On Thursday, Dec. 10, the University of Maine celebrated poet Emily Dickinson’s 190th birthday with a reading hosted by professor Kathleen Ellis and sponsored by the Honors College. Ellis typically hosts the annual event in the University Bookstore; however, this year the reading was hosted through Zoom.
Stephanie Welcomer, the Interim Dean of the Honors College, opened the event with a quote selected from Samuel Ward on Dickinson’s importance. Francois Amar, former Dean of the Honors College, gave the first reading where he performed Dickinson’s “The Day Undressed Herself.”
Other readers included Honors professors R.W. Estela, Christopher Mares and Mimi Killinger, Honors Associate Kim Crowley and other students from the English Department. Several poets who are friends of Ellis attended too. Among these poets was professor of English Leonore Hildebrant, who spoke to the effects of realism and truthfulness in Dickinson’s work. She then read Dickinson’s poem, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” Hildebrant noted before her reading the importance of truthfulness in these times. Bria Lamonica, a fourth-year English student who recently completed her thesis defense which specialized in feminist poetry, then read “My life had stood a loaded gun.”
Annalise Jaquimides, a friend of Ellis who is also a poet, read one of Dickinson’s most well-known poems, “Because I could not stop for death.” Jaquimides noted before her reading, that Dickinson had instructed her sister to dispose of all of her work following her death, which is an interesting notion as now her work has brought so many people together over the past centuries.
Dickinson’s work also inspired many poets to create and read their own work as well. Wendy Rapaport, a poet and friend of Ellis, read both Dickinson’s work “I’m Nobody” and her own adaptation of the work titled “I’m Somebody,” which was inspired by modern social media and communication technology. Carl Little, another poet and resident of Maine, wrote a poem titled “Resting Face,” which was written about the death of his aunt and pondered similar themes to those explored in Dickinson’s works. Several students also read their own works, including third-year English student Kiara Anderozzi, who read her poem “Ozzie” inspired by her dog.
After these readings, a series of students from Ellis’s creative writing class took turns reading Dickinson’s poems. Among these students was Gabe Martins, a first year English student, who read “Hope is a thing with feathers.” Martins explained the reason he chose the poem before his reading.
“Hope is an important thing especially in these times,” Martins said. The poem was then read again by Anna Garrett who is a first year English student, another of Ellis’s students. Garrett noted that the poem, while short, has a long-lasting meaning. Dickinson’s work remains a beacon of hope and a place of intrigue and inspiration for poets even on her 190th birthday.
Despite not being together in the bookstore, the event was still an excellent way to draw lovers of poetry from across the UMaine community together. Next year Ellis hopes that the event will once again be held in person.