Epistolary Practices and the Problem of Genre

Alexandra Socarides

in Dickinson Unbound

Published in print August 2012 | ISBN: 9780199858088
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199950300 | DOI:
Epistolary Practices and the Problem of Genre

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Chapter 2 explores Dickinson’s letter-writing practices. Dickinson copied poems onto sheets that she enclosed in her letters, inserted poems into the body of her letters proper, and embedded poems into the prose itself. This chapter explains how and why she did this; what it meant for her to revisit a poem she had copied onto a sheet or, inversely, to revisit a poem she had sent to a correspondent in order to later copy it onto a sheet; and to deduce what creating a new material context indicates about the relationship between poetry and letters. By looking at the intersection of Dickinson epistolary practices and poetry copying practices, this chapter argues not that Dickinson was either an upholder of generic categories or a great innovator who challenged the distinction between letter and poem. Instead, Dickinson combined practices, defied conventions, and tapped into the permeability of both modes of writing, but she seems not to have been concerned with the generic issues that later readers and editors have asked her poems and letters to address.

Keywords: letter writing; epistolarity; poetry copying

Chapter.  13250 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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