I recently visited Emily Dickinson's home in Amherst as well as her grave, and have been rereading her work. Aside from the very real chill I got, deep in my bones, at being in the place where she was born and died and spent much of her life, I was stunned to actually experience something of what her gardens would have been like. I have always loved her poetry, but I hadn't realized how much of a gardener she was, and how much of her understanding of poetry and indeed the world outside of poetry was dominated by the flora and fauna of her gardens. Rereading her poems I see flowers and insects and epiphanies based on flowers and insects everywhere! And her excitement about the smallest member of her garden is infectious! Who cannot read 10 of her poems in a row and not start using exclamation marks! I do not think I have ever read another poet who brings such intensity and ecstasy to flowers. I just finished a book called Emily Dickinson's Gardens: A celebration of a poet and a gardener (Marta McDowell) that I highly recommend for those interested both in her poetry and her gardens. There is enough information in this book, along with a nice selection of poems, for you to reconstruct an Emily Dickinson garden.
I also forked out over $100 for the Franklin The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Variorum Edition, which contains all the variants of her poems, those she herself made as well as those later editors made. It is endlessly fascinating to see how the change of just a word or two can transform the meanings of a line or indeed an entire poem.
Yesterday I visited the incredible Bridge of Flowers in Shelbourne Falls, MA. It is a bridge across a river that has been planted with flowers for almost 80 years. I will post photos later. I was deeply moved, in an odd way, by this bridge, which is kept up by volunteers, and which is astonishingly beautiful, with over 500 kinds of flowers on it, and which is simply there, a gorgeous shock of color and richness spanning the distance between two towns. It costs nothing to cross it, though donations are welcome. When I think of all the dark things our race is capable of, it's hopeful to find this little bridge of flowers, like a poem of brightness, an Emily Dickinson poem, maybe, a poem of love to the world of flowers.
Sheryl St. Germain's most recent book of poetry is Let it Be Dark Roux: New and Selected Poems from Autumn House Press. She has also published a memoir about growing up in Louisiana called Swamp Songs: the Making of an Unruly Woman, University of Utah Press. She was born and raised in New Orleans and currently directs the MFA program at Chatham University where she teaches both poetry and creative nonfiction. She is married to the Dutch photographer Teake Zuidema (www.teakezuidema.com) , and has one son, Gray, who lives in Denton, Texas. See more at www.sherylstgemain.com