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In 2013, New Directions published The Gorgeous Nothings, an exquisite collector’s edition of Emily Dickinson’s envelope poems in rich facsimile. These handwritten poems and musings, scribbled on the backs of envelopes, are now available in a curated gift format, still beautifully reproduced with facing-page text translation but now irresistibly affordable. With pieces like “But are not all Facts Dreams as soon as we put them behind us” captured, this is a surefire way to appreciate and inspire.
Another gorgeous copublication with the Christine Burgin Gallery, Emily Dickinson's Envelope Poems is a compact clothbound gift book, a full-color selection from The Gorgeous Nothings.
Although a very prolific poet—and arguably America’s greatest—Emily Dickinson (1830–1886) published fewer than a dozen of her eighteen hundred poems. Instead, she created at home small handmade books. When, in her later years, she stopped producing these, she was still writing a great deal, and at her death she left behind many poems, drafts, and letters. It is among the makeshift and fragile manuscripts of Dickinson’s later writings that we find the envelope poems gathered here. These manuscripts on envelopes (recycled by the poet with marked New England thrift) were written with the full powers of her late, most radical period. Intensely alive, these envelope poems are charged with a special poignancy—addressed to no one and everyone at once.
Full-color facsimiles are accompanied by Marta L. Werner and Jen Bervin’s pioneering transcriptions of Dickinson’s handwriting. Their transcriptions allow us to read the texts, while the facsimiles let us see exactly what Dickinson wrote (the variant words, crossings-out, dashes, directional fields, spaces, columns, and overlapping planes).
About the Author
Arguably America’s greatest poet, Emily Dickinson (1830–1886) published fewer than a dozen of her eighteen hundred poems during her lifetime.
Jen Bervin’s work includes The Dickinson Composites, The Desert, and Nets.
Marta Werner’s books include Emily Dickinson’s Open Folios: Scenes of Reading, Surfaces of Writing and Radical Scatters: An Electronic Archive of Emily Dickinson’s Late Fragments and Related Texts.
Here is a book almost as rare as its author, Emily Dickinson (1830–1886). — Larry Smith
[The Gorgeous Nothings] opens up an aspect of her craft that suggests she was, in the so-called late ecstatic period of her career, experimenting with creating texts in relation to the visual, spatial, and technological possibilities of her medium—composing in response to the confines of her writing world rather than despite it. — Jessica Michalofsky
The Gorgeous Nothings is proof that one of our most important poets can still amaze and teach us new thing about the practice of poetry. — Hannah Star Rogers
Dickinson’s incandescent thinking is everywhere on display, and the makeshift nature of the scraps gives us a vivid idea of what composition must have felt like for a woman whose thoughts raced far ahead of her ability to capture them. — Dan Chiasson
This exquisitely produced book The Gorgeous Nothings—lovingly curated by Bervin and Werner—allows you to encounter Emily Dickinson’s ‘envelope poems’ in full-color facsimile for the first time. It’s an experience suspended between reading and looking, of toggling between those two modes of perception, and it thoroughly refreshes both.
— Ben Lerner
The first and immediate shocks are in the words, with other, lingering, aftershocks following in the visual details of their settings. The great thing about [The Gorgeous Nothings] is, of course, that it gives us all of this, complete. — Holland Cotter
Magnificent: the absolute perfect combination of solid scholarship and art. — Susan Howe
The Gorgeous Nothings is a rare gift for all poetry lovers.
— Craig Morgan Teicher
Visual poets around the world will soon be mining these endlessly suggestive fragments. — Marjorie Perloff
We see from The Gorgeous Nothings the way [Dickinson's] art and life were not separate endeavors. Dickinson wrote poetry every time she addressed or received an envelope. Whenever there was paper around, she put quill or pencil right to it. Dickinson, master of paradox. started these un-conversations with nobody, and so many years after her death, now—in curled script, with their sweet, perfect Ms and half-formed Ys, unpublished and unseen until now—they speak to us. And they have so much yet to say.
— Brenda Shaughnessy
An insightful new volume, The Gorgeous Nothings, edited by Jen Bervin and Marta Werner, also provides a fascinating glimpse of Dickinson by assembling images documenting the poetry she scrawled on repurposed envelopes—envelopes that have themselves been elevated to a new sort of art.
For years, Dickinson critics have been looking for some kind of order among the manuscripts—some way to describe or theorize the ''filing system'' that the poet left and we found. In The Gorgeous Nothings, instead, what''s restored to these traces of the work is a sense of occasioned disorder. What''s been preserved through time in her handwriting is the decision to occupy the page. The page becomes just as important as the writing.
The beautiful reproduction, on the pages of The Gorgeous Nothings, of what might seem only negligible scraps of waste paper brings us closer to the restlessness of the constantly thinking poet who, in her later years, repeatedly seized her pencil and a fragment of an envelope to write about the lowliest and the most exalted states of being.
— Helen Vendler
The Gorgeous Nothings is one of the most ambitious, important literary feats of the year. It’s stunning, revelatory, and it functions as a key text to Dickinson’s oeuvre: seeing it demands a tectonic shift in the way we read her, brings her back to us even more extremely idiosyncratic than we could have guessed.