Wild Nights with Emily

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

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As a writer, my favorite Emily Dickinson poem is the one that goes:

“A word is dead
“When it is said,
“Some say.
“I say it just
“Begins to live
“That day.”

As you may recall, Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886) was a shy poet who lived much of her life in isolation at her family’s home in Amherst, Massachusetts. She rarely greeted guests. Later in life she refused to leave her bedroom.

Upon her death her younger sister discovered a cache of more than 1800 poems.

Although Dickinson was a prolific writer, fewer than a dozen of her poems where published during her lifetime.

Turns out, Dickinson had a more interesting life than we thought. One of her poems was called “Wild Nights – Wild Nights.”

It went:

“Wild nights – Wild nights!
“Were I with thee
“Wild nights should be
“Our luxury!”

Dickinson’s posthumous editor worried about including this poem in the 1891 volume of her poetry “lest the malignant read into it more than that virgin recluse ever dreamed of putting there.”

Maybe, maybe not.

Although Dickinson had a late-in-life romance with her father’s friend, Judge Otis Lord, we discover that her strongest bond came earlier, reflected in a pen pal relationship with her sister-in-law, Susan Gilbert. Some scholars suggest it was a homoerotic connection.

That speculation is explored in “Wild Nights With Emily,’ a new film starring Molly Shannon (a Saturday Night Live alum) as Emily and Susan Ziegler (“A Play on Words”) as Susan.

“Wild Nights With Emily” is playing this week at the Tropic Cinema.

Directed by Madeleine Olnek (“Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same”), this biographical comedy started out as a play performed at New York’s WOW Café and other venues.

Olnek had gone to NYU with Molly Shannon and had met Susan Ziegler at film festivals, so the production came together pretty smoothly.

The storyline follows Dickinson trying to get published and her lifelong romantic relationship with Susan Gilbert.

It’s a myth busting look at a not-so-reclusive poet.

Email Shirrel: srhoades@aol.com

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