Emily’s Carib Cake?

Posted in cooking, poetry on October 9th, 2019 by admin – Be the first to comment

Black Cake comes readily to mind when thinking of Emily Dickinson with her hands on a mixing bowl, pencil and paper ready at the side of her pastry board.

Her recipe for Black Cake uses an enormous number of eggs, pounds of sugar and flour, dried fruits, brandy and molasses.

It’s extremely rich, nay intoxicating, and with Emily Dickinson’s baking skill, her version was no doubt superb.

Black Cake is sometimes called fruit cake or, in the England of her Dickinson ancestors, this cake would be a holiday pudding.

In fact, this holiday pudding associated with England seems to have arrived in the Caribbean by way of the English lured to those islands to turn a profit from the triangular slave trade: human beings for sugar for rum.

Emily Dickinson was baking her Black Cake in mid-19th century New England. She was several generations removed from her English ancestors and their holiday fruit pudding.

And it appears to not be the version of fruit cake she made famous and for which her family clamored.

Her Black Cake resembles the version that emerged out of triangle trade; a cake perfected before her by bakers who were enslaved in the Caribbean.

As I learned from the Canadian poet, NourbeSe Philip, what makes the Black Cake of Trinidad and Tobago (where she was born) so distinctive in color and in flavor — and so prized — is the process of burning the sugar and the use of rum.

Emily Dickinson’s recipe, above, doesn’t call for the triangle trade’s rum but it does use copious amounts of the traded-for molasses — a substance that seems to have kept industrial Boston humming in profits in that same era (and beyond until the molasses flood anyway).

Slavery and its spectre were everywhere around this poet.

These thoughts about Emily Dickinson and her possible Caribbean-originated Black Cake were inspired by the evocative essay by NourbeSe Philip titled “Making Black Cake in Combustible Spaces” (in 21 – 19 from Milkweed). Highly recommended!

NEH Awards ED Museum

Posted in service on September 21st, 2019 by admin – Be the first to comment

One of the benefits of the second wave women’s movement was a reassessment, by poets and critics, of the work and life of Emily Dickinson.

That watershed can be marked in 1976 when Adrienne Rich published “Vesuvius at Home: The Power of Emily Dickinson” in Parnassus: poetry in review which, three years later, appeared  in her book On Lies, Secrets, and Silence.

Now the National Endowment for the Humanities is making it possible for the Emily Dickinson Museum to bring the fruits of more than 40 years of those re-imaginings — of the poet’s work and life — into a year-long interpretive planning process.

The aim of this NEH-funded iterative process is to unite the Museum’s historic spaces and collections in an effort to better serve its growing contemporary audience.

As one of 7 Scholar-Advisors to this planning process, I’ll be looking with keen attention at the family’s private areas of this, pictured, historic home and the kitchen wing that juts out to the left. These are some of the spaces the poet often occupied with, near to hand, gardeners, maids, stable hands, laundry workers, and general laborers.

Emily Dickinson could often be found writing in these private realms alongside those working in the kitchen. Or could overhear laborers in the garden as she composed in the pantry or consulted with these men in her garden.

In her word-shop, the poet wrote in a domestic sphere inhabited by African Americans, English and Irish immigrants, Yankees, and Native people.

Emily Dickinson was hardly alone and theirs were some of the voices that inflected her omnivorous ear and whose labor freed her from kitchen duties so she had the energy and time to write.

Emily Gets Up All In That

Posted in Media on May 3rd, 2019 by admin – Be the first to comment

Emily Dickinson has a body!

Sex with her sister-in-law in the first five minutes of the irreverent comedy Wild Nights with Emily — plus a steamy jealousy between the two of them over a childhood friend  — is just part of the fun in what will be a completely new take for legions of Emily Dickinson’s worldwide fans.

Thanks to the irrepressible Molly Shannon, the smart-mouthed and brilliant poet Emily Dickinson finally gets her due.

And that’s not all the kink.

While poet and sister-in-law slyly pursue their passions, Emily’s brother flagrantly conducts an affair with his sister’s future posthumous editor.

As a narrative through-line we observe the future editor getting so much wrong as she takes her own ambition-enhancing show on the road interpreting Emily Dickinson to the public.

(Easier to spin new tales once the dead woman poet, & her G-spot, are safely in her grave.)

Expect rom-com rather than strict biopic.

For those of us who know too much about Emily, writer-director Madeleine Olnek takes loads of liberties with the life story of this globally known poet.

It’s a movie, after all, about a rule-breaker — of linguistic and social norms.

Olnek’s tweeks — such as the bumbling suitor who mixes up Brontë plot lines — are refreshing and easy laughs yet still manage to carry the sensibility of Emily’s time and life.

Disappointment in love is the yawn for why Emily D. didn’t publish in her lifetime. This movie leaves audiences with new reasons that make more sense.

The well-cast ensemble manages to delight while still conveying a writer’s ambition thwarted by dull-witted male editors, mired by sexism, who couldn’t grasp or support her literary brilliance.

