Matt Turner's Reviews > The Complete Poems

The Complete Poems by Emily Dickinson
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Aug 03, 10

Read from August 02 to 03, 2010

It's a bit lame to write a review of a complete poems, especially in the case of Dickinson. I can't help but think her poetry was only meant to exist in fascicle format, as small gifts to her visitors. Especially since a complete poems has a very uneven quality, due to the timeline and the sheer amount of poems in the book. The (still large) amount of excellent poems outweighs the lesser poems by far, however, and one can at least try to imagine reading the poems in fascicle format - as if the veneration of Dickinson had never begun.

But here's why her poetry is great, why I gave the book five stars, and why she deserves to be venerated. 1) Her poetry varies in tone (over time, of course, but also poem-to-poem in general), from the obscure to the extremely direct, but always carries with it an emotional weight that seems lost on a lot of other poetry. 2) Even though her emotional stanzas deliver as such, the language is often disorienting, rewarding multiple reads, never allowing a poem to be "summed up" - in an honest reading of it, anyway (more on that later). 3) Her subject matter runs from the trite to the obscure. Good. I like this "no holds barred" approach, and it stands as a model for all other writers. 4) The directness of even the most insular of her poems gives the feeling that the poems are communications to people, and not to the unnamed powers of egalitarianism, capital, or poetry itself.

As extra pluses, 1) as said before, her poems rewards rereading. But in reverse. I have a difficult time thinking of other poets whose poems get more difficult the more you read them. People who think they "get" Dickinson haven't spent much time reading her. As such, it's also a pleasure to read such a well-known author, but as if she's never been read much. 2) If one spends time with her work, one has the pleasure of debunking claims that her poetry is "obvious," "Hallmark-ish," or simply coquettish. Anyone who says such things doesn't know how to read a poem. 3) I'd also like to add that she's a nice antidote to Whitman, and a corrective to reading the later moderns as somehow more advanced in style or subject matter.

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