Would you like Summer? Taste of Ours -

Posted in cooking on January 27th, 2015 by admin – Be the first to comment

Baking Gangnam Style Amherst Style!

Join me next July 17-19 in Emily Dickinson’s lovely town of Amherst, Massachusetts

We’ll explore the life of the poet through her passions of gardening, baking, writing

Garden digger Marta McDowell leads a flower project

I’ll teach you how to bake Emily Style

Jane Wald will get readerly

Sign up early to ensure your space at the greenhouse, kitchen & library tables!

Emily Dickinson’s Birthday in Ferguson

Posted in Justice on December 8th, 2014 by admin – Be the first to comment

There’s a trend to look forward, not back, when it comes to race.

This is what we are urged to do now.

It was equally true in the decades after emancipation.

Emily Dickinson, born 184 years ago this December 10, is a good example.

The poet wrote powerfully about the Civil War and slavery. Yet, twenty years after emancipation she denigrated a new African American gardener that had just been hired by her family; something she would not have done before emancipation.

And she had plenty of opportunity. Many of those hired by her family — as gardeners, couriers, household helpers, stable hands –  and upon the Dickinsons depended over the years were of African descent.

Emily Dickinson’s evolution on race is a good starting place to examine origins for the mess we are in with Ferguson & an epidemic of copycat crimes.

Watermelon & Whiskey

Posted in Justice on November 26th, 2014 by admin – Be the first to comment

Thank you Daniel Handler for reminding me I can wallow my face in the sweet pulp of a watermelon and nobody observing my annual rite of summer is going to ascribe it to anything but pleasure or gluttony or both. White privilege.

Full disclosure: I can’t tolerate alcohol and I am of Irish descent.

Did you forget Mr. Handler — when you made that hurtful watermelon comment while congratulating Ms.Woodson on her National Book Award win for her memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming — you were not in the progressive bubble of San Francisco where so much is said ironically? (Is that what happened?)

On MLK, Jr Day come this January, how about we all read some Paul Dunbar and Nikki Finney. When March 17 rolls around, the day everyone is Irish, how about re-reading The Country Girls or a play by Mark O Rowe.

Just let that sink in our minds.

Are there books after death?

Posted in Writer news on November 10th, 2014 by admin – Be the first to comment

labyrinth nyc

from “Bound & Stitched”

When you’re on a nonfiction reading streak, you somehow don’t question it. For me it started with Margalit Fox’s The Riddle of the Labyrinth. I was fascinated by Fox’s resuscitation of Alice Kober, the little-known linguist who laid the painstaking groundwork for the decipherment of Linear B. Margalit Fox’s vocation is the “rescuing of lost souls” like Kober, as lead obituary writer for The New York Times.

That’s an occupation I’ve harbored as secret desire, and in my own way I practiced it, when I exhumed stories of the household staff who once worked for Emily Dickinson. At this moment, though, with my small tower of nonfiction deliciously perched on the round copper table in the living room, I was the one who needed to get lost. I demanded rescue from souls going missing. I picked up Labyrinth and was happily captured from page one.

Allan” I said when he walked in on Sunday morning with his book bag slung over his bony right shoulder. He stood on my living room rug in his stocking feet, his army-green t-shirt hanging loose from his shoulders like drying laundry pinned to a line. “Well, then” he said, smiling in that slant way that meant what have you got new, his hand out, palm up, urging me to say more or put a book in it….

Spintale - Daniella Woolf

He eyed my stack of books, most of them covered by thin cellophane with which the library wraps its cloth-bound books. These were titles I couldn’t hang onto if I grew attached. I liked it that way. The anonymous sharing. Turning a page to find the slipped in photograph of a Bulgarian man in traditional hat, slightly blurry, or the previous reader’s check-out list topped by The Merry Misogynist by Colin Coterill. “How could you?” I thought, speaking to my predecessor. “And the new J. K. Rowling,” I said reprovingly. I scolded in my head, but I was excited by these traces of someone else in “my books.” I suppose it was much the same way men felt at the baths, before the city closed them down, when bodies were shared, anonymously, and traces lingered from someone else’s pleasure….

