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The Emily Dickinson Reader: An English-to-English Translation of Emily Dickinson's Complete Poems Hardcover – August 14, 2012

2.9 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"You know the kind of joke that's super-hilarious but also points in some genius way to the whole thing of the universe? Like that."—Daniel Handler

"If Emily Dickinson had a Tumblr, these witty one-liners are what she'd be posting...You'll want to not only display this one on your coffee table, but also read it from start to finish."—Marie Claire

"Let us agree that Legault’s version cannot, and is not meant to, rephrase Dickinson’s original, but rather seeks to recreate the spirit of the poem in a style and length that speak to today’s readers (who tweet and text while reading multiple books on a single flickering screen)."—The Millions

"There are so many ways into and out of this book. If you want to put it on your coffee table and pick it up at random to have a good laugh, then that’s fine, but you can also read it all the way through (as I did), letting yourself be pulled between diverse ways of reading...n the end, through this structure of repetition, Legault’s Dickinson emerges just as bold, queer, crass, hungry, sexual, demanding, and repetitive as I always knew she was."—Los Angeles Review of Books

"A valuable contribution to the field of radical translation. "—Lambda Literary Review

"Sheer genius that begs to be recited aloud."—Daily Candy

About the Author

Paul Legault was born in Ontario and raised in Tennessee. He holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Virginia and a B.F.A. in Screenwriting from the University of Southern California. He is the author of two books of poetry, The Madeleine Poems (Omnidawn, 2010) and The Other Poems (Fence Books, 2011). He co-founded and co-edits the translation press Telephone Books.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: McSweeney's (August 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1936365987
  • ISBN-13: 978-1936365982
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.2 x 7.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #821,749 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By kelsie VINE VOICE on September 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I actually pre-ordered this: that's how much I wanted to like it.

Emily Dickinson is my favorite poet, hands-down. She has a tightly-compressed language that crams mountains of meaning into tiny molehills of words and sentences. I approached this book with a great deal of expectation, because I do believe that if any poet, 1) has a body of work reducible to forceful, single sentences, she would be a good candidate; and 2) I like contemporary re-interpretations of great writing. I don't think Dickinson or anyone else has a body of untouchable work, sacrosanct and sufficient in itself with no need for each generation to find its own meaning from the words.

All that being said: this book was enormously disappointing. I'm just fine with being damned as a "person with no humor" by the book's apologists, because it simply is not funny. Legault's decision to reduce Dickinson down to (usually) one sentence is an interesting idea that he completely bungles in execution. Zombies? Do we really need another handful of zombies awkwardly thrown into literature in a desperate attempt to "modernize" it?

Legault's reinterpretations are, on the whole, uneven: at times, he's spot-on (reducing "Much Madness is divinest Sense" to "Logic is a trap from which few ever escape," for example), but overall the "reductions" of the originals into single sentences usually rests on vastly oversimplified language that's neither funny nor insightful.

Dickinson has always seemed mysterious and difficult to interpret--she knew that about herself, and owned it ("The Soul selects her own Society"). Legault has attempted to take away almost everything that made her, her.
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Format: Hardcover
I don't want to start this review negatively--especially because I've found so much pleasure from these translations--but I have to totally disagree with the previous commenter. Why would Legault spend so much time and love on this project if he weren't totally enamored by Ms. Dickinson.? This book is a joy to have. The translations are clever, the project as a whole, brilliant. If anything it makes for a more interesting read of Dickinson's work. Legault clearly did his research, E.D. 764 actually points directly to another scholar, "See My Emily Dickinson, by Susan Howe (p. 76-120)." For those of you that aren't familiar, Susan Howe's My Emily Dickinson is a wonderful portrait of a great enigmatic figure, and does a beautiful job of interpreting 'My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun' that Legault pays reverence to. He has a huge amount of respect for the genre, zero interest in replacing Emily Dickinson and if anything is asking us to start a dialogue about how we respond to (contemporary) poetry. I commend Legault on making something witty, beautiful and thought-provoking.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This collection fails in so many ways, it doesn't merit review at all. If it weren't for the fact that it might mislead people into purchasing it, I wouldn't have bothered.

To say, as the subtitle suggests, that it is "An English-to-English Translation of Emily Dickinson's Complete Poems" could hardly be further from the truth. Most of the one to two line quips (and to call them that is a stretch) have only a faint reference to something in the original but by no means capture anything of substance from the Dickinson poem.

The back cover states "Everything is still there -- flowers, New England, God, Bobolinks, the high mortality rate of the nineteenth century, sexual obsession -- though written out in 'plain speech' ...". Really. What the author doesn't state is that there is very little of those things. What there is in abundance [and somehow I missed those in the original Emily Dickinson poems] are over 100 references to Big Foot, robots, Sigmund Freud, wizards, time machines, and zombies. There are 75 zombie "poems" alone. Is this the author's "attempt to rewrite her poems (with their foreign beauty intact) in 'Standard English.'"?

The book is in fact not an "Emily Dickinson Reader" but, as one reviewer stated, a "vanity project" -- and a juvenile one at that. Legault is not Emily Dickinson's "humble translator" but rather an egocentric amateur.

I would have far less criticism if the author were more honest. If the collection had been presented as a spoof on Emily Dickinson's poems, fine. If he had promoted his own zombitic twist to her poetry, I would have had different expectations. Even so, as another reviewer stated: "This is a joke that would be funny once, maybe twice, but stretching it out into an entire book is kind of overkill...
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Format: Hardcover
I have noted -- with what little capacity I have left for distress --- that the negative reviews of this book have gotten themselves panned by those who evaluated them. Trying to understand that secondary defense of this text is a much more interesting problem than the book itself. My guess is that this work's defenders think those of us who hate it "do not get the joke" or, perhaps, "have an inadequate sense of humor." I actually think the opposite is true. While I can only remember one short book on ED's sense of humor, the comic is one her major moods. Further, it's clear from his "straight" translations that the author here, Legault, did not get it when both his legs were being pulled off. I mean, I am tempted to rage by his reductionist erasure of music, trope, philosophy, and beauty in the name of an infantile witticism, but I want to hope that this midget enterprise will bring some to ED herself. The situation now is like watching a hubristic gnat trying to block out the sun. Poetry has enough disrespect and neglect without this bathetic changeling.
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