Funny, I don’t remember that happening to innovators in her rank such as Shakespeare and Cervantes.

The crumbs to multiculturalism — a dreamy sequence narrated by a poem that includes an African-American woman with parasol or the tomb scene where an African-American man alternates with Emily reciting one of her poems on death — came across to me as glaringly odd in a film that does so much right.

Factoid: The film’s left-footed multiculturalism may be a nod to the poet’s home-centered world peopled by maids, gardeners, laborers, and stable hands of African slave-descent, and Yankees, Native Americans, and immigrants from Ireland and England.

Yes, do see the hilarious Wild Nights with Emily and give up any notions that Emily Dickinson was alone — or without love interests or without the daily presence of laboring folks from many backgrounds.

Getting a body — and using it — turns out to be an essential ingredient if you want to write. Perhaps even more so to write with genius.

Published 11 June 2019 in Medium

Talking History with Patrick Geoghegan

Posted in poetry on March 28th, 2019 by admin – Be the first to comment

Emily Dickinson: A Life

On Sunday, 7 April, Patrick Geohegan invites Emily Dickinson scholars Renee Berglund, Cristanne Miller, Aífe Murray, Martha Nell Smith & Marta Werner to discuss the work and life of Emily Dickinson.

The one hour show airs 7 pm in Dublin on Patrick’s Newstalk 106-108 FM show. In Emily’s Amherst that would be 3 pm and high noon Pacific time.

Listen button on upper right of Talking History

Show :   Podcast :   @newstalkfm

Home Site Develops

Posted in Writer news on December 16th, 2018 by admin – Be the first to comment

A broad website initiative is now in-process to deepen resources for teachers, students, and interested readers on some of the projects in which I am engaged:

  • Emily Dickinson & her multicultural world at home with servants – Maid as Muse
  • The Garden State’s KKK - The Ku Klux Klan at Home in Hillsdale
  • After Brown: school desegregation in New England – We Bused in New Haven
  • Come back for a visit in Summer 2019

New Distributor!

Posted in book news on November 28th, 2018 by admin – Be the first to comment

The University of Massachusetts Press is poised to become sole distributor for Maid as Muse. The news has just been released by the provost of the University of New Hampshire, publisher of Maid as Muse.

UMass Press selected Maid as Muse upon the closure of the University Press of New England which had been sole distributor.

Books will ship to UMass Press by the end of 2018 and will be available once inventory is complete.

In the meantime Indiebound will fulfill orders until UMass is ready to ship Maid as Muse to your door!

Emily Dickinson Does Stand-Up

Posted in cooking on June 6th, 2018 by admin – Be the first to comment

A funny thing happened

on the way to the kitchen….

Credit: T.O. Sylvester

Two Butterflies went out at Noon to CCA

Posted in book news on April 3rd, 2017 by admin – Be the first to comment

Bound Friday noon to the industrial-scape between the Mission and Potrero Hill and somewhere else less defined –perhaps the millworks on the far side of the Dickinson meadow?– to visit the California College of Arts writers studying Emily Dickinson with Gloria Frym.

We’ll be thinking about maids and laborers, often unseen in the poet’s story, and what to make of these women and men in terms of their own lives — and Emily Dickinson’s life and craft and works of art.

… related to my book Maid as Muse.

Not sure yet where else we’ll go but if any seminar participants want to pose a question in advance, happy to ponder.

Wish I could bring Emily’s mute confederate to class. But with luck: butterflies

Have Black Cake & Eat It Too

Posted in Media, book news on January 15th, 2017 by admin – Be the first to comment

Emily Dickinson’s hidden kitchen & those unseen folks with whom she spent time in the domestic arena are the subject of a blog post and podcast – Episode #62 — by The Kitchen Sisters! Links for the podcast — to itunes, stitcher RSS — from this page.

Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah — it’s Emily

Posted in Justice, poetry on January 4th, 2017 by admin – Be the first to comment

The big story about Emily Dickinson isn’t simply that she was a foodie and well-reputed bakerbut who was in the kitchen with her.

Revealing a truly American tale,  the poet-daughter of a Yankee lawyer, of English stock, rubs elbows daily in the kitchen with immigrants, the descendants of slaves, and with Native American maids, laborers, gardeners, and seamstresses.

Among them was Margaret Maher, an Irish immigrant who, as cook and maid, spent 17 years sharing the kitchen with baker Emily.

At the top left of this Kelley family portrait — almost all of whom worked for the poet — is Tom Kelley, the man Emily requested as her chief pallbearer. Below is Native man and Dickinson laborer Henry Hawkins with his Native-African American granddaughter Helen in a snapshot taken in their backyard. Below them (on some but not all platforms) is a studio portrait of Henry’s mother-in-law, Eliza Thompson, who was often hired to serve guests at the Dickinson’s annual summer gatherings.

The well-loved myth of the recluse erases what was really going on — from maids and laborers exerting linguistic influences on her language to actually saving her poems from planned destruction.

For more drop in and tune up to the Kitchen Sisters upcoming show on Emily D’s hidden kitchen.