The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson's Envelope Poems, edited by Jen Bervin and Marta Werner


The New Museum Store (New York) 


Here every gesture counts: The Gorgeous Nothings of Emily Dickinson

“To arrive as if by telepathic electricity and connect without connectives.”

Susan Howe, Preface

A high point among my Best Books of 2013 and a store favorite and fixture ever since, this on-all-levels marvelous, indispensable book reproduces Emily Dickinson’s fifty-two late compositions on envelopes—in actual-size, full-color facsimile reproductions. Originally published in a deluxe edition box by Granary Books, this Christine Burgin/New Directions trade edition is so care-(and master)-fully assembled, one can’t help but submit in a wonder-wounded way to the force and form of these fragments. Contemplating the visual arrangement of the envelope writings, one feels grateful for the transcriptions of their text on each facing page—necessary because her ‘hieroglyphic script’1 is so hard to read. Like Dickinson’s organized and edited work, these ‘slips on paper slips'2 are elliptically wonderful fragments of song. Her abstracted garden of ‘small fabric,’3 odds and ends—her sympathy with ruin—is a universe contained.

A book of and about poems as visual objects, strewn with dashes, arranged in riddles with ‘oblivion bending over'4 it, The Gorgeous Nothings was attentively edited by Dickinson scholar Marta Werner and book artist Jen Bervin, including enlightening texts by both and a ‘terse and brilliant preface’5 by Susan Howe, whose own great study of the poet (My Emily Dickinson, from 1985, a radical brightening as visionary as Charles Olson’s work on Melville, Call me Ishmael) certainly broke ground for this ‘particular installment of late work’6. Nothing else need be added, save that every bookstore worth a damn should carry it forever. ‘A miracle for all’7, indeed.

1 Holland Cotter, NYT review

2 Susan Howe, Preface

3 Emily Dickinson

4 E.D.

5 Marjorie Perloff, TLS review

6 Susan Howe, Preface

7 E.D


The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson's Envelope Poems is published by  Christine Burgin / New Directions and distributed by W. W. Norton & Company. 

$39.95   HB   260 pages with 168 color/color illustrations   ISBN: 978-0-8112-2175-7   Pub date: October 2013