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In luminous detail, the book reveals the ways American women poets have engaged their own gendered anxieties and fears through their intimate encounters with Emily Dickinson.

How Much Editing Was Done to Emily Dickinson’s Poems After She Died?

Pollak, Emily Dickinson's work is an extended meditation on the risks of social, psychological, and aesthetic difference that would be taken up by the generations of women poets who followed her. She situates Dickinson's originality in relation to her nineteenth-century audiences, including poet, novelist, and Indian rights activist Helen Hunt Jackson and her controversial first editor, Mabel Loomis Todd, and traces the emergence of competing versions of a brilliant but troubled Dickinson in the twentieth century, especially in the writings of Marianne Moore, Sylvia Plath, and Elizabeth Bishop.

Pollak reveals the wide range of emotions exhibited by women poets toward Dickinson's achievement and chronicles how their attitudes toward her changed over time. She contends, however, that they consistently use Dickinson to clarify personal and professional battles of their own. Reading poems, letters, diaries, journals, interviews, drafts of published and unpublished work, and other historically specific primary sources, Pollak tracks nineteenth- and twentieth-century women poets' ambivalence toward a literary tradition that overvalued lyric's inwardness and undervalued the power of social connection.

Our Emily Dickinsons places Dickinson's life and work within the context of larger debates about gender, sexuality, and literary authority in America and complicates the connections between creative expression, authorial biography, audience reception, and literary genealogy. The poem is cryptic — it may be about the afterlife, or it may be about an actual lover; it may be a meditation on anger, helplessness and power.

One reading holds that it is a Dickinson backlash against having to write her poetry in secret — gun as language, waiting to go off. Interestingly Lyndall Gordon adapted the first line for the title of her book about the Dickinson family feuds to Lives Like Loaded Guns. Emily Dickinson loved riddles and this poem has an element of that playfulness.

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