In the Spirit of Emily Dickinson
By: Karen Carter
I’ve never seen God,
but I’ve walked a trail,
a monarch butterfly
flapping in the wind.
I’ve never tasted glory,
but I’ve watched an Oklahoma sunset,
a big ball of fire
dying in the west.
I’ve never touched a star,
but I’ve sat on my roof,
drunk a bottle of merlot
eating goat cheese
crunching saltine crackers.
I’ve never heard the whale’s song,
but I’ve joined a Christmas chorus,
carolers marching in the snow.
I’ve never smelled a lover’s breath
from long, slow kisses,
but I’ve lingered in the berry patch,
sucking wild strawberries,
tangy juice trickling down my throat.
Karen Carter, poet and teacher, teaches high school English in North Carolina. One of the first females to earn a PhD in religion at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, she is a seasoned teacher in post-secondary and secondary education. Her poems have appeared in Avalon Literary Review, Broadkill Review, Eclectica, Miller’s Pond, Poetry Quarterly,The MacGuffin, The Write Launch, Tiny Seed Literary Journal, and Wild Roof Journal. Kenyon Review selected her as one of 17 teacher poets to enroll in a writer’s workshop with renowned US poet laureate Tracy K. Smith.
Behind the Scenes:
I wrote “In the Spirit of Emily Dickinson” after studying and teaching her poetry for a period of time. Before I wrote, I thought it was imperative that I spend quality time getting to know the structure, grammar, and syntax of the Dickinson poem. Themes emerged, but I was seeking to get the “spirit” or the “feel” or what we teacher poets may say is the “tone” of the writer’s piece. I found that her repetitions and anaphora structure would lend to a “yes, no” dialog with the reader as well as the speaker.
The more I read her “I never” lines that began each stanza (anaphora), I found she was offering a rebuttal to the “I never”. Many of these “I never” poems occur in the section of her Collected Poems referred to as “Time and Eternity”. I sat with her poem, CXXVII, which begins with “I never saw the sea” but then she speaks of the waves that allow her to experience the ocean. Many of these “I never” poems speak of transcendence in the first line but then turn to natural, ordinary life experiences to allow the speaker and the reader to know the transcendent through the “but I have,” the rebuttal.
With that transcendence, “I never” line, I began to follow that line with a list of my own favorite, ordinary experiences of the transcendent. When I did, the poetry poured out of me. I was able to check my poem with CXXVII of Dickinson’s to stay true to the structure and the tone while offering my own “In the Spirit of”.