The Gorgeous Nothings — the first full-color facsimile edition of Emily Dickinson’s manuscripts ever to appear — is a deluxe edition of her late writings, presenting this crucially important, experimental late work exactly as she wrote it on scraps of envelopes. A never-before-possible glimpse into the process of one of our most important poets.
The book presents all the envelope writings — 52 — reproduced life-size in full color both front and back, with an accompanying transcription to aid in the reading, allowing us to enjoy this little-known but important body of Dickinson’s writing. Envisioned by the artist Jen Bervin and made possible by the extensive research of the Dickinson scholar Marta L. Werner, this book offers a new understanding and appreciation of the genius of Emily Dickinson.
My book of the year is the just published The Gorgeous Nothings (New Directions), which reproduces Emily Dickinson’s fifty-two extant envelope writings (from the Amherst College Library) in life-sizefull-colour facsimile, edited by Dickinson scholar Marta Werner and book artist Jen Bervin, with a terse and brilliant preface by the poet Susan Howe. Originally published by Granary Books, the New Directions edition, modestly priced, is a masterpiece of design and exacting scholarship. Dickinson, remember, only published ten of her more than 3,000 poem drafts and fragments in her lifetime: the manuscripts have thus proved to be of consuming interest. Together with the newly launched online Dickinson archive, this particular instalment of late work should be enough to convince even the most recalcitrant reader that for this great poet, spatial arrangement, gestural punctuation, and eccentric word design are central to meaning. Look at the spacing of poem draft A277, inscribed in pencil on both sides of a slit-open envelope: “that fondled them when they were Fire / will gleam and understand”, with the variant word “stir” above a wavy line in the upper-right. Visual poets around the world will soon be mining these endlessly suggestive fragments.
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, Tupelo Quarterly
[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, Quarterly Conversation
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.
— Jennifer Day, Chicago Tribune
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, Los Angeles Times
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.
— Camden Avery, The Rumpus
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.
— Katie Peterson, Los Angeles Review of Books
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 New Republic
Visual poets around the world will soon be mining these endlessly suggestive fragments.
— Marjorie Perloff, Times Literary Supplement
The shocks are in the words, with other, lingering, aftershocks following in the visual details of their settings. The great thing about this indispensable book is…that it gives us all of this, complete.
— Holland Cotter, The New York Times
The Gorgeous Nothings claims our attention with a new Emily Dickinson. This edition itself is a work of art.
— Susan Howe
This exquisitely produced book—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 New Yorker
This book is a testament to the lasting power of Dickinson’s work and a new insight into the way her work arose. It’s suitably gorgeous production and lyrical accompanying essays make it a treat for the eye and the mind.
— The Australian
The Gorgeous Nothings works as both an engrossing visual treat and an affecting work of literature, giving us a keen and tangible sense of not only of Dickinson’s writing, but of how she wrote.