A Guide to the Emily Dickinson Poetry Marathon


About the Marathon

Now in its 20th year, the Emily Dickinson Poetry Marathon is an epic, seven-day event where volunteers read all 1,789 Dickinson poems aloud. The Marathon is the cornerstone of the Tell It Slant Poetry Festival and attracts participants from all over the world.

Cover of the Franklin Reading Edition, featuring an image of a dip pen on parchmentThe Franklin Edition

Because Dickinson did not choose to publish in her lifetime, her printed poems are transcriptions of original manuscripts. Dickinson’s nearly eighteen hundred extant poems exist in many editions and have been transcribed differently by her posthumous editors. For the Marathon, we will be reading from Ralph Franklin’s The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Reading Edition (1999). Franklin counted 1,789 Dickinson poems existing in multiple versions in about 2,500 different textual sources. While his three-volume Poems (1998) presents several versions of each poem, the single-volume Reading Edition selects one version of each, which he considered to be the “latest version of the entire poem.” (Franklin, 6).

The poems are ordered according to Franklin’s interpretation of their chronology, and each is assigned a number. Because Dickinson did not title most of her poems, it is customary to refer to them by their number and/or first line (e.g. “‘ Hope’ is the thing with feathers,” Fr 314). Franklin strives to preserve Dickinson’s authentic spelling, punctuation, and capitalization usage, even when idiosyncratic. You may notice, for instance,  Dickinson’s spelling of “upon” as “opon” and “it’s” as possessive.

Dickinson’s Manuscripts

Emily Dickinson’s original manuscripts include finished poems copied into hand-sewn manuscript books (“fascicles”) or sent to friends, as well as drafts and “scraps.” Many poems exist in more than one version. Some have alternate word choices (called “variants”) within the body of the text, often denoted by a “+” sign.

Editors and scholars interpret Dickinson’s manuscripts differently. Some arrange her work in standard metrical form, while others preserve the original line breaks. Some present variants, while others omit them. 

Participants interested in further study are encouraged to view the originals themselves. The Emily Dickinson Archive contains high-resolution images and searchable transcription of all poems published by Franklin. When searching for a poem, you will be able to:

  • View an image of the manuscript, and learn where the original is held

  • Compare with drafts and/or alternate versions written by Dickinson

  • Learn the recipient (if any) and date sent

  • Review the publication history of the poem

  • Compare transcriptions by different editors

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