Emily Dickinson Marathon Returns, All 1,789 Poems to Be Read Nonstop April 26

Emily Dickinson was such a poet that she composed many of her poems on stray bits of paper – envelope flaps, chocolate wrappers, even the blank portions of a Western Union telegram. On the back of one salvaged scrap (a recipe for coconut cake) she contemplated – in her singular style – life’s ephemeral qualities in the first two lines of this untitled poem:

The things that can never come back, are several  
Childhood — some forms of Hope — the Dead

One thing that can come back is the Emily Dickinson Marathon, and on Wednesday, April 26, it will. For the third time since 2008, the doors of the cozy O’Shaughnessy Room in the O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library will host the literary endurance event, during which all 1,789 Dickinson's published poems will be read continuously by various members of the St. Thomas community and the general public who filter in and out of the room throughout the day. Reading will begin at 8 a.m. and continue until the 1,789th poem has been read – probably between 9-10 p.m.

The marathon is not a race but more of an opportunity to discover, through a great poet’s lens, the power of the word and to celebrate National Poetry Month, which is April.

As always, the event is free, and all are welcome.

Two hundred readers showed up for the second event, held in 2014 – double the inaugural crowd. Dr. Erika Scheurer, a Dickinson scholar who teaches writing and literature and directs St. Thomas’ Writing Across the Curriculum program, would love to see 300 this year.

“She grappled with all sorts of topics,” Scheurer said of Dickinson’s wide-ranging and timeless subject matter. “Faith and doubt, love, marriage, nature, various mental states, poetry and art, death and even suicide." Dickinson wrote half of her poetry during the Civil War, and a number of her poems take the perspectives of soldiers.

Though little is known for certain of Dickinson's intimacies, and though she chose not to see her work published while she lived, she also contemplated saucier subjects in her poetry, such as sex and fame. By luck of the draw, one reader in the first half of the event will get to recite one such poem, No. 269, which begins, "Wild Nights — Wild Nights!"

Too shy to read aloud? Not a problem.

“There’s no pressure,” Scheurer said. “You don't stand at a lectern. It’s casual. We'll all be just sitting in a circle, reading, and you can drop in and read as many or as few as you want. ... Most of her poems are short and take less than a minute to read."

Just outside of the O'Shaughnessy Room, which is located behind Coffee Bene on the main floor of the library, there will be plenty to see ... and eat, including interactive amusements, such as "Make Your Own Poem," displays and student-made posters on Dickinson's life and times, and continuous screenings of two Dickinson-themed films including "The Belle of Amherst" and "Loaded Gun: Life, and Death, and Dickinson."

Also, as Dickinson was regarded highly by her family and friends as a gifted and prolific baker, several types of baked goods for which she was beloved, including gingerbread cake, coconut cake and her famous black cake, will be provided.

Common Ground Books again has generously donated 20 copies of Dickinson’s poetry that will be raffled off after the marathon is over.

Sponsors of the event are Common Good Books, the O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library, St. Thomas' Department of English and the Luann Dummer Center for Women.

Questions about the marathon? Contact Scheurer at escheurer@stthomas.edu.