High School Memories – Emily Dickinson’s Greatest Hits


My English class sophomore year was all about public speaking.  We had to give a persuasive speech at the beginning of the year.  I decided to defend Galileo from the Inquisition.  I was as nervous as if I really had been in front of the Inquisition!  Somehow I managed to get through it with a halfway decent grade.  Our next assignment was to memorize a poem and recite it in front of the class.

My friend Greg and I ended up shooing our poems on video instead of reciting them (what we called “P-TV”; get it?).  His poem was one of the Spoon River Anthology poems and we set it to a bunch of old family photographs.  My poem was Pause of the Clock, a surreal little poem by Federico Garcia Lorca that I ended up staging with some interesting lighting effects.  The best part about it was I liked to make videos, I didn’t like to speak in public at the time and the teacher thought it was cool that we had done so much “additional” work.  I ended up getting 120% on the assignment!

Kelly was a girl in my English class.  She was a very nice person.  I know that word “nice” has a bad rap; she was actually very pretty.  She was also a very pleasant and down to earth person.  I wish I had known her better.  Anyway, everyone else had to recite their poem in front of the class, one at a time. 

I don’t remember why exactly, but Mrs. Hoffman – our English teacher – did not like Emily Dickinson.  We had gone through most of a class period with people reciting their poems.  Kelly was up next when Mrs. Hoffman suddenly went off on Emily Dickinson.  Her poems were morbid.  They were all about death and dying.  She was an odd person.  She never left her house.  She always wrote in the same meter.  Every poem she wrote could be sung to “The Yellow Rose of Texas”.

Twenty-five textbooks opened.  You could hear the flurry of pages.  Sure enough, you could sing Emily Dickinson poems to “The Yellow Rose of Texas”.

“Because I could not stop for death,

He kindly stopped for meeee…”

Mrs. Hoffman’s attack on Emily Dickinson subsided after a few moments.  The class settled down, still snickering about this new-found knowledge about prayer verse.  The teacher motioned for Kelly to recite her poem.  I remember she sighed and walked up to the front of the room, obviously wanting to be somewhere else.

“My poem,” she said, “is Because I Could Not Stop for Death by Emily Dickinson…”

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