Emily Dickinson Speaks


Today's blog is an essay by one of our Poetry Center docents. Our docent program provides groups, institutions, and individuals with a positive and engaging introduction to the Poetry Center as a living archive. Docents encourage a love of language and advance a positive perception of poetry.

Sure, today we know that Emily Dickinson was a brilliant poet.  But did you know that she was considered the mystery of Amherst, a little cuckoo… by some, the town crazy? 

Thomas Wentworth Higginson, long time friend and preceptor, called her his ”partially cracked poetess” and his wife complained about Emily, “why do the insane cling to you so?”

And Emily knew what people thought of her, she wrote,


Much Madness is divinest Sense –

To a discerning Eye –

Much Sense – the starkest Madness –

‘Tis the Majority

In this, as all, prevail –

Assent – and you are sane –

Demure – you’re straightway dangerous –

And handled with a chain


Did you know that she won awards at the county fair for her baking?  Her father would eat no one’s bread but hers and children would come to her window, knowing that she would lower a basket of her gingerbread down to them.

Did you know that she studied botany, and created a 400 – 500 specimen herbarium, meticulously pressing into a book, plants and flowers, both wild and cultivated with scientific names for class and order?  Did you know that this project, currently housed at Harvard University is considered by some to be her first opus…her second, being her bound fascicles of 1789 poems?

And, did you know that her nickname as a kid was Socrates?

If you want to learn more about Emily Dickinson, one of the most popular American poets here and around the world, we have lots of opportunities coming up, which are free for you.

  1. Po e Tree is a partnership between the U of A Poetry Center and the U of A Campus Arboretum.  Docents of the Poetry Center will facilitate a poetry reading and discussion about Emily Dickinson called “Gorgeous Nothings”.  Join us under the trees at Herring Hall on March 4, 2017 from 3:00 – 4:30pm.
  2. Puppets & Poetry is again part of the entertainment at the Tucson Festival of Books on March 11 – 12 on the U of A Mall.  Jeanne Missey Osgood and her muppet puppet, Emily Dickinson will perform a 45-minute show which includes recitation of poetry.  Enjoy the wit and brilliance of Emily held at the West Entertainment Stage (by the Food Court) on Sunday, March 12 at 10:00am.
  3. In April, U of A Department of Campus Recreation, fitness programming is hosting Poetry in Motion:  The Practice of Hatha Yoga while Listening to Poetry.  And you guessed it, the poetry and yoga fusion classes will be featuring the poetry of Emily Dickinson in the breezeway of the Poetry Center.  The three dates are April 5 and April 14, both at 6:30am and April 22 at 8:00am.   All ages and fitness levels are welcome!


Of course, you can come to the University of Arizona Poetry Center, housed in the inspirational Helen S. Schaefer building any time that we are open.  The experience will literally cause you to draw a breath in, a feeling and filling-up of life force that comes from visiting the 70,000 item (e.g., books, periodicals, recording of authors and poets reading their works, a children’s Corner, rare books room) living archive.

The Poetry Center is one of the most comprehensive collections of contemporary poetry in the world and is free and open to the public.  And there you will also find poetry through the ages, which still speaks to contemporary society, like the poetry of Emily Dickinson.

Jeanne Missey Osgood is a Poetry Center docent and a yoga instructor within the Department of Campus Recreation.