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The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson's Envelope Poems 1st Edition
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“The Gorgeous Nothings claims our attention with a new Emily Dickinson. This edition itself is a work of art.”
- Susan Howe
“This exquisitely produced book [The Gorgeous Nothings]―lovingly curated by Bervin and Werner―allows you to encounter Emily Dickinson’s ‘envelope poems’ in full-color facsimile for the first time. It’s an experience suspended between reading and looking, of toggling between those two modes of perception, and it thoroughly refreshes both.”
- Ben Lerner, The New Yorker
“The Gorgeous Nothings works as both an engrossing visual treat and an affecting work of literature, giving us a keen and tangible sense of not only of Dickinson’s writing, but of how she wrote.”
“The first and immediate shocks are in the words, with other, lingering, aftershocks following in the visual details of their settings. The great thing about [The Gorgeous Nothings] is, of course, that it gives us all of this, complete.”
- Holland Cotter, The New York Times
“This book is a rare gift for all poetry lovers.”
- Craig Morgan Teicher, NPR
“Visual poets around the world will soon be mining these endlessly suggestive fragments.”
- Marjorie Perloff, Times Literary Supplement
“The beautiful reproduction, on the pages of The Gorgeous Nothings, of what might seem only negligible scraps of waste paper brings us closer to the restlessness of the constantly thinking poet who, in her later years, repeatedly seized her pencil and a fragment of an envelope to write about the lowliest and the most exalted states of being.”
- Helen Vendler, New Republic
“We see from The Gorgeous Nothings the way [Dickinson's] art and life were not separate endeavors. Dickinson wrote poetry every time she addressed or received an envelope. Whenever there was paper around, she put quill or pencil right to it. Dickinson, master of paradox. started these un-conversations with nobody, and so many years after her death, now ― in curled script, with their sweet, perfect Ms and half-formed Ys, unpublished and unseen until now ― they speak to us. And they have so much yet to say.”
- Brenda Shaughnessy, Los Angeles Times
“This book is a testament to the lasting power of Dickinson’s work and a new insight into the way her work arose. It’s suitably gorgeous production and lyrical accompanying essays make it a treat for the eye and the mind. ”
- The Australian
“An insightful new volume, The Gorgeous Nothings, edited by Jen Bervin and Marta Werner, also provides a fascinating glimpse of Dickinson by assembling images documenting the poetry she scrawled on repurposed envelopes ― envelopes that have themselves been elevated to a new sort of art.”
- Chicago Tribune
About the Author
Arguably America’s greatest poet, Emily Dickinson (1830–1886) published fewer than a dozen of her eighteen hundred poems during her lifetime.
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The Gorgeous Nothings is also beautifully produced so in itself is a pleasure to own
The book is a gem, because of what it has to say & the way it has presented it.
And, if we agree with editor Marta Werner, Dickinson was playing not only with the arrangement of words in poetic lines, but the arrangement of different groups of words on different parts of these envelopes. On a folded-over lip of one envelope, she describes a "Drunken man" (who may also be dead, or almost dead), "Oblivion bending / over him," and, written slanted over the curled edge, "enfolding him / with tender / infamy." It's the medium making the metaphor here, something usually reserved for sculpture. This is poetry in 3-D.
These are late writings, probably composed after she'd sewn up the last of her famous "fascicles," the bound packets in which her poems were found after her death. So these are experiments, perhaps, begun after she'd set the bulk of her legacy in store for "immortality," one of her favorite words. Due, perhaps, to the limits these unusually shaped pages exerted on her writing, the best of these poems are among her most compressed and aphoristic. "A Pang," she writes, "is more / Conspicuous in Spring / In contrast with the / things that sing," blending colloquial and biblical speech in the kinds of enigmatic leaps that make her poems rush with wind.
The Gorgeous Nothings is an art book as much as a poetry book, featuring full-color facsimiles of 52 of Emily Dickinson's envelope poems.i
The Gorgeous Nothings is an art book as much as a poetry book, featuring full-color facsimiles of 52 of Emily Dickinson's envelope poems.
Jen Bervin/Courtesy of New Directions
The editors offer endless avenues of interpretation; the typed transcriptions of Dickinson's handwriting are superimposed atop the outlines of their corresponding envelopes, so the multidirectional layout of the text isn't lost. A series of esoteric indexes — by shape of the envelopes, by what direction they are turned, by whether or not they have "penciled divisions," for example — encourage the reader to speculate about the various relationships Dickinson may have conceived between paper and words.
It's a good season to chase after the ever-elusive Emily Dickinson. In addition to this book, there's a corresponding exhibit in Chicago; there's also a separate show in New York City, and all of the poet's online archives were recently organized into one accessible hub. This book is a rare gift for all poetry lovers. We are lucky to have more of Dickinson's ongoing "letter to the World / That never wrote to Me," an endlessly fascinating correspondence, addressed to any of us who find it — so long as we're willing to answer it with concentration and curiosity.