Friday, April 22, 2005

Emily Dickinson's Pantry

The Old Kitchen Cupboard

The other day I discovered, when I Googled "Emily Dickinson and pantry" together on the Internet, hoping for a literary reference. [ASIDE: the Internet is where I glean 99.9% of my research these new fix? On-line databases...anyway, for another posting.], that Emily Dickinson wrote many of her poems in the kitchen pantry of her large Greek Revival house in Amherst, Massachusetts. She wrote in and around her kitchen when not writing in her upstairs bedroom.

This conveys many things: that Emily also had domestic duties (we know she used to enjoy making gingerbread for the neighborhood children and lowering it down to them by basket from her bedroom) and that her ideas were fleeting and constant, as so many are. So she grabbed the closest recipe or recent invoice from the butcher and scribbled her thin, but sure, lines on any free white space she could find, perhaps fueled by the "horror vacui" of any spare or potentially wasted bits of precious paper. This implies an immediacy in her writing--perhaps she had mulled over the words in her head while kneading bread dough or washing dishes and then, hurriedly and with purpose, set out to find something, anything, on which to write her phrases.

I, too, have done this. Domestic work and raising children (something Emily did not do) requires that any ideas be caught and held, if only temporarily, on fragments of notebook paper, quick computer rantings, or even tape recorded while driving. I have tried all of these methods. As with anything, some ideas hold, others fritter away and blow down the road never to be seen again. We only have so many "A-ha!" moments in a lifetime and sometimes it helps if we can record them, even if in the midst of doing dishes or setting the table.

Emily had many of these epiphanies and wrote when she had the inspiration--and what better place than a kitchen to be inspired. Here is the domestic pulse of the house where the comings and goings of the day are most realized, even then when kitchen quarters and adjacent pantries were relegated to the back of the house or the ell, far away from the inner sanctum of the parlor.

So she wrote her poems and stuffed them in drawers on snippets of paper and recipes and invoices so that someday someone might find them again...or not. In her case it was her servant who we credit today with saving these special gems and preserves from Emily's own pantry--both from her domestic larder and her cluttered, brilliant mind. And after all her pantry scribblings, the actual place only made it into one of Emily's poems: "My pantry has a fish for every palate in the year..." Go figure...

This blog will be a figurative pantry for my own thoughts--an interior monologue, if you will, especially on the kitchen and related spaces--as well as the occasional documentation of the writing and behind-the-scenes process of my forthcoming book, IN THE PANTRY [to be published by Gibbs-Smith in Spring 2007]. I'm sure I will also interject other thoughts as they arise but I'd like to keep this fairly thematic as related to domestic life.

Another day of domestic activity looms in our household--and another day spent trying to balance and juggle the ideas and thoughts that bubble over in me, like the fragrant mist that hovers over a great vat of grape jam, waiting to be canned for our cellar storeroom and opened again one day to give to family and friends.

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