Ashley Geiger
Aurelea Mahood
English 214 – 01
Due Oct. 8, 2009
Much like the title might suggest Susan Howe’s essay found in The Book of The Book examines the unjustified ways in which Emily Dickinson’s poetry was unfairly edited when it was published. Emily Dickinson’s poetry is famous not only for the poetry itself but for the over use of editing when it came to publishing her work. Since it was a unique situation for the majority of a poet’s work to be published after the poet’s death she had no control over how it was published.
This essay looks into the faults that came up with the publications and extreme over editing of Dickinson’s work. I believe that the point Howe was trying to make in her essay was that literary art should not have restrictions and that the written word should have no boundaries. The written word is art and as art restrictions need to be removed.
The biggest problem that occurred with the publication of Emily Dickinson’s work was that everyone wanted to make it appear the way other poetry of the time appeared. They disregarded her all too famous dash and gave little to no consideration of what critics often argue were purposeful grammar mistakes, mainly the use of the wrong homonym; “The original application of to, not too, seems to have been to a word signifying great quantity…”(page 119) Howe.
Howe’s essay fights for the rights of the written word to be limitless. “Free from limitations of genre Language finds true knowledge estranged in itself” (pg 118) Howe. She writes a great essay on why she thinks that Dickinson’s work needed to be published exactly how it was written. However, while fighting for the right for Dickinson’s work to be published as it was written, she also gives us an impossible challenge; publishing without editing.
As technology changes it becomes almost impossible to recapture the value of the way it was written. “The space is a poet’s space. Its demand is her method” (page 120) Howe. This highlights the problem with going from the written word to print. The article tells us how impossible it is to create the same spaces between words and to draw out the words when some are possibly purposely made longer for the poet to get a point across.
I think that Howe made some wonderful points and had great evidence to support her claims. While Howe’s criticisms were well founded they didn’t leave realistic solutions for future editing. Dickinson’s writing was butchered when published without question but what should be done to fix it is still unanswered and I wonder if Dickinson’s poetry will ever actually be able to satisfy her many fans.


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