My daughter is studying poetry in school where she has not told her teacher that her mother's a poet. She reads Silverstein and the children-focused poets and says "Meh, they're okay, I guess" and she shrugs. But then. Then. Then she reads someone and falls in love. She reads Dickinson to me and she asks how I like it and if I like it and shifts uncomfortably when I read her Billy Collins or Rita Dove or Sherman Alexie or someone (anyone!) but Dickinson. She tells me trivia she’s learned from a Wikipedia page or some Scholastic book. "Did you know she never left the house? Did you know she wanted her poetry burned but her sister couldn't do it and published it posthumously?"
I am reminded of that day, in the middle of some dark teenage funk that I announced to Mr. Mercer's creative writing class that Dickinson’s final wish should have been fulfilled. That her words, committed to paper, piled upon each other should have been sparked into a glorious bonfire never to be studied by surly tenth graders. I don't know why I disliked her so. Maybe it was Tuesday. I wrote weird Kerouac-inspired poems and turned my nose up at her nature-based poetry just because. I reeked of patchouli and had a chip on my teenage shoulder, I guess. I didn't meet Dickinson in the poetry reading-filled coffee shops I frequented so I didn't have much use for her. And for whatever reason, that chip has remained on my shoulder since.
And now here I am and my daughter is in love with Emily Dickinson and I love my daughter. Dickinson has provided her that first spark to light the fire for poetry inside of her. Whether she grows to be a writer or not, I get the distinct impression that my daughter now understands that words on the page are more than just letters put together to communicate - but to convey meaning in ways that are somehow indescribable. Thank heaven for that. And, I guess, thank history for the sister who defied a final wish and compiled Emily Dickinson's pages into volumes that would be flint instead of kindling.