Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Dickinson and Rothko
Alice Fulton and Susan Howe gave superb readings tonight, at the Rothko Chapel here in Houston, as part of a cluster of events around Emily Dickinson's work this week at the U of H. The Rothko Chapel is different at night -- the artificial light doesn't show the pictures in as spooky and radiant a depth as they have in daylight -- but to make up for that there was a wild lashing rainstorm, so it felt like being in an ark while the thunder boomed outside. Five terrific grad students read a favorite Dickinson poem, and then Fulton and Howe read both ED and themselves. What I loved was the way that their talk about Dickinson somehow illuminated their own poems; it was as if we were allowed to see more deeply into each poet's work. Alice alternated between Dickinson and her own poems, so that her reading became a conversation. It's a splendid match, Dickinson and Fulton's verbal intelligence and inventiveness, and the ways that each poet reinvents punctuation, creating their own intricate formal structures. I loved the way Alice talked about her "brides" -- those intriguing double equal signs -- and knotted them to Dickinson's dashes. Susan read Dickinson first, and then launched into a reading from her brilliant SOULS OF THE LABADIE TRACT that was haunting and riveting. Somehow the light behind her work -- a particularly American radiance, like Dickinson's and Rothko's too -- seemed to come shining forth. It was a perfect night, though I got drenched on the way home despite a borrowed umbrella, and my car died, but somehow the poetry made the rest inconsequential.