A particular energy hovers in any visual artist’s studio. Vivid or dank palettes, otherworldly mixtures, the space around the canvas (once the canvas is extracted), various random patterns—splattered paint on the floor, walls, sink. Remnants of a messy, raw, leveling of intention.
These sputters of the “in-between,” the nether counterparts to completion, resonate with an inscrutable beauty and act as temporal monuments of consciousness that live beyond the work of the deliberate act of art. They abide in a specific, quartered, physical constraint, where irretrievable acts begin without question. Perhaps it is freedom, process, accident, the absence of ego. The slip, the splash, a certain oddness which cannot be contained. In Gorgeous Nothings, Emily Dickinson’s process, explicitly scattered and reformulated, carry this essence.
These “gorgeous nothings,” paper scraps and scrawled-on envelopes archived in a coffee-table art book, carry Dickinson’s hand-penciled fragments across centuries. These fragile reliquaries of the late nineteenth century define the underside of her leafletter voice, extrapolate the intensity of her poetics, and decant the mystery held in Dickinson’s intimately timeless vision. Our Mother of American Poetry is reconfigured as a postmodern, possibly conceptual, writer here and—the exquisite joy—as visual art. This is Emily disembodied.
We read in soft fragility:
the Wheels of
Then, upside down:
the West and
[A821] (p. 172)
There is a quality of whisper caught upon these stately wisps. A private, feminine voice rustles past identity’s specificity. The opening is ending. It begins in constant uncertainty. We are met by the delicate resemblance of continuity. That which is retrievable. That which is beyond source.
his Bed — his
Advocate — his
In her disheveled
On the right flap of the envelope’s margin:
[A 391] (p. 109)
Glorious here, in its natural state, the dash mark, the underscore, the crossout. Fields of space dismissed. Transience and movement. The physicality presses weightlessly, as if the envelope were torn from the hand of a drunk. Yet this scrawl holds, maintains a clear boundary between lines, between content and observation, between finger and fingerprint.
Thumbing the pages, the reader is reading epidermal layers, as if lifting fingernail, hair, broken teeth. Thus gazing at something both personal and abandoned. Faint scars, periphery.
But are not
all Facts Dreams
as soon as
[A 843] (p. 178)
The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems
By Emily Dickinson
Edited by Jen Bervin and Marta Werner
Preface by Susan Howe
New Directions (2013)