Tips for Your First (or Twentieth) Marathon

1. Readers, relax and enjoy the experience. Don’t be intimidated – there is no “right” or “wrong” way to read Dickinson’s poetry. Don’t worry if you stumble a bit over words or phrases. As the poet writes, even “The B[r]avest — grope a little –“, but it’s hearing a multitude of voices and deliveries that makes the magic of the Marathon.

2. There are 1,789 poems to read this week. To move efficiently, we do not read the poem number and ask readers to anticipate their turns. Still, remember that it’s a Marathon, not a sprint. Readers are encouraged to stretch, hydrate, and do whatever else necessary to make it to the finish. 

3. As the circle reading comes around to you, give your poem a quick scan to see if it ends on the same page where it began, or if you will need to turn the page.

4. If attending the Marathon from home, you may find that carefully selecting or  preparing the space more fully immerses you in the poetry. One marathon veteran recommends creating a Dickinson-like ambience by reading from a physical book, using candlelight or daylight rather than electricity, and listening to classical music or birdsong. Others have joined us from gardens, worn special clothes, or brewed a favorite cup of tea. For those that cannot attend in person, these components increase the festivity and aid the imagination as we read.

5. Listeners, you might find it helpful to follow along in your own copy of the Franklin edition. One veteran notes that he doesn’t necessarily read along, but rather uses the reader’s interpretation of a given poem to “see” it differently than he might have otherwise. 

6. A magical aspect of the Marathon is the new connections between poems that emerge for those who remain immersed in the poetry for hours. Each time you attend, a different recurring word or theme or phrase might catch your attention. You may wish to keep a scratch pad nearby to quickly jot down favorite poem numbers and new insights.

7. Most importantly, have fun! The joy of the Marathon comes from experiencing Dickinson’s poetry with a variety of people who feel a connection to her or her work. Enjoy the people you’re with, either in Emily’s garden or online, and let her words envelop you. Happy Marathoning!

Compiled by DeLaynie Holton and Kate Smith with special thanks to James Arnold and Everett Decker