What on earth am I doing writing a guest post for a blog celebrating National Poetry Month? While I’m delighted to be visiting The Hate-Mongering Tart, I do think Emily is a little crazy to invite me. I’m the least poetic, most prosaic writer I know. I’ve never studied poetry, nor do I read it for pleasure. I prefer my reading with plots and lots of words. Novels in verse seem like an oxymoron to me.
But yet… there was this one time… when I was thirteen and feeling as sullen and unlovable as any thirteen year old (I based this now as a mother of two teenagers)… I remember meeting a poet. Although she was long dead and she was sparing with her words, and let’s face it – her punctuation was distinctly odd, Emily Dickinson seemed to be talking directly to me when she wrote:
This is my letter to the World
That never wrote to Me –
The simple News that Nature told __
With tender Majesty.
Has anyone ever captured the angst and the loneliness of feeling alienated from your entire life (not to mention middle school) with so few words? I read Emily’s poems and felt a jolt of recognition. A moment of community. She “got” me. And I “got” her. Her poems helped.
As a forty-something adult, I was surprised to when both my daughters found Emily on their own. My younger daughter even put Emily on a cereal box for a class project (in silhouette of course – Emily didn’t like having her photograph taken). She was supposed to also read a 100 page biography but none exist for Miss. Dickinson. Instead, we visited The Homestead, Emily’s home in Amherst, Massachussetts, now a museum. We took a poetry tour. Each docent chooses his/her own poems to illuminate the tour, so it’s never quite the same from one visit to another.
Fast forward a few years. My first book for young adults had just been published, PRISONERS IN THE PALACE, about Queen Victoria’s teenaged years. My second book was finished, Promise the Night, about the childhood of pilot and writer, Beryl Markham. I was looking for another famous lady to be the heroine of an unexpected story about her childhood. Skimming my bookshelves, I came across my “poetry section.” It’s comprised of two Shel Silverstein books, a wedding gift of haikus, and Emily.
Suddenly I saw it… what if a young Emily Dickinson was confronted with a mystery? She wrote about death and loss all the time. She has a meticulous eye for detail and was an accomplished botanist (think about the natural poisons she knows about!). The crime has to reference one of her poems, I decided. What better way to introduce kids to her work?
Next year (during National Poetry Month, naturally), MISS DICKINSON AND MR. NOBODY will be published by Chronicle. Can Emily discover who killed the mysterious Mr. Nobody? Who knows, maybe some unsuspecting teenaged novel-loving reader will get hooked by a poem?
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! They’d advertise –, you know!
How dreary — to be — Somebody!
How public — like a Frog –
To tell one’s name — the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
Michaela MacColl has written two historical novels, PRISONERS IN THE PALACE (Chronicle, 2010) and PROMISE THE NIGHT (Chronicle, 2011). Her next novel, a mystery, featuring Emily Dickinson will be released in 2013. Learn more about her work at www.michaelamaccoll.com.