Huge, Nearly-Wordless, Embroidered Facsimiles of Emily Dickinson’s Handwritten Manuscripts, by Jen Bervin

Emily Dickinson’s poems went unpublished during her life and for decades after her death. When they were published, nearly all of her creative, idiosyncratic punctuation and personal notation marks were deleted or changed to more familiar, standardized, comfortable, and boring marks.

Jen Bervin, The Composite Marks of Emily Dickinson's Fascicle 28

Jen Bervin’s huge quilts (up to 40 feet by 8 feet!) flip that script: she has removed nearly all the words, leaving patterns of crosses, dashes, underscores, and strikethroughs.¬†Bervin’s pieces give prominence to the marks most of us have never seen.

Jen Bervin, The Composite Marks of Emily Dickinson's Fascicle 28, detail.

What elevates these past curiosity up to artwork, for me, is that they use craft and materials to prompt worthwhile questions. For instance: Are these marks as insignificant, as non-signifying as they seem, spattered up there in red thread? Or, are they a thoroughly personal writing method (and how would I feel if my notebooks were turned inside out and shaken for weird punctuation like this?) Or, are they a medium of communication themselves? A code, maybe? A language, even? And what have we never known because we ignored them?

Jen Bervin, The Composite Marks of Emily Dickinson's Fascicle 16.

And in a fine text-to-textile-to-text twist, now Bervin’s work is available in book form. Details about this book, more photos of these pieces, and a thoughtful essay about Dickinson’s poems and Bervin’s own work are available at her website. I encourage you to check them out.

Jen Bervin, The Dickinson Composites (Granary Books, 2010).

(Found at JenBervin.com.)

2 thoughts on “Huge, Nearly-Wordless, Embroidered Facsimiles of Emily Dickinson’s Handwritten Manuscripts, by Jen Bervin

  1. There’s a nice logic here. The marks and spaces suggest time formulating or waiting for a flow of words, not the neat, hair-licked-down-and-brushed final presentations to the world. ( I always have a sense of dislocation seeing my own writing(scribbing dribbles) in print: what it gains in legibility it loses a little in soul….) lovely lovely!

  2. Great observation, that these marks are markers of pausing, quiet, or waiting. The “white space” is prominent (and red!), and where we see density here is where we’d hear little when the poem is read. Another interesting inversion!

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