Jen Bervin and Emily Dickinson at the Poets House
December 15, 2011, 1:12 am
Filed under: Literature, New York City | Tags:

Jen Bervin, The Composite Marks of Fascicle 28. Cotton and silk thread on cotton batting backed with muslin. 6 ft h x 8 ft w.

A little over two years ago now, when I was still a somewhat fresh-faced sophomore, I joined WNYU as a newscaster. During my training session with then-associate news director and former Citywide host Zoe Rosenberg, I was asked to write a sample newscast; if you’re here, you’ll know that on WNYU, those include one local story. I remember looking the NY1 website and choosing to write about how the Poets House was changing location. Well, it was about time I paid the place a visit.

Now, I regret not having gone sooner; their library overlooks the Hudson so it is a delight to behold when the sun sets, and the openness of the space just invites creative thoughts. It seems like a particularly appropriate place to have epiphanies about Emily Dickinson while studying her manuscripts currently on view there until January 28th.

Before my interview with the curator of the show Jen Bervin, which you can hear again at the end of this post, I attended the two-hour seminar she led about the poet and I was struck to see how responsive the crowd was and how curious they were about her words, her typographical and visual choices when writing and the variety of meanings present in even the shortest of her poems. I have to say, I’ve rarely seen pupils that animated and participative in my classes at NYU — but maybe I just haven’t attended the right classes.

What’s certain is that Emily Dickinson’s words leave no one indifferent and those initial reactions to her work were certainly amplified when readers were confronted with the handwritten originals. One look at them and Dickinson goes back to being an enigma; from the sheer size of her letters to the various markings annotating her poems (which Bervin magnifies in her quilts on display in the Poets House library as well), what took so long to decipher is given a new dimension and lens for reading.

You can read more about Jen Bervin and her work on her website, or you can go see it for yourself at the Poets House, located at 10 River Terrace in downtown Manhattan; the manuscripts on view belong to the personal collection of Donald & Patricia Oresman. For more information about the Poets House, their website is


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