They share the same birthday, Aracelis and Emily—December 10th. The similarities continue in that Emily once walked along the streets that Aracelis still follows on the way to work at Hampshire College where her office resides in Emily Dickinson Hall. Seems these poets were bound on some level, their paths meant to cross. So how fitting that the Folger Shakespeare Library invited award-winning Author and Professor Aracelis Girmay, for its annual Emily Dickinson Birthday Tribute.
Introduced by Alice Quinn, the Executive Director of the Poetry Society of America, Girmay began reading—weaving together Dickinson’s poems, excerpts from Dickinson’s letters, and pieces from her own poetry collections (Teeth, Kingdom Animalia)—citing the connections therein and always speaking a word about her adoration for Dickinson. Upon reading one of her poems that she’d written as an eulogy for poet and educator, Lucille Clifton and singer, song writer, Minnie Ripperton, Girmay remarked on the pleasure of working and residing only seven minutes from Dickinson’s home. She spoke of her visits to the home and how she “looks for her” when she passes: Looking for her in the snow, in the air. “There you are,” said Girmay before she began to read another of Dickinson’s works. In the reading, one could hear the generational and cultural differences when Girmay read Dickinson’s poems and then from her own work.
Throughout the reading, Girmay in her passion and speech displayed her admiration (one might even say awe) of Dickinson. After reading three times Dickinson’s “From All the Jails the Boys and Girls,” Girmay stated Dickinson’s view of children—“what a blessing”—before reading one of her own pieces which explained the world’s hardness to a small child. Other Dickinson poems that were read included “Richard” and “Santa Klaus.”
Quinn was effusive in her praise of Girmay’s talent. Following the reading, Quinn moderated a conversation with Girmay, then invited audience members to ask questions. Girmay was animated in her responses, accentuating her words with hand gestures.
At the end of the evening, there was a reception where Emily Dickinson’s Black Cake was served to the guests. While the idea of eating cake from such an amazing writer’s own recipe was delightful, this writer has most certainly had better. It was a good thing that Dickinson’s talent with pen and paper was so profound, because in the kitchen she could have used a little help. Hmmm, how poetic.