Dickinson Poetry Marathon

By Mary Reines

Mary Reines/Collegian

The Emily Dickinson Museum kicked off its annual “Emily Dickinson Poetry Marathon” – a collective read-through of Dickinson’s 1,789 poems – at 3 p.m. on Friday and ended around 7:20 p.m. on Saturday, with about 113 readers participating.

Visitors to the museum during the marathon were ushered into a room of readers with a large book of Dickinson’s poetry – her complete lifetime collection. Each reader would announce the number of the poem he or she was reading, so that a revolving door of volunteers would know where to start reading when their turn came.

“It’s like being immersed in bliss,” said 68-year-old Dickinson enthusiast Lois Kackley, who holds readings and discussions of Dickinson’s poetry at the Jones Library in Amherst twice a month.

Kackley was at the museum at 8 a.m. on Saturday and read until 1:30 p.m., taking a break to feed her dogs.  She returned to the marathon at 4 p.m. and continued to read.

“It’s like gorging at Thanksgiving,” Kackley said, comparing Dickinson’s poetry to a Thanksgiving turkey.

Kackley often reads Dickinson’s poetry privately at home, stopping on poems that she finds insightful, or containing life lessons.  She enjoyed the experience of hearing others’ voices read Dickinson’s words.

“When you read Dickinson, you feel like you’re being spoken to … to be spoken to by another voice expands on that experience,” she said.

According Cindy Dickinson, the museum’s director of interpretation and programming, the 16-hour marathon was not tied to any particular historical event.

“It’s just a nice time to have an event,” said Cindy Dickinson, who is not related to the famous poet, adding that Emily Dickinson’s birthday is in the busy month of December and the anniversary of her death in May is close to college’s commencements.  She also noted that the weather is usually nicer during this time of the year.

According to Dickinson, the marathon went very well, with many readers participating and listeners in attendance, and a few people even coming out to celebrate their birthdays there.

An opening ceremony reception on Friday at 5 p.m. featured a reading by renowned poet and children’s book author Jane Yolen. She read from her new book, “The Emily Sonnets,” an illustrated story of Dickinson’s life told through poetry.  The reception also featured an art exhibit inspired by Dickinson with paintings by Elizabeth Pols.

Mary Reines can be reached at [email protected].