Emily Dickinson Face to Face

McNally Editions Apr. 2023. 112p. ISBN 9781946022585. pap. $18. BIOG
Published in 1932 by Emily Dickinson’s beloved niece Mattie, this slim volume combines two long-out-of-print recollections that draw readers close to a poet whose reclusive lifestyle made her “something of a fable” in her own lifetime. Privileged by her youth, Mattie was often accomplice to her Aunt Emily—“a friend more rare than any other we knew”—in her “elfin, mischievous strain,” confiding in a stage whisper droll epigrams about visitors surveyed from the landing above. Amidst the vividly evoked “Finite Infinity” of her circumscribed world, readers encounter Emily, her white dress faintly glowing in the dim hallway dubbed “the Northwest passage,” her low-pitched voice “almost husky at times of intensity, sweetly confidential.” She gestures, turning an invisible key to lock the world away. Readers open a care package of flowers and cookies and beneath, a short scrawled note, elliptical and enigmatic as a Zen koan. A playful foreword by poet Anthony Madrid recounts the family squabbles over the poet’s literary legacy that helped inspire Bianchi’s memoir.
VERDICT With charming anecdotes and moments vividly recalled, Bianchi’s thoughtful account offers the rarest of first-hand glimpses behind Dickinson’s swiftly drawn curtain, conveyed in searching and graceful prose worthy of its subject.
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