Falling for Emily Dickinson: a Story of a Great Poet

By Jay O’Callahan, Storyteller and Performer at Sharing the Fire 2016

ocallahanIf you grow up in New England the leaves seem to whisper Emily Dickinson. She haunts us. And yet Dickinson is thought of as a lonely recluse in a white dress writing in her room.

In fact, as she said herself, “I find ecstasy in living. The mere sense of living is joy enough.” She was fascinated with all of life: its beauty, its struggles and its terrors. She loved language and worked at her craft so her language is fresh and startling. For instance, “The moon is just a chin of gold,” and “All but death can be adjusted.” It was these brush stokes, these brilliant short lines that first drew me to her. It was later that I discovered that Dickinson was a passionate, deeply thoughtful artist who never lost her sense of play. She was a joyous, well-rounded human being and that’s what I want people to experience in my story.

I discovered her playfulness in this poem
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

Storytelling is filled with rhythms and we can learn about rhythm and sound from Dickinson. She was steeped in music, the hymns sung at the Congregational Church, and the songs she sung with friends running through the woods. She was also a fine piano player. Some of her friends said her piano playing was weird. I imagine Dickinson experimented as she played the piano and I think of her as a young Thelonious Monk.

Dickinson reminds us storytellers to keep growing, keep exploring, keep taking risks, and finding new ways of telling our stories. She also reminds us that we need to keep the child alive inside us. I’ve read that Picasso said that his job was to get back to when he was five years old. Emily Dickinson sees all of life as if it’s just been created.
Emily Dickinson worked with almost no encouragement. It was awe and commitment that kept her writing. There are times when life is difficult for all of us and particularly for us artists, and we can take courage from her deep commitment.
She wrote to her friend, Elizabeth Holland that, “My business is to sing and to love.” This clarity of vision gave her balance and made me love her. I admire her for being a “business woman.”

She was a fascinating, complicated woman and it’s time we realized she was no ghost in a white dress, hiding in her room. She was bursting with life.

I hope you’ll come to see my story about falling in love with Emily Dickinson, her work, and her times.


Sharing the Fire and LANES are honored to present Jay O’Callahan telling his story Falling for Emily Dickinson at 1:30 PM, April 3, 2016, at the UMass Conference Center, Amherst, MA. Tickets are $15 for adults; $10 for students. Available at the door or at (ADD LINK) lanes.org/storytelling-conference/registration/

Learn more about Sharing the Fire and register today!

Learn more about Jay at www.ocallahan.com

Have some thoughts to share about Emily Dickinson? Leave a comment.


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