Emily Dickinson’s Brain Surgery; OR, Why I Decided to Start This Blog

Emily Dickinson once wrote, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” If you’ve found your way to this blog, I am guessing that you have had the reading experience that she describes–if not with a poem, maybe with a short story, novel, or some other text that combusted words, images, and feelings in a way that blew the roof off your mind and opened up a sky of possibilities.

I’ve spent a lot of my life as a teacher, reader, and writer trying to bring others to that kind of mind-blowing experience. And I’ve struggled to understand and explain (to myself as much as to anyone else) what that experience is, how it happens, and why I believe it’s valuable, even essential.

If you’re reading this, you are probably already familiar with some of what I’m talking about. But you may have found discussions on this topic to be either too mystical or too technical for your satisfaction. In these blog posts I’ll be trying find a more engaging middle ground–not avoiding the ideas and vocabulary of “literary theory” by any means, but rather trying to explain those concepts and terms through my own lived experiences and observations as a reader, student, and teacher of literature.

Regardless of the particular topic or occasion of a given post, I hope you will find some useful and interesting insight on that “take-the-top-of-your-head-off” phenomenon that Dickinson described. Poems (and literary works in general) are worth talking about not just because they represent a special way of using language and looking at the world, but also because that specialness is more deeply entwined with and closer to our day-to-day lives than we sometimes might suspect.