Campus beat: Emily Dickinson marathon at St. Thomas plans 1,789 poems in 13 hours

  • Article by: MAURA LERNERON CAMPUS
  • Updated: April 25, 2014 - 3:47 PM

Erika Scheurer may have a higher tolerance for poetry than most. Even most English professors.

On Friday, she’s hosting a marathon reading of Emily Dickinson’s poems — all 1,789 of them — at the University of St. Thomas.

While visitors are welcome to come and go as they please, Scheurer, a Dickinson scholar and associate professor, plans to stick it out the entire time. An estimated 13 or 14 hours.

“I can’t get enough of her,” admitted Scheurer, who wrote her dissertation on the 19th-century poet. “It’s like a rich cheesecake.”

Speaking of cheesecake, she’s even baking Dickinson’s trademark confection — a black cake with brandy and molasses — for the occasion.

This is the second time in six years that Scheurer has hosted the marathon, which was inspired by similar ones around the country. Last time, she said, more than 100 people showed up.

To her, Dickinson’s poems are tailor-made for an event like this. “They’re short,” she said. “You can kind of breathe them in and breathe them out and move on to the next one.”

Most of Dickinson’s poems weren’t even published in her lifetime. After she died in 1886, they were discovered in a bureau drawer, some scribbled on the back of envelopes.

Reading them aloud, Scheurer said, helps bring them alive. “We’re just going to be awash in sound,” she said. “I plan to put up signs: Take your time. Live in the mystery.”

Starting at 8 a.m., people will gather in a circle in a lounge at the university library, and take turns reading until they’re done. Audio will be streamed live on the library’s website.

One friend, a retired professor, is flying in from Washington, D.C. Another expected guest is Elizabeth Dickinson, a St. Paul actress and descendant of the poet’s uncle.

If it’s anything like last time, Scheurer said, “there’s no word spoken in that room but Emily Dickinson’s for that 13, 14 hours.” That wasn’t planned, she added. It just happened. “And I’m hoping it will be that way again.”

maura.lerner@startribune.com

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