We had a real Minnesota whip-saw this week, the aftermath of a 15-inch snowstorm as the week began and a day in the 50s as it ends.
Much digging out of cars, and wheels doing the whistle-spin on the ice beneath for three days. It’s been a long winter, but “Sometimes It Snows in April” as Prince once sang.
Today, when it reached the lower 50s, people were out in shorts and T-shirts, with snow still covering yards, with the low rubble of white ruined walls still on the streets where cars had once been imprisoned. This is how Minnesotan’s celebrate unbelievable spring.
Now this Saturday brings the anniversary of Prince’s death, which was as unbelievable as Spring. I was looking for another poem to combine with music, and I reminded myself I hadn’t done an Emily Dickinson poem yet this April, and there can be no full celebration of U. S. National Poetry Month without Dickinson. As I looked, I came upon this poem, and it seemed right.
“Dear March” has one of Dickinson’s bold apostrophes, but instead of death or some other imponderable, it’s Spring that gets to be portrayed as the caller, one who gets welcomed at the door with old-school manners. There’s delightful wit in this: the March winds portrayed as being out of breath, it must have walked the long way to get here! “I got your letter, and the birds.” But being Dickinson, she will add her slant. Just past halfway she bemoans the colorless landscape of winter that she’s been left with, as if it would be her job to color it in: “There was no purple suitable/you took it all with you.”
“There was no purple suitable, you took it all with you.”
I think again of Prince, and I think this is the poem to do.
The poem continues, and we can now understand that the wit has an undercurrent. Someone else is knocking. It’s April, more visitors—or are they both suitors? “I will not be pursued!” Dickinson is now ambivalent to more Spring, to more young man’s fancies. She’s not answering the door “He stayed away a year”—well so did March. The poem ends in ambivalence. She should doubt the constancy of these Spring suitors even with the flirting, the flattery and the gifts they bring, but then there’s joy in blaming them for their absence now that they have returned.
Prince: performer, songwriter, impresario, but I’ll think of him as the patron saint of studio rats
I don’t want to stretch things too far here, but there are a couple of similarities in Dickinson and Prince. Both known for wearing one color (white and purple). Both enigmatic to the public (“The Myth” and “The Glyph”) and increasingly reclusive. And both were capable of being prolific and artistically self-sufficient, though this is not as rare for poets as it is for musicians and songwriters who could (as Prince did) write and record all the parts. In the end, they are both American originals, not copies of anyone before or since.
To hear my performance of Emily Dickinson’s “Dear March” use the player below. And let folks know about what we’re doing here, combining various words (mostly poetry) with original music in different ways. It’s #NPM2018, and you can dance to it.