Large-scale embroidered composites of the + and - punctuation marks in Emily Dickinsonís manuscripts, that draw attention to the integrity of Dickinsonís unusual but pervasive formal system. The poet Emily Dickinson avoided publication, calling it the auction of the mind, but penned nearly 1700 poems in her lifetime. Readers are familiar with her characteristic dashes, but few have seen her equally ubiquitous + marks because they are always edited out of her poems for print. Editors treat Dickinsonís + marks as anomalies, or worse, as editorial waffling, and feel justified in removing the marks and variant words from her poems. Scholars replace the +ís with brackets and numbers to "clarify" (i.e. change) what Dickinson created before they contend with it critically. By divorcing her poems from their formal integrity and its intended specificity, the implications of an unusual, pervasive system that spans Dickinsonís literary career is lost. Imposing conventional views of literary authorship (as expressed by book publication) on Dickinsonís work only serves to obfuscate her innovative poetics.
Through my work as a visual artist and poet, I am trying to draw attention to the integrity of Dickinsonís unconventional formal systems and markings in her manuscripts. I'm interested in the patterns that form when all of the marks in a single fascicle remain in position, isolated from the text, layered in one composite field of marks. The two fascicles from which I made composites show clearly identifiable shifts in the size, frequency, and distribution of the marks. The machine-sewn lines reflect the manuscript paper, the red silk embroidery reflects her marks. In contemplating such an odd physical study, one naturally forms oneís own questions about the nature and meaning of the marks; it also makes their omission from typeset poems more glaringly evident. Through these strange signs, embroidered in Dickinsonís own handwriting, I have come to feel that they are aligned with a larger gesture that her poems make to loss, to the infinite, to "exstasy," to extremity.