paper trail

Emily Dickinson's envelope poems

[All images courtesy of The Frost Library, Amherst College © Amherst College.]


The cottage industry around Emily Dickinson churns out diversions at a steady pace: A new photograph purporting to show the poet was unearthed last fall, theories about her love life appear with US\-magazine like regularity, and a 2010 novel, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, attempted to channel the belle of Amherst and transform her into a book-club-ready heroine. As fun as these odds and ends can be, discoveries that shed light on Dickinson’s work—rather than on her persona—are rare. But The Gorgeous Nothings, forthcoming from New Directions, is just such a discovery, presenting facsimiles of poems Dickinson wrote on envelopes late in her life. The fifty-two envelope poems are reproduced full-size, showing both front and back, along with a transcription of each clustered jotting. Like Robert Walser’s Microscripts, which ND published in 2010, The Gorgeous Nothings works as both an engrossing visual treat and an affecting work of literature, giving us a keen and tangible sense of not only of Dickinson’s writing, but of how she wrote.