Natasha Trethewey, Emily Dickinson: Partners in Crime

June 12, 2013

In her interview in the LA Review of Books (just out), Natasha Trethewey mentions only Derek Walcott and Robert Penn Warren as poets who touch her at moments of mass fatalities.  But I’d like to think that there’s a connection to Emily Dickinson as well.

After all, Trethewey has got to be one of few 21st-century poets for whom Dickinson’s favorite genre, the hymnal, is still a living force.  In Beyond Katrina, she writes of her visit to Gulfport, Missisippi, still not fully recovered from the hurricane.  At her mother’s grave, “Debris still littered the grass. Everywhere, there were pages torn from hymnals, Bibles, psalms pressed into the grass as if they were cemented there. I bent close, trying to read one; to someone driving by along the beach, I must have looked like a woman praying.”

Dickinson would have done the same, faced with the same.

More lightheartedly, I think they would also have this in common: crime novels.   Emily Dickinson never got a chance to read all those inspired by herself: Mary Willis Walker’s Zero at the Bone, for instance (with its title taken from the poem about the snake — “never met this Fellow/ Attended or Alone/ Without a tighter Breathing/ and Zero at the bone”); or Joanne Dobson’s Quieter Than Sleep: a Karen Pelletier Mystery (Dobson also founded a scholarly society devoted to Dickinson).

Trethewey, though, is on record as admitting that she’s a fan of the genre.   Among her favorites?   Emily Dickinson is Dead: a Homer Kelly Mystery, by Jane Langton.   About a murder at an Emily Dickinson Symposium.

About wcd2

Professor of English and American Studies
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