The Ms of My Kin

The Ms of My Kin



"If you write out "The Poems of Emily Dickinson" and erase some of the letters very neatly and precisely, you can get to The ms of m y kin—the manuscript of my kin, as it were; the manuscript of my family. It might also be said to be the manuscript of my kind.

The practice of erasure was most famously accomplished (and perhaps invented) by the British artist Tom Phillips in his book A Humument (an erasure of a Victorian novel titled A Human Document) and later, by the American poet Ronald Johnson, who erased Milton's Paradise Lost into a book called Radi os. In Phillips's books—he did more than one version of A Humument—the artist created paintings over each page of the novel, reserving only certain words that told a different story than did the original work. (A new character, called "Toge," emerged from the word "together," for example.) Johnson, a poet, simply removed the words he did not wish to use as if whiting them out—the remaining words stood in the same relationship to each other as they did in the original poem.

Following tradition, that's the method I used. The idea is that my poems would look identical to what you'd see in the Franklin Reading Edition of Dickinson if I were to go through it with white-out and preserve only the words you now see on the page. And in fact, in my typescripts of the poem, I actually type in the poem and then "color" the erased words white. They're there, but they don't show up when printed. That my resulting Dickinson-derived poems resemble in appearance Charles Olson's open-field poems of the mid-twentieth century is a delicious coincidence: two New Englanders meeting fortuitously in a most unlikely place."




Shearsman Books

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The Ms of My Kin