Monday, June 7, 2010

Jill Krementz Photo Journal - Emily Dickinson's Garden

Emily Dickinson's Garden
The Poetry of Flowers
April 30th-June 13th, 2010
Co-presented with the Poetry Society of America

The New York Botanical Garden

You only have one more week to get out to the Bronx to see this wondrous poetry garden which celebrates one of America's most enduring poetic voices: Emily Dickinson.

Daguerreotype, 1848 of Emily Dickinson; the only photographic image taken when the poet was seventeen.
Portrait of the Dickinson children — Emily, Austin and Lavinia — painted by O.S. Ballard, 1840.
Not many people realize that the friends and family of the poet knew her during her lifetime (1830-1886) primarily as a practiced and passionate gardener. Only seven of her poems were published before her death.

Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst to parents who were ardent about plants. The family property was filled with vegetables, trees, hedges and especially flowers. Her mother (also named Emily) was famous around Amherst for growing figs; her father Edward had a gentleman's orchard and he built a conservatory — a garden off the dining-room. Emily's older brother Austin planted a grove of pines and a younger sister Lavinia, known as “Vinnie,” was a gardening enthusiast and accomplice

This thoughtfully mounted exhibition features a re-creation of Dickinson's garden based on the extensive reading of the poet's poems and letters. On display are the flowers and plants that inspired so much of her poetry. Interspersed along the garden walk are boards with relevant poems.

Emily Dickinson died on May 15, 1886, probably of a stroke. She was buried in a white coffin with heliotrope in her hands and lady's slippers at her throat. According to her wish, servants carried her through fields of buttercups to a grave heaped with flowers.

A few days later her sister Lavinia would discover over 1800 unpublished poems in a cedar chest in Emily's bedroom.

Alice Quinn, the high priestess of American poetry, has organized a series of events so that visitors may learn more about Dickinson's life, her poetry and her garden. This past Saturday, Ms. Quinn hosted a program that featured writers Christopher Benfey and Jerome Charyn. Mr. Benfey, a Dickinson scholar, teaches at Mount Holyoke; Mr. Charyn's most recent novel, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, is a fictionalized account of the poet's life.

On Saturday afternoon, June 12th, Quinn will host two final programs — one with Susan Howe, (author of My Emily Dickinson) and Stephen Stephanchev (former Queens Poet Laureate) at 3 o'clock, and the other with writers Joyce Carol Oates and Lyndall Gordon at 5. Oates has edited a book published by Ecco for their Essential Poets Series: Essential Dickinson; Gordon is the author of a new book: Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds.
This small tent was set up just outside the entrance to the Emily Dickinson garden exhibition for the Jerome Charyn/Christopher Benfey event, hosted by Alice Quinn.
Christopher Benfey teaches a course at Mount Holyoke called Emily Dickinson at Mount Holyoke, a seminar that zeroes in on the one year Emily Dickinson spent at the college from 1847-1848. His students pursue independent research in the school’s archives, learn about the various policies of 19th-century education for women, and think about contrasts between their own first year at Mount Holyoke and Emily Dickinson’s.
Alice Quinn can recite over 150 of Emily Dickinson's poems from memory. Ms. Quinn is the Executive Director of the Poetry Society of America.
Jerome Charyn talked about growing up in the mean culture of the South Bronx in a land of crippling poverty without books. But in junior high school, as a result of cutting up in class, he was sent by the teacher to the library as a punishment.

"The library was as futile as the Bronx itself; it's shelves were battered and half its books had broken spines. And while I sat, one of the shelves collapsed and spilled these wounded books right into my lap."

"And there she was! That daguerreotype of Emily with a ribbon around her neck, taken when she was sixteen or so. I must have stumbled upon some renegade anthology of poems, lost in the wilderness of the Bronx .... "Behold, I became a reader."
Christopher Benfey and Jerome Charyn at The Bronx Botanical Gardens on Saturday, June 5th, 2010, where they spoke about Emily Dickinson.
Polly Longsworth is a leading Dickinson scholar and the author of Mabel and Austin, the amazing book about the torrid love affair between Emily's older brother and the wife of the Amherst astronomy professor.