Read more of “Bound & Stitched” in the summer issue of Catamaran Literary Reader illustrated by the evocative work of Daniella Woolf.

To the question of books after death, “Bound & Stitched” says yes.

Slavery Ever Present for Emily Dickinson

Posted in Justice on February 28th, 2014 by admin – Be the first to comment

We don’t usually associate Emily Dickinson with slavery or legally enforced human trafficking.

Emily was 22 when Solomon Northup’s book appeared about his twelve years in human bondage. In that same period of time a number of the people who worked on the poet’s property as stable hands, gardeners, and household workers were free Blacks.

Slavery was thus present for it posed a constant threat to those free black workers. Anyone could be tricked and sold like Solomon Northrup.

Slavery was so pervasive that it became the metaphorical, or actual, subject of many of Emily Dickinson’s poems — proof that those distant from the slave states were changed by a system that knew no borders.

Read more in my The Bay State Banner opinion.

nothing, not nothing, but gorgeous, yes

Posted in poetry on December 1st, 2013 by admin – Be the first to comment

If you think nothing equals the drama and beauty of your back-lit screen then you haven’t yet held The Gorgeous Nothings.

I’ve looked at many of Emily Dickinson’s poems in the original. I’ve donned the white cotton gloves and picked up the sheets and scraps, turning them over under the watchful eye of archivists.

I’ve gazed at amazing renditions on line at the brand new archive

I was then not prepared for my reaction to the new volume out from New Directions Press and a collaboration by the inestimable Marta Werner and Jen Bervin.

Envelope poems they are billed as. Little scraps of wonder.

I didn’t think I needed to own this book until it was placed in my hands

Can I say that these images are more real than the originals?

I just did. Stunningly tactile. It is a book of nothings, these scraps, and yet, here’s where the tout is accurate: gorgeous

Take my word or someone else’s but this treasure chest won’t disappoint

How public – like a frog

Posted in poetry on October 31st, 2013 by admin – Be the first to comment

Almost everything is right there at the brand new Emily Dickinson Archive.

Touch a button -

The poems that were piling on table top, folded to pocket size, enclosed in letters, bound into sets of pages folded to make small books, hand-sewn with the same stitch that fixes – - – - -

Or the poems written on the wing of an envelope, the back of an accounting sheet, a chocolate wrapper, and pharmacy flyer. You can see them just like that

Admiring Bog: go here for a look at each poem by E. Dickinson as if holding the original. Read about the behind-the-scenes thinking & more great examples here.

Mothering Day

Posted in service on May 13th, 2013 by admin – Be the first to comment

Mothers Day celebrates those who raised another. Many perform the task of mothering alongside the mother. Her name is nanny or baby sitter or grandmom or companion or housekeeper. At the Dickinson Homestead, Margaret Maher was one who mothered Emily Dickinson.

Shrewdly, Emily sensed Margaret would be the right right-hand person and pulled out all the stops to get her hired.

What a pair. Here they are pictured, both as women in their late twenties, before they began their long association together.

There is no one Emily leaned on quite like she did Margaret Maher. Margaret never bore children of her own but she ably performed the task of nurturing a poet. Happy Mothering Day.


Posted in pilgrimage on May 2nd, 2013 by admin – Be the first to comment


Goat Rock

May 1

Who’s Your Family?

Posted in book news on April 18th, 2013 by admin – Be the first to comment

My essay – A Yankee Poet’s Irish Headwaters – appears in the newly published Extended Family: Essays on Being Irish American from Dufour.

The Cork poet Thomas McCarthy calls it “brilliant” and a “marvel”:

Isn’t Aífe Murray’s study of Emily Dickinson and Margaret Maher just brilliant;it really is a contribution to world literature, layered with a whole series of implications for creative histories at several levels, Irish-American, WASP-Yankee, authority and servitude, and women’s studies. It’s a marvel of an essay.

Essayist and novelist Peter Quinn finds Extended Family to be an “achievement” and a “gem”:

A milestone in the long day’s journey of Irish America from cliché, caricature, and scholarly neglect to a true accounting of its important role in the making of our country’s multicultural identity. Each of the pieces in this collection—whether poetry, history, or memoir—is a gem.

Get the paperback here