Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Shurr ( The Marriage of Emily Dickinson ) carries one step further Thomas H. Johnson's practice of extracting poetic passages from the prose of Dickinson. Scrupulously reading her letters for passages that contain her familiar iambics, meter or punctuation, Shurr gathers nearly 500 such ``excavations,'' which he has altered minimally to conform with Dickinson's ``usual poetic lines.'' In addition, he isolates such categories as riddles and epigrams: ``I thought your approbation Fame- / and it's withdrawal Infamy.'' The brevity and visual intensity of many short pieces show Dickinson as a precursor of the Imagists. But instead of letting the excerpts speak for themselves, Shurr fleshes them out with other poetic excerpts that require contextual explanation and ``workshop'' fragments that, he tells us, would have made excellent poems had they been further developed. A repetitive discussion of Dickinson's form and metric structure prefaces chapters as well as individual works. Such academic posturing interferes with the reader's casual enjoyment of much of the material here, which falls so naturally into poetry it's difficult to imagine it as anything else. (Sept.)
Shurr (English, Univ. of Tennessee) has assembled the first extensive compilation of excerpts from the letters of Emily Dickinson. In doing so, he examines the poetic qualities of the letters in often daring ways. What he has not done, as many have mistakenly gathered from the media excitement, is to discover a single new Dickinson poem. Every line, regardless of its reformatting by Shurr, is excised from the previously published letters. Shurr rightly points out many poetic elements in the letters, as readers have done since 1894. His book returns to the spirit of Dickinson's first 19th-century editors, who presumed to alter the poet's lines for her. While we marvel at the brilliance of these excerpts, we are always aware of the editorial license taken with the material. Of interest to scholars but confusing to nonspecialists; not an essential purchase.-- Daniel J. Lombardo, The Jones Lib., Inc., Amherst, Mass.
School Library Journal
YA-Readers intrigued by Dickinson's poetry will welcome this unusual volume, which increases her body of work by 498 selections. Shurr has accomplished this by combing three volumes of the poet's letters and identifying epigrams, riddles, and various longer lyrical pieces within the prose. These will both challenge and delight serious readers, for wit, unusual rhythms, and musical rhymes predominate. The organization is easy to follow: the divisions include a discussion of epigrams, a new genre for Dickinson critics; many fully developed poems-within-letters; miscellaneous experimental forms; and a collection of the poet's juvenalia, instructive for its foreshadowing of technique and themes to come. Although some critics will object to Shurr's technique of labeling prose lines as poems, this volume expands students' notions of where poetry can be found. Writing teachers will mine this rich new resource as well.-Margaret Nolan, W.T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA
Although the poetic quality of Dickenson's letters is well known, Schurr draws fully developed poems from them, presenting 498 new poems that he and his associates excavated from her correspondence. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
"I had hoped to express more. Love more I never can." This is one of the 200 epigrams William Shurr has "excavated" from Emily Dickinson's extant letters. In what may well be a controversial volume, Shurr, a professor at the University of Tennessee and a Dickinson expert, boldly asserts that Dickinson did, in fact, "express more" than the traditional canon of her work would indicate. His case claiming that Dickinson embedded numerous poems in the prose of her "highly charged" letters is well argued and convincingly presented. He describes how painstaking scrutiny of the poet's letters revealed sections written in her signature line and poetic voice: her "fourteeners" in hymn meter. Furthermore, there is ample historical precedent for freeing Dickinson's poems from prose format. Dickinson, ever the writer, thinker, and sage, seemed to draw from a cache of previously composed poems when she corresponded, incorporating them fluidly and subtly into messages of a more prosaic nature. Shurr has recovered nearly 500 poems and organized them into five categories: the epigrams, an important new genre in Dickinson's oeuvre; poems that resemble her known works in structure and tone; miscellaneous forms, such as riddles; what appear to be rough drafts and fragments; and juvenilia. Although skeptics may fret, true lovers of poetry will welcome these rediscovered treasures and take pleasure in their quiet intensity, wisdom, and grace. For more "new" Dickinson writings, see Fuller's "Diary of Emily Dickinson" in this issue's Fiction section.
What People are saying about this
From the Publisher
William Shurr, the most insightful critical biographer of Emily Dickinson, is at it again, reading Dickinson with the acute eye of a Kepler or a Galileo, offering us our American Sappho unfragmented. His careful readings offer us an even richer mother of American poetry than any of us ever knew to exist.Diane Wakoski, Michigan State University
An exciting, innovative, and important advance in Dickinson studies. While certain to cause controversy and debate, it is a major advance in our knowledge of Dickinson as poet and person. Shurr has revealed a secret treasure of her poetry that was waiting to be discovered.Emory Elliott, University of California, Riverside
Those with an open mind will find pleasures here as one of America's great poets plays with pushing the boundaries of poetry and human sensibility. The book is more than a literary curiosity.Houston Post
Scrupulously reading her letters for passages that contain her familiar iambics, meter or punctuation, Shurr gathers nearly 500 . . . 'excavations,' which he has altered minimally to conform with Dickinson's 'usual poetic lines.' . . . The brevity and visual intensity of many short pieces show Dickinson as a precursor of the Imagists.Publishers Weekly, starred review
True lovers of poetry will welcome these rediscovered treasures and take pleasure in their quiet intensity, wisdom, and grace.Booklist (starred review)