The Evergeens house in winter with snow on the ground

Poetry Discussion Group 2015-2016

Third Fridays, noon – 2 p.m.
September through May (No meeting in December)

The Emily Dickinson Museum’s Poetry Discussion group meets on the 3rd Friday of each month from September through May (except for December) for lively conversation about Emily Dickinson’s poetry and letters. Featured facilitators each month offer fresh perspectives on Dickinson’s poetry.

Location: The Poetry Discussion Group meets at the Center for Humanistic Inquiry, on the second floor of Frost Library. Attendees are welcome to bring a bag lunch; beverages and a sweet snack are provided.

Fee: The fee for Museum members is $12/session; the fee for non-members is $15/session. Season subscriptions are $75 for Museum members and $100 for non-members. To become a Friend of the Emily Dickinson Museum and enjoy member discounts, click here.

For more information, contact the Program Department: or call (413) 542-2034.

2015-2016 SEASON

(Note:  All programs begin at noon and end at 2pm.)

Friday, September 18, 2015

Session Topic: ‘As If He Had Come from Where Dreams Are Born:’ Dickinson and Emerson. 
Introduced  at an early age to the writings of “the sage of Concord,” it is unclear if Emily Dickinson ever actually met Ralph Waldo Emerson. However, an examination of several poems and references to him in her letters reveals that his lifelong influence on her is unquestionable.
Leader: David Garnes is the author of three books, most recently Waitin’ For The Train To Come In: A Novel Of World War II. A former English teacher at private schools in New York City, he was also head of acquisitions at the Columbia University Libraries and the University of Connecticut, Storrs, until his retirement in 2001. He has taught at Eastern Connecticut State University, Southern Connecticut State University, and currently serves as an adjunct faculty at Manchester Community College. He also leads book and film discussion programs for Connecticut Humanities, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Garnes has been a guide at the Emily Dickinson Museum since 2000.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Session Topic: After Great Pain: Responses to Grief in Emily Dickinson’s Late Poems and Letters
High school students sometimes say of Emily Dickinson. “She’s the poet who always writes about death.” It’s not true, of course, but the stereotype is understandable. If any other poet has written more about death and the grief that it brings, no one has done so in more keys than Dickinson, who experienced many painful deaths in her short life. For this discussion, we will take as our jumping off point the painful and incomprehensible death of her eight-year-old nephew Gilbert in October 1883 and look at several of the letters and poems that she wrote in response to that catastrophe over the next two years.  But I encourage you to bring along for examination other Dickinson poems about grief that you find moving or troubling or even puzzling. Related poems by other writers are welcome too. This will be an open discussion – all voices welcome! I look forward to meeting with you on October 16.
Leader: Bruce M. Penniman taught writing, speech, and literature at Amherst Regional High School from 1971 until 2007. He is the site director of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project and lecturer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In 1999 he was Massachusetts Teacher of the Year and a finalist for National Teacher of the Year, and in 2009, and he is the author of Building the English Classroom: Foundations, Support, Success (NCTE, 2009).  He has served as a teacher curriculum mentor in all three NEH Emily Dickinson: Person, Poetry, and Place workshops and has facilitated discussions in the Poetry Discussion Group on topics ranging from Emily Dickinson and the Bible to Emily Dickinson and Science.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Session Topic: “Till every spice is tasted”: Spices in Emily Dickinson’s Work and World
With  the holiday season upon us, we will consider the roles that spices play in Dickinson’s poems as well as in her life.  We will examine several poems, letters, and recipes!
Leader: Cindy Dickinson is the director of education at Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, Mass. From 1996 until earlier this year, she worked at the Emily Dickinson houses, most recently as the Museum’s director of interpretation and programming.  She is not related to the poet.
Location: Amherst College Alumni House, 75 Churchill Street, Amherst.

No meeting in December

Friday, January 15, 2016

Meeting Location: Center for Humanistic Inquiry (CHI), Frost Library Second Level, Amherst College (all Spring 2016 meetings will take place at the CHI)
Discussion Topic: “Nature – the Gentlest Mother is.”
Leader: Tom Martinson retired from teaching English Literature and Composition at Londonderry (NH) High School in 2009, ending a 30 year stint as a public school teacher in New Hampshire. He is currently employed by the Community College System of New Hampshire as an adjunct instructor in English for the Nashua Community College campus.  Tom has no claim to lay as a Dickinson scholar other than a graduate class he took long ago and his designing lessons for Advanced Placement classes.  “I gravitated toward this topic because my retired status has given me more time to spend being an outdoors person.  I hike the mountains (there are more to climb than I will ever have time to get to) and do some fly fishing in the streams and rivers in New Hampshire.  I think that Dickinson’s poetry often pairs nicely with what I’ve seen in my corner of the universe.” 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Session Topic: “Don’t tell!” Emily’s Strategies of Secrecy in Poems and Letters
Leader: Susan Snively grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and now lives in Amherst, MA where she is a guide, discussion leader, and film script writer for the Emily Dickinson Museum. She was the founder and first director of the Writing Center at Amherst College, where she worked from 1981 until 2008.  She taught courses in writing and autobiographies of women, and has published four collections of poems. Snively has also published essays both personal and critical, and published a novel in 2014, The Heart Has Many Doors, about the love affair between Emily Dickinson and Judge Otis Phillips Lord.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Session Topic: Satirical Poems
Location: Center for Humanistic Inquiry, Frost Library 2nd Floor
Leader: Harrison Gregg is a recovering English major who worked for thirty years in administration at Amherst College.  His entanglement with the work and mysteries of Emily Dickinson has metastasized through years of participation in Museum-sponsored discussions and other programs and, currently, as a Museum guide.  As moderator of Amherst’s Town Meeting since 1994, Harrison is a successor to Samuel Fowler, Edward and Austin Dickinson.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Discussion Topic: “The Soul Asks Pleasure -First,”
Location: Center for Humanistic Inquiry, Frost Library 2nd Floor
Exploring Dickinson’s various and often wild portrayals of her favorite character and alter ego, “the Soul.”
Leader: Joy Ladin, Gottesman Professor of English at Yeshiva University, has published a number of essays on Dickinson, and a book-length study, Soldering the Abyss: Emily Dickinson and Modern American Poetry. 
RSVP to this session!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Discussion Topic: “My Cricket and the Snow”: Dickinson’s “titles”
Location: Center for Humanistic Inquiry, Frost Library 2nd Floor
Leader: Martin Greenup is a preceptor in the Harvard College Writing Program where he teaches academic writing. His course, “Humans, Nature, and Environment,” examines the Romantic ideas of nature that inform the modern environmental movement.

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