I like to consider myself fairly well-educated but the fact of the matter is, I stink when it comes to Emily Dickinson. I’ve read just about nothing by her. Fortunately, before I actually had to read her poetry with my precious own free time, along came Paul Legault’s The Emily Dickinson Reader, published by McSweeney’s. LeGault has bravely set out to interpret or transpose each of Dickinson’s poems into one-line renderings. Legault introduces the Reader thusly:
Born on December 10, 1830, in Amherst, Massachusetts, Emily Dickinson is both the father of American poetry and the most infamous lesbian vampire of the nineteenth century.
She wrote 1,789 poems in her lifetime, the bulk of which remained unpublished until her (supposed) death in 1886, when her younger sister Lavinia found them in a trunk. After escaping their Pandoran chamber, Dickinson’s works emerged into the twentieth century like an apocalyptic army of angels made entirely of paper.
Emily Dickinson wrote in a language all her own, thus the need for this English version of what she meant. The translations presented here are my attempt to rewrite her poems (with their foreign beauty intact) in “Standard English.”
With that said, please enjoy Paul Legault’s takes on Dickinson’s first 15 poems, reprinted here with permission from the author:
1. Everything has to love something.
2. Hey, really historically important people. Guess what? You’re all dead.
3. Life is like a little boat on a sea of itself.
4. The arrival of spring is somewhat sexually charged.
5. I am in love with my brother’s girlfriend. I am as fond of her as I am of my younger sister, though I do not want to have sex with my younger sister. My brother’s girlfriend’s name is Sue, and I want to have sex with her.
6. I’m kind of like a little boat in the sea of life. Who wants to have sex with its brother’s girlfriend.
7. If you’re a flower, I’m your zombie gardener.
8. Dig up my grave, would you? I’m a zombie, and I’ve got some flowers for you!
9. If today is opposite day, I’m happy.
10. I could probably only be queen in a completely imaginary state. Otherwise, I don’t think the country would do so well culturally or economically, because I would probably appoint plants, specifically roses, into key political and religious offices.
11. If you pick a rose, it can no longer access water and other vital nutrients that it needs to live.
12. I lost something that seems to be easily replaceable, but it is not easily replaceable.
13. I can’t wait for this great time when things will really be great. I think this time probably won’t occur until I’m dead.
14. This really is too much.
15. I woke up this naked woman under a tree, and she was excited to see me. Unfortunately, her name was not Sue.