UB English Department co-sponsors marathon poetry reading event

Community participates in National Poetry Month


Emily Dickinson enthusiasts drove from Dickinson’s birthplace – Amherst, Massachusetts – to be a part of a Buffalo community marathon reading and express their love for the late poet.

The UB Department of English, Just Buffalo Literary Center and community literature lovers came together at Westminster Presbyterian Church on Saturday to read Dickinson’s collection of roughly 1,800 poems. The daylong event was open for the public to read a verse of Dickinson’s poetry.

Dickinson is known to be one of the most important poets in American literature, according to Cristanne Miller, SUNY Distinguished Professor and event coordinator. Dickinson, an American poet from the 1800s, challenged the religious beliefs of her community and felt disconnected and isolated from the world.

After Dickinson died, her sister found her 1,800 poems in makeshift books. Dickinson created her own punctuation and syntax unknown to the outside world.

Miller planned this event, along with two previous reading marathons in 2009 and 2013, as part of National Poetry Month.

“It’s a wonderful way to bring graduate students and undergraduate students who otherwise think of poetry as very esoteric and not much fun into a context that makes it actually kind of fun and cool,” Miller said.

A small group of enthusiasts was in attendance throughout the day. They wore “Emily Rocks” t-shirts, sat in a circle and took turns reading lines from Emily Dickinson’s Poems: As She Preserved Them, edited by Miller.

“Dickinson is a poet who many people find helpful to them,” Miller said. “They read the poems because they find solace and comfort and ways to help themselves with their own grieving and their own pain and they find pleasure.”

The festivities were captured through a live stream, posted to the Emily Dickinson Marathon YouTube channel.

The room was silent to pay respects to participants reading Dickinson’s poems. Children watched from the edges of the room, admiring members of the community as they added their own glimmer of attitude to Dickinson’s lines of poetry.

Janet McNally, an English professor at Canisius College, brought her own children to the marathon reading to hear the poems she fell in love with as a child.

“It was actually really moving sitting there and reading everything [Dickinson] ever wrote,” McNally said. “It’s like being there for her whole life, basically. Her whole writing life.”

Similar marathon readings take place in Amherst, Massachusetts for Dickinson’s days of birth and death every year to celebrate her life and poems – which were never published while she was alive, according to Miller.

Steve Jura, a volunteer for the Just Buffalo Literary Center, attended the event to meet other writers.

“Buffalo is a small community to begin with and then the literary community is another smaller ring in that circle,” Jura said. “It’s nice to see people that you’re familiar with and care about similar things as you.”

He thinks important to make poetry a part of everyday life.

“I think there’s something to be said for just contributing as much as you can.” Jura said. “It’s not a lot. In the grand scheme of things, we’re reading poems, but you never know if you’re going to influence someone or if someone’s going to influence you.”

Victoria Hartwell is an assistant features editor and can be reached at features@ubspectrum.com