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Dickinson edited by Helen Vendler

Jeffery Beam

  Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries.
Helen Vendler, editor.
Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 2010.
535 pages, $35 (hardcover).
ISBN: 0674066383 (Library of Congress).
Buy at Amazon.

Another selected Dickinson? As Emily said, "Art thou the thing I wanted?" Well, indeed it is. Vendler, one of the closest and most knowledgeable readers of any poet, gives Dickinson the royal treatment. Vendler, here, selects 150 poems for her discerning ear and mind. Each poem is offered, then followed with a small essay replete with biographical insights, complex but not severely academic exegesis, and tender appreciations of Dickinson's poetics, skill, and feelings. It's a book that any long-time Dickinson fan will appreciate, but one which new readers will find a perfect tutor to a poetry and poet that can be mesmerizingly charming and complex at once. Vendler can make even well-known poems, that on the surface one thought simple, revelatory, and many-layered. But she can also make the layers reverberate: "our Primer dumb / Unto Vitality." An erudite and imaginative work, like her similar book on Shakespeare, this selected should be on every reader's shelf.

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