Sunday, December 14, 2008

Emily Dickinson's 178th Birthday Party

My mother sent over news and photos from Emily Dickinson's 178th birthday party, hosted at my parents' "house" (they live in a wonderful high-rise condo) on December 10th. She says there were 27-28 people there. Emily herself might have been overwhelmed by so much attention!

Here is some information from Joyce Kennedy about poet Phebe Hanson and her Emily Dickinson parties, along with a couple of photos.

Phebe has had Emily parties since 1972, starting when Emily was only 142. [I just did the math: that's 36 years!] The format since the beginning has been pretty much the same – people read their favorite Emily poems or recite the ones they know by heart. Little known poems are often read, too – lots of treasure in those. Spontaneity is emphasized – no going around a circle.

Often there will be a discussion about meaning or effect. Someone might provide a new insight into a poem or into Emily's life and/or times. We usually sing a few of the poems because with a predictable meter they adapt easily to hymns or a song like "The Yellow Rose of Texas".

All of this happens in a convivial atmosphere, this year helped along by sherry. I don't recall having sherry at any of the previous events that we have attended, but Phebe thought it would be all right since Emily mentions in one of her writings that her hair is the color of sherry that has been left in a glass for a time.

Phebe has many artifacts gathered over the years – posters, song sheets, pictures, books, etc. A couple of her friends gave her Emily Dickinson scarves – she presented me with one of them this year. In one of the photos you will see that we are wearing them.

The last part of the ritual is eating Emily's Black Cake, made from a recipe of the times. It is a rich, dark fruit cake saturated with brandy.

It's a joy to see this photo of Phebe with my mother, both looking so well.

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