Reading The Gorgeous Nothings makes me feel connected to Emily Dickinson in ways I have never before experienced with any other poet. To see the envelope-poems is to see Emily Dickinson’s poetry in action, to see into her methods of composition. Her handwriting becomes a point of entrance into her poetic and artistic identities, and her handwriting’s relative untidiness becomes simultaneously a place of disjuncture between reader and writer, and a place of intimacy. That the poems are in-process, featuring cross-outs, alternative diction, and experimentation with spacial structure, makes it so that the reader’s involvement with the text becomes paramount. The reader’s vantage point influences his/her interpretation of the text, and the envelopes themselves become lenses or apparatuses through which the poems must be viewed.
Dickinson’s manipulation of the paper medium lends further credence to her already astounding artistic achievements. If there is one thing that I take away from her work in this collection, it is the potential that is held in even the most insignificant of fragments. The smallest of spaces becomes the ultimate medium to splay her “yawning consciousness,” to “till [the] abyss” of her “daily mind.” There are no limitations, her work seems to imply. Dickinson’s hand-carved writing surfaces, which for another poet might be limiting due to their shapes and sizes, become for her a wide-open and expansive space for poetic imagination and freedom. As Jen Bervin notes in the introduction, “One would thing that such a space would feel carved up, crammed, but it doesn’t. The page feels bigger yet, as if there has been an insertion of space” (10).
When Dickinson asks on a tiny, humble snippet of envelope, “In this short Life / that only lasts an hour / How much – how / little – is / within our / power,” I think the answer is implied most significantly because of the medium upon which the question is scrawled. It is within our power to fill up what little space we have with something truly great, her words and her medium suggest to me, with something that encompasses the mundane and the profound, everything and nothing all at once.