and Gail were preceded by my English department colleague John Alberti, who, like many readers, followed along for quite some time after completing his reading.  By this point, Kaitlin Mills and Keight Versluis of Loch Norse had taken over the monitoring positions from Megan and Constance.

Janet Arno, Gail Blair, and John Alberti in the reading chairs as Keight Versluis (seated) and Kaitlin Mills follow

Janet Arno, Gail Blair, and John Alberti in the reading chairs as Keight Versluis (seated) and Kaitlin Mills follow

I would have liked to hear all of the readers and all of the poems, but at some point in the afternoon I had to break away to the concert hall to see how John and Jonathan were doing in delivering and positioning the ten screen panels for the concert that night.  John had indeed completed and delivered all the screens, and the news that there would be no marimba allowed more space for deploying them.  In part because of the scaling down of the number of works to be performed, it had been decided to invite the audience to sit on the stage near the piano and performers, making the presence of the screens even more desirable.  Having the audience on stage, there would be no need for me or Kurt Sander to use a microphone when introducing the program, and therefore no need for the sound check I had expected to have this afternoon.

Bare stage, piano, and screens, on Friday afternoon

Bare stage, piano, and screens, on Friday afternoon

One very nice surprise when I returned to the Reading Room was the appearance of Kiana Berry, who had been assigned to cover the entire Arts Fest for our school newspaper, The Northerner.  She was interested in all elements of the Fest, and particularly in Emma Rose, Matt, and the student artists whose exhibition of classroom art had provided the occasion for everything that was happening this weekend.  Last night she had been conducting video interviews with Emma Rose and Matt while the rest of us were heading downstairs to meet with Kathleen and Claire in the Archive.

Kiana Berry with Emma Rose and Matt

Kiana Berry with Emma Rose and Matt

Late in the afternoon, as we approached 4 pm, another moment of serendipity transpired. Richard Hunt, a member of our Steely Library Board, was reading.  Richard is owner of Roebling Point Books and Coffee in Covington, and he publishes books in addition to selling them. I was pretty excited when I heard him begin to read number 709, one of my favorites, “Publication—is the Auction / Of the Mind of Man.”  One problem with the kind of Marathon we were conducting, running through the entire body of work in sequence, is that no reader (except for the first one) has any idea what poems he or she will be reading.  But that also makes possible these wonderful surprises.

richard hunt

Publisher Richard Hunt reads “Publication–is the Auction / Of the Mind of Man”

Our last scheduled reader on Friday was Camilla Asplen Mecher, who had been well into her ninth month of pregnancy when our group of Moby students and alums had attended Know Theater’s production of Moby-Dick in October.  Camilla had been one of my Dickinson students too, and Emma Rose and I had chosen her multi-media drawing from my Fall 2001 class, I took my Power in my Hand, for the front cover of our catalog.  Camilla and Dan’s son Jude had been born in November, so he was getting some early exposure to the arts today.

Camilla Asplen Mecher arriving with son Jude

Camilla Asplen Mecher arriving with son Jude

It was wonderful to see Jude’s Facebook persona face to face.  Camilla kept bouncing him up and down in a soft springing motion to keep him occupied–and relatively quiet–as she waited her turn to read.  During her reading, she was sometimes holding Jude’s head in one hand and Emily’s book in the other, a wonderful way to end part 1 of our Marathon Reading.

Camilla holding Judes head and Emilys book as she reads

Camilla holding Jude’s head and Emily’s book as she reads

For a first-time experiment, Day 1 of the Marathon went very well.  All forty-five of the ten-minute slots were filled, and everyone seemed to enjoy both reading and listening.  The last poem Camilla had read was no. 771, “None can experience stint / Who Bounty—have not known.”  Those of us who had seen Claire’s presentation the night before particularly enjoyed Camilla’s reading of no. 762, “Presentiment—is that long Shadow—on the Lawn.”  Artists who create something memorable in response to a Dickinson poem enrich our experience of that poem forever.  That had been doubly true of Camilla’s artistic response to poem 540, “I took my Power in my Hand,” which inspired the title of our exhibition as well as the cover of our catalog.

scan dickinson front cover

When Day 1 ended on poem 771, Emma Rose and I were a little worried that we might not be able to complete our run through all of the poems the next day.  The mathematical midpoint of 1775 would have been 888, and we were more than a hundred short of that even though our readers had been reading without a break all day.  Many of Dickinson’s later poems, however, are much shorter than the long poetic Valentines with which Sharyn launched us this morning.  The Valentine poem from 1850 which began the Marathon has 40 lines, all of which are themselves very long.  The Valentine poem from 1852 (the one that includes the line “Hurrah for Daniel Boone!”) has 68 lines in 17 stanza of four lines each.

For now, we could only hope that the numbers would even out the next day.  As for this day, the Exhibition Walk began as soon as part 1 of the Marathon had ended.