Gerard Holmes deposited “‘The Bird / Who Sings the Same, Unheard, / As Unto Crowd —’: Dickinson, Birdsong, and the Business of Improvisation” in the group TC Popular Culture on Humanities Commons 2 years, 8 months ago
Birds are everywhere in nineteenth-century American literature, including the work of Emily Dickinson. Women poets often referred to their poems in terms of making songs. This essay rethinks the birds in Dickinson’s letters and poems. It suggests that Dickinson’s birds, and their songs, show her awareness of business. They exist within communities, and are associated with business activity: their songs identify them with occupations, trades, labor, and avocations. What is more, they do a kind of labor on Dickinson’s behalf. Dickinson printed few poems. Like the oriole referred to into the essay’s title, she insisted on “singing” on her own terms, whether to a crowd or not. Even so, she established, integrated herself into, and maintained a community of writers and editors. The essay reads several poems alongside two letters that touch on birdsong and business, written at a pivotal period in her writing life, as she expanded her epistolary network. The letters were written to friends who were also professional male writer-editors, stating the terms on which she would conduct her business. As such, the essay shows Dickinson establishing a supportive non-commercial business network to write and share extemporaneous “songs” in the form of these poems and letters.