Imagining Emily

May 21, 2013 § 5 Comments

Sheryl St. Germain discusses the origins of her essay Interviewing Emily Dickinson and the “truth” of an imagined moment:


Sheryl St. Germain

Because I’ve been doing historical research for another writing project, which involves trying to recover a particular woman’s voice from 16th century France, I’ve become extremely sensitive to the fact that we sometimes must invent in order to reach (create?  interrogate?) a truth. My narrator couldn’t have literally had a conversation with Emily Dickinson, since Dickinson is dead, but I wondered what that conversation might have been like had it been possible.  So many of us have been influenced profoundly by Dickinson’s words and yet we’ve never had a face-to-face conversation with her.  So I guess the “truth” of the piece is my own desire to connect with Dickinson in some deeper way.  And even though the conversation is completely invented, I did quite a bit of research in order to write the piece in a way that felt like it honored her voice.  I visited Dickinson’s homestead and grave in Amherst; walked around the gardens and landscape where she lived most of her life;  spent a summer rereading her poems (three-volume boxed set with all variants)  as well as Alfred Habegger’s extensive and insightful biography, My Wars Are Laid Away in Books: The Life of Emily Dickinson.  I also reread some of her letters to get a sense of her voice outside of the poems.  I spent a month at writer’s retreat not far from the Dickinson homestead  in a room that was called, eerily enough, the “Emily Dickinson room.”  I had not requested this room, but when it was given me I took it as a blessing from Emily.

Sheryl St. Germain has published 10 books of poetry and nonfiction, the latest of which is Navigating Disaster: Sixteen Essays of Love and a Poem of Despair. She directs the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Chatham University in Pittsburgh.


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