She also wrote an extremely useful and popular illustrated life of Emily Dickinson called The World of Emily Dickinson. Polly has shepherded the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst into existence and served as chair of the whole enterprise. She's a good friend of Christopher Benfey's and drove down with him for his talk.
Writer Jay Neugeboren and his wife, psychotherapist, Kathleen Reilly. Rebecca Dinerstein, 22-year-old poet, has just finished a year abroad on a fellowship from Yale. A protegé of Louise Glück's, Ms. Dinerstein has recently finished her first novel. She also learned to speak Norwegian during her travels and is looking for a job in Manhattan where she can put her newly-acquired language to good use.
Lenore Riegel, a television producer and a lawyer with the Bloom firm. Ms. Riegel is Mr. Charyn's lady friend (for lack of a better word). Karen Kennerly, former executive director of PEN International, now a real estate agent with Halstead.
Gayle Schmidt, Manager of Public Education at the New York Botanical Garden. She has worked there for four years and has been very involved with all the Dickinson programming.
Left: Alice Quinn has organized all the poetry events in conjunction with the Emily Dickinson Exhibition at the Bronx Botanical Gardens. Ms. Quinn has also contributed to the audio lecture.
Entrance to the Emily Dickinson garden exhibition.
Over the fence –
Strawberries – grow –
Over the fence –
I could climb – if I tried, I know –
Berries are nice!

But – if I stained my Apron –
God would certainly scold!
Oh, dear, – I guess if He were a Boy –
He'd – climb – if He could!
Where Ships of Purple – gently toss –
On Seas of Daffodil –
Fantastic Sailors – mingle –
And then – the Wharf is still!
In Dickinson's day, hollyhock signified ambition.
Morning – is the place for Dew –
Corn – is made at Noon –
After dinner light – for flowers –
Dukes – for Setting Sun
Christopher Benfey and Alice Quinn in front of the recreated facade of the poet's home in Amherst, Massachusetts. Emily Dickinson lived here for 56 years rarely leaving except to attend school and in later years, to walk with her dog Carlo to the nearby village. Carlo has been described as "a very large, long-haired, salivating, muddy-pawed companion." Christopher Benfey is seated in a facsimile of Emily Dickinson's bedroom where she wrote. On the wall behind him: Emily's father, top left; Martha age 6, top right; her sister Lavinia, bottom left; and nephew Edward, bottom right.
A facsimile of Emily's bed with pillows and headboard.
Longiflorum-Asiatic hybrid lily, Lilium.
Digitalis lutea (straw foxglove), Scrophulariaceae. Europe & northwestern Africa.
The Evergreens. In 1856 Dickinson's brother, Austin, married Susan Gilbert, Emily's childhood friend. Edward Dickinson, her father, offered to build the newlyweds a house next door to the Homestead in the style of their choice. They chose the then trendy Italianate style. The couple named their new home the Evergreens, after its many conifers.

The landscaping at the Evergreens was distinctly different from the Homestead's. Austin, an accomplished landscape designer, favored winding paths and curves, unlike the straight lines found at Homestead, and preferred shrubs and trees to flowers.
Fuschia, 'Display,' Onagraceae.
American gardeners grew Hollyhocks by the early 17th Century.
Emily Dickinson's nickname was "Daisy."

So has a Daisy vanished
From the fields today –
So tiptoed many a slipper
To Paradise away –

Oozed so in crimson bubbles
Day's departing tide –
Blooming – tripping – flowing –
Are ye then with God?
Margaret Csala, Director of the Shop in the Garden, is standing in front of a table of dedicated Dickinson merchandise.
Emily Dickinson's Herbarium, $138.50. Christopher Benfey's A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade (Hardcover).
The glass hydrangea and rose plates in the gift shop, $58.
These adorable birds made of twigs and dried leaves are only $9. I bought two of them.
Emily Dickinson's garden was her church.

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I, just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton-sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to heaven, at last –
I'm going, all along.
This photojournal is dedicated, with much love, to my friend Harriet Huber, who has always loved flowers and friends. Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz; all rights reserved.