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Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life is the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
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Thursday, June 1

A Quiet Passion

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

Cynthia Nixon was a believable Emily Dickinson in the recent film, A Quiet Passion.  She captured the passion as well as the reticence of this New England recluse.  I was a little disappointed that so many of her best-known poems were ignored and those that were included weren’t as clearly presented as they might have been.  Most who saw this movie would not be as familiar as I am with either her life or her poems.  I think too many of the poems quoted would have gone right over the heads of most of the audience.  It would have been more effective to see the poems as she wrote them, with all her idiosyncratic punctuation visibly evident.  Too much was made of the few males she may or may not have felt attracted to and too little made of other aspects of her life, like how much her garden became a refuge for her in her reclusive years.  Where was the “narrow fellow in the grass,” or the bird which rides “upon a single wheel” or the robin she watched secretly as he “bit an Angleworm in halves / And ate the fellow, raw”?  Too much time was spent with her mother’s death and brother Austin’s infidelity.  Too little time was spent with the poems and too much on the conversations she had with her liberated friend, Vryling Buffam (Catherine Bailey).  One of her poems was quietly delivered by Dickinson when she said hello to her new-born niece, “I’m Nobody!  Who are you?” but it felt more extemporaneous than poetic.  The film was almost entirely devoid of background music, a good thing, although early on we see the Dickinson family attending a particularly painful operatic performance, one which Dickinson supposedly proclaimed wonderful.  No, the perceptive Dickinson would not have said such a thing.  Many scenes were slowed down to allow Nixon room for dramatic, full-face expressions.  Dickinson’s life was almost entirely without the sort of drama most moviegoers require.  Except for a few shouting matches between her and  her Puritanically pious father and her and her philandering brother Austin, her life played out in slow motion.  Her New England isolation was underscored with the absence of any mention in her poems of the Civil War.  We needed to see more of her poetry to appreciate the woman and her character.  I wanted more of her surprising metaphors, like “ ‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers— / That perches in the soul,” and “I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—”  I needed more of her surprising word choices, like “The Riddle we can guess / We speedily despise— / Not anything is stale so long / As Yesterday’s surprise—” or “Much Madness is divinest Sense— / To a discerning Eye— / Much Sense—the starkest Madness— / ‘Tis the Majority / In this as All, prevail— / Assent—and you are sane— / Demur—you’re straightway dangerous / And handled with a Chain—”  I admired Cynthia Nixon’s portrayal of Emily Dickinson, for which she will very likely be an Oscar nominee;  but I wanted more of Dickinson’s poetry.  I guess that must be the old English teacher in me.

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