"I dwell in Possibility" and self-reference

Date: Thu, 16 Sep 1999 23:29:07 -0400 (EDT)


So far many agree, at least, that it's a poem about poetry. It refers to
itself. It is, itself, a house of poetry. It's not just describing what
such a house might be like; inevitably it is itself judged on the basis of
what it says about poetry in general! The poem is where Dickinson dwells.

Francesca wrote about "a celebration of this idea--the idea of poetry
itself, of this very poem, that is...."  And Kirsten referred to the poem
as "self-commentary." Alberto liked the poem because "She is gazing at the
mirror" and proud of the reflection of her talent she sees in the poem

Ben, from the other end of the elitism question spectrum (up at 8), asks
if "she [is] elevating herself above other poets, or poetry above other
forms of expression?" And of course this elevation of poetry takes place
in a poem, so that the poem itself is inscribed with the awareness that it
is being understood as being about poetry. She's making a case for a
certain "form of expression" and she is doing so INSIDE that form of
expression. (Think about that. It's one thing to give a lecture on how
there should be no more lectures. It's another thing to find a different
medium in which to argue that there should be no more lectures. The case
succeeds or fails on whether the medium you choose persuades in itself!)

One of the defining characteristics of modern American poetry is its


quality. Is this poem really about houses? The reference to things in the
world (houses, parts of houses) are secondary; they serve to create an
analogy to something at work in the poem itself. Poetry is like a house;
the thing to makes that point is itself a poem; so *this* is like a house.
What kind of house? A damned fine and endlessly "open" and interesting

As for elitism, then, we have to ask: who are the fair visitors (readers
of the poem)? The answer is: whoever is literally reading those words at
the moment. The occupation is this--THIS. THIS HERE - NOW.

Try a little mind experiment. Read the word "this" below


and try to imagine that that little word is referring to itself - the
t-h-i-s there in that little blank space in my email. That. This. This
word, here, now.

*This* is Dickinson's occupation. Nothing more. Or I should say: nothing

If people who read "this" are fair, then one must ponder whether Dickinson
isn't really being radically open about who can participate in what she's


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