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Dickinson had a nice touch with prose, too | READER COMMENTARY

The coming-of-age comedy "Dickinson" is set in the 1850s and centers on poet Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld). It includes modern music and takes artistic license on aspects of her life. (Handout/Apple TV+).
The coming-of-age comedy "Dickinson" is set in the 1850s and centers on poet Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld). It includes modern music and takes artistic license on aspects of her life. (Handout/Apple TV+). (Apple TV+)

I was amused by Clarinda Harriss’ letter to the editor, “Dickinson was known for her poetry, not her ‘prose’” (Nov. 16). Though, as Ms. Harris says in her letter, normally prose means anything but poetry, often the difference is not that clear. In the hands of some writers, prose can be as lyrical and musical as verse, and in the hands of some poets poetry can read like prose, with no meter or rhymes, just a trick of lines arranged on a page to look like poetry.

There are numerous examples of modern poetry written in free form that obey no rules of poetry. Even to think there are rules for poetry is anachronistic. The only validation a poem needs is to have its creator say it is one. I run into such “poems” in high-brow magazines like The New Yorker and am left bereft wondering, “Was that poetry I just read?”

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By the same token, a novelist can serve up several paragraphs worthy of being deemed poems, interspersing a story with exquisite descriptions of nature, travels, memories and dreams.

True, Emily Dickinson is mainly known for her poems, even one that said, “They shut me up in prose, as when a little girl, they put me in the closet, because they liked me still...” implying that conventions are confining like the closet or like prose. But in a world of prose poems and poetic prose, where the lines are blurred between what’s a poem and what’s prose, I would say Emily Dickinson was not only a marvelous poet, she wrote prose to extol. She excelled at the art of epistolary, now almost obsolete.

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She also wrote delightful letters to her friends and relatives and perhaps the young woman playing Emily Dickinson was actually referring to those letters when she said in the Sunday Sun’s entertainment section that she learned a lot about Emily Dickinson’s character via Dickinson’s prose (”Dickinson’s prose kept Steinfeld up for days,” Nov. 14). Just saying.

Usha Nellore, Bel Air

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