I commented about self-censoring on another poet’s post today. He had admitted being hesitant to hit the publish button on a certain post of his. We writers engage in a lot of self talk, especially when the subject matter we take on is sensitive, political, controversial, etc., etc. There’s the innate need for us to create the work, to write the words, to say the things, and then there’s the need for an audience, if we actually choose to publish our work. And the audience is a huge gamble we have to be willing to take.
Dear Readers, I have to admit that I am not a Dickinson scholar, although that is now one of my goals, and something I’m working at daily. When I choose a first line of hers to use as a prompt, my process is that I write my poem and then go back and research analyses of hers, to perhaps see how my poem’s theme relates to the body of her work. The question for this poem was “Did Emily ever address current events?” The answer, like her work is elliptical and cloaked.
Emily Dickinson was most prolific during the years of the Civil War. Scholars have deemed a small group of her poems, “War Poems”. But unlike the other “Titan of American Poetry” – Walt Whitman, she told her war stories “slant”, working around the truth, and indirectly leading you to the center of it, gradually. That’s not what I did with this poem though.
My take on #270 is very timely, as the jury selection is presently occurring in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for the Derek Chauvin trial for the murder of George Floyd. “One life of so much consequence” could absolutely have been written in another vein, about Derek Chauvin. I had a conversation with myself about posting it here. But as I wrote this poem, I was also reminded about how each one of us is a “life of so much consequence”. We touch so many others every day. The Butterfly Effects of our words and our actions are often monumental and far reaching, through generations and miles. We would do well to remember that.
Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson and the War That Changed Poetry, Forever | At the Smithsonian | Smithsonian Magazine