Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Air Quotes with Emily Dickinson

If you are tired of obsessing about the election, checking Real Clear Politics for the latest polls, or thinking about bouncing numbers on Wall Street, Main Street, and Broadway, I invite you to turn your attention to something else: the unnecessary use of quotation marks.

I was at the delightful, insightful blog of Daughter Number Three (highly recommended: check out her play-by-plays of the debates), and found DN3s post about The "Blog" of Unnecessary Quotation Marks. This filled me with an immense sense of gratitude for the Web. I, too, can be unhinged by odd punctuation, especially on Power Point slides at school orientations.

Okay, so if you are still here at elenabella, and not laughing out loud over at those other two blogs, I invite you to take a deep breath and reflect for a moment about Emily Dickinson. How's that for a change of pace? You know, Emily: the one who never left her backyard or bedroom, who wrote about bees and the Grave and said "I'm Nobody! Who are you?" The secretive stitcher of "fascicles" – which is just another name for handmade books. (Whoops: what's up with those quotes around "fascicles"? And have you noticed that today there is a "fascicle revolution" going on?)

Anyway, I turned last night to the newish reading edition of The Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by R. W. Franklin. And there they were: a million air quotes. Emily, it turns out, is the poet of unnecessary (make that "unnecessary") quotation marks! Who knew, or noticed, besides R.W.?

Consider just this poem, number 225:

I'm "wife" - I've finished that -
That other state -
I'm Czar - I'm "Woman" now -
It's safer so -

How odd the Girl's life looks
Beyond this soft Eclipse -
I think that Earth feels so
To folks in heaven - now -

This being comfort - then
That other kind - was pain -
But Why compare?
I'm "Wife"! Stop there!

This is why I love poetry. In a perfect world, we could spend all day discussing Emily's use of punctuation above. What do the quote marks signify? Why isn't Girls life in quotes in the poem? Is this a poem that Hillary would find compelling? And does a reader need to use air quotes when reading Emily D's poems aloud? Let's hear some blogside lit crit in the comments!


Serial Susan said...

Do quotation marks suggest echoes, repetitions of sorts? While reading this entry, it occurred to me I know "Elenabella," and I also know another artist, "Ellen Bell." These names are similar, but perhaps all they have in common is me? But maybe not. Look at all the images in Elenabella's left column and check out Ellen Bell's art work. Quotations? Echoes?

elena said...

Hello Susan,
Thanks so much for sending me over to Ellen Bell's work. I love it and find it very uncanny, given what I wrote today about a dream of silhouettes...