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“First – Poets – Then the Sun”: Emily Dickinson’s Craft, Life, and Legacy

August 23 - October 11, 2022 Tuesdays, 6:30-8:30 p.m. (8 sessions)
925 SW Washington Street Portland, OR 97205


Emily Dickinson has achieved the rarest of distinctions for a nineteenth-century poet (and a female one at that): lasting, evolving fame. Having escaped the confines of academic study and school syllabi, Dickinson has become a popular figure beloved by a wide and varied readership and the subject of films, television programs, and fan clubs. She is acknowledged not only as an important American poet, but as one of the greatest poets of any time and place. Dickinson understands the power and the magic of words and knows how to breathe life into metaphor. Her writing is associative and allusive, frequently enigmatic or ambiguous, and always peculiarly original. Poetry was for her not just a craft or a vocation (though it was certainly both of these), but an instinctive way of looking at and understanding the world. Readers, drawn to both her work and her life, often feel an intimate connection to a woman whose desire for privacy has become the stuff of (mostly inaccurate) legend.

In this Delve we will read a wide selection of Dickinson’s poems, closely considering her vision and expression, craftsmanship, careful attention to language, complex themes, and intense focus at the level of the word and the sentence. We will also read Brenda Wineapple’s biographical study of Dickinson, White Heat, and Susan Howe’s personal/critical appreciation My Emily Dickinson. These texts will enrich our understanding of the social, historical, and cultural roots of Dickinson’s work, as well as its reception and influence.

The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, Thomas H. Johnson, ed. (Faber 2016)
White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Brenda Wineapple (Anchor 2008)
My Emily Dickinson, Susan Howe (New Directions 1985)

First assignment
To read before Session 1:
White Heat Ch. 1-3
Surgeons must be careful (1859)
Soul, wilt thou toss again (1859)
To learn the Transport by the Pain – (1860)
Some keep the Sabbath going to Church – (1860)
“Faith” is a fine invention (1860)
I taste a liquor never brewed (1860)

In-Person Seminar
Note: This seminar meets in-person at Literary Arts, 925 SW Washington. Literary Arts will require proof of full COVID-19 vaccination, or a negative test result (within 72 hours) from a healthcare provider, for entry into our in-person classes.

Access Program

We want our classes to be accessible to everyone, regardless of income and background. We understand that our tuition structure can present obstacles for some people. Our Access Program offers class registrations at a reduced rate. The access program for writing classes covers 60% of the class tuition. Most writing classes have at least one access spot available.

Please apply here for access rate tuition. Contact Susan Moore at susan@literary-arts.org if you have questions.

Liaison position
Every in-person class and seminar at Literary Arts has one liaison position. Liaisons perform specific duties for each class meeting. If you are a liaison for a class or seminar, the full amount of your tuition is covered by Literary Arts.

Apply here for the liaison position.


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Sara Atwood

Sara Atwood teaches English literature and writing at Portland Community College and Portland State University. She is Co-Director of the Ruskin Society of North America and has lectured widely, both in the US and abroad, on John Ruskin, education, the environment, and language. Her work has been published in Nineteenth-Century Prose, The Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies, and Carlyle Studies Annual. She is the author of Ruskin’s Educational Ideals and has contributed essays to a number of books, including Teaching Victorian Literature in the Twenty-First Century, John Ruskin and Nineteenth-Century Education, William Morris and John Ruskin, and Victorian Environmental Nightmares.
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