Looking for a holiday read that nestles perfectly within those expansive bursts of 4-5 minutes of freedom?

I got you.

(Grammarian Disclaimer: “I’ve got you” didn’t have the oomph)

My without-reservations-recommendation for the top of your holiday reading list is

(drum roll, Griswold-style)

Emily Dickinson’s Poems: As She Preserved Them, edited by Cristanne Miller!

I’m sure you’re surprised.

Sincerely though:

  1. Reading a Dickinson poem only takes about 2-3 minutes, even if you’re thoughtful about letting the words soak.
  2. Working that poem over in your mind afterward—while engaging with the world around you—is an incredible way to draw even more meaning and more relevance from the lines.

So, why this book of Dickinson poems?

For a poet whose innovative style was ‘normalized’ by editors both before and after her death, Miller’s book provides a refreshing glimpse into Dickinson’s extraordinary body of work, without the filter.

While you’re discovering some of her best poems are ones you’ve maybe never heard (or just honestly never understood—am I right?), or seeing old favorites afresh, you’ll find the poet just as she left much of her work: in process.

That “in process” portion is what makes this particular edition of Dickinson’s work so vital. It makes both the poetry and the poet accessible.

For those of you who write but have yet to reach Dickinson status, flipping the pages and observing as a literary giant moves between mediocre word choice, revisions of phrasing for clarity, and the like, not only humanizes Dickinson—but it reminds us that even for the legends, the writing craft still has an element of work, of edit, and of revision.  

Each page captures methodical tinkering with ever-evolving art. Substitutions and variants are placed outside each “completed” poem, and perusing her alternate approaches is an insightful tool for deciphering poetic intent.

The meticulous annotations provided by Miller are easy to follow and gift the poems with extraordinary context. The notes include everything from connections to popular literature of the day to the poem recipients during Dickinson’s lifetime.

As for topics to stoke your interest, Dickinson’s scope is infinite. She targets an astounding array of subjects with a surprisingly modern eye, complete with candor and wit. Be prepared to see yourself reflected as you read, to snicker at the precise characterization of even the most complex elements of life, and to feel tugged in by her frequent use of first-person form.

Pair this book with a well-researched biography, such as Sewall’s, The Life of Emily Dickinson, or Emily’s own letters (careful, many were ‘edited’ meticulously by ‘someone’), and you’ll be further caught in the intrigue of the Dickinson family’s curious narrative. 

Wishing you and your family (curious/intrigue/and all) a lovely Thanksgiving.

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