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February 16, 2007

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Chris

Richard - thanks for commenting! Actually, it wasn't the case that she got the words wrong - it's my fault for not explaining this more clearly (due to my horror, of course!). The words were printed in the program, and she sang the piece in its entirety with the correct words, stopping to, as I said, distort them, line by line. So she did sing the mandolin line, etc., then morphed it into just a man...Hence my disgust. It's true that people do impose their own experience onto a poem or other writing, and that's natural. Most writers like their writing to also stir up ideas and memories in the reader. I also agree that you don't have to know anything about a writer to read their poem (sad for the reader if they don't find out, though!) - but there's just no way to arrive at the 'my man strikes me' conclusion that this singer did from the poem's actual text. So even if one didn't know it was a Dickinson poem (and, from there, how ridiculous this interpretation was), it was still clearly, grossly misinterpreted.

Richard

Hi Chris -

I don't think your conclusion follows from your example. Your example, I think, tells us that readers should pay attention to the actual text. Her "interpretation" is wrong first and foremost because she had the words wrong.

I don't think there's any reason why a reader should have to know anything about Emily Dickinson to be able to read her poem. You're right, of course, that a writer's time and place and experience all color what he or she writes. But the way you've put this here almost implies that the reader should know all about Dickinson, should know what she knew.

A lot happens to be known about some writers, like Dickinson, which in many respects is unfortunate. In any event, I think the tendency is MUCH stronger to read personal experience into everything than it is to ignore or forget the writer.

At the very least, it seems, we should be more concerned that the correct words are being discussed!

Thanks.

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