Teaching Emily Dickinson I like the ambiguity of that phrase— it can mean what I’m doing today on the first warm day of spring when I have taken my class outside knowing the sun on the grass and neat flower beds will be equal parts distracting and inspiring to read a host of Emily’s poems, each one as sacredly shocking as a chocolate dipped communion wafer. It can also mean that Emily is in my class, the quiet young woman who sits halfway back near the wall and wants to be seen but not too much— the one with the perplexingly insightful essays who still glares at me for correcting her punctuation. But I really like the idea that I’m teaching that metonymic Emily who lives demurely in their heads. This Emily is the shy reserved virginal hermit writing about birds and flowers and death. This Emily, the Emily of their imaginations, swoons in shock over the absentee gardener. Sometimes a flower is not just a flower but labia wetly parting in eager anticipation. They blush as red as Emily’s geraniums and just as I am reaching the climax of the poem a tremendous clang issues from the phallic bell tower behind me. The timing is as impeccable as the meter marching through the poem, and we take it as a signal to leave, everyone seeing something new in Emily’s daguerreotyped gaze.
Rick Magee grew up in California, the son of families chasing that Golden State dream. After graduating with a degree in English from Berkeley, he moved to New York to study at Fordham University. He now teaches literature and writing at a university in Connecticut, where he lives with his wife, son, two dogs, and a parakeet. Many of his poems have been inspired by the landscapes where he has lived and traveled. Two of his poems have been published recently, in The American Journal of Poetry, and The Madrigal.