In the bookcase beside my desk, I keep An Emily Dickinson Year Book. Published in 1948, it has pages made of that thick creamy paper of old books. Each day offers an excerpt from a poem or a letter. November 3 offers a particularly curious line from a letter: “November always seemed to me the Norway of the year.”
Why Norway? I was so intrigued by Dickinson’s choice of country that I brought the quote to an advanced poetry workshop where students and I respond to daily writing prompts. Dickinson’s words took me quickly into lengthening nights and cold days, into a meditation on my own turning north in winter, when I go to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota to ski and write, to celebrate obscenely early happy hours of beer and popcorn with my partner before night wraps the cabin in -20 degrees.
Some quick checking confirmed that Dickinson never traveled to Norway. She associated November with a country she knew only through books or letters. I found more context in the letter, dated 1864. She wrote, “It is also November. The noons are more laconic and the sunsets sterner, and Gibraltar lights make the village foreign.” Ah, there it is. Light that makes the familiar foreign. That’s November. And here we are.
As I worry about the economy, the election, and the strange dreams in which I’m running in wooden sandals in the rain or climbing endless stairs to nowhere, writing with others calms me. It quiets the energy of a weird dream that I drag through the day like a deflated parachute.
When we turn back the clocks tomorrow, I’ll believe I’ve gained an hour. Something real, like coins or a print book.
November brings acceptances, rejections, and beautiful things in the mail, like this new issue of the Bellevue Literary Review. In my essay “What Anna Ludwig Saw,” I visit the history of the first human X-ray through my own experience of studying X-rays of my broken hand a few years ago.
New poems are forthcoming, so please check back.
And if you’re looking for a writing prompt, use Dickinson’s observation of November as the opening of a draft that you let surprise you.
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