Summer We Have All Seen—
Emily Dickinson on the paradox of summer
Last Sunday was my dad’s birthday, along with being Father’s Day, and my family and I spent the whole day fêting my dear papa. We filled a picnic basket full of delicious things, like bagels and lox and a carton of strawberries, packed a brightly colored table cloth, and set off for Prospect Park. On the walk, we stopped at a little shop, and I bought badminton rackets. (Have I mentioned I love badminton?) It was a gorgeous day, with such fine weather, just lazing and talking and reading the Sunday paper, eating strawberries and swatting the birdie back and forth, in the company of hundreds of other picnickers in Prospect Park.
Afterward, we went to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, and I was entranced, especially by the roses. We loved it so much that we bought memberships. Even if I only make it back a handful of times, it feels like a call to return and a portal of possibility.
The day was such a contrast to how I’ve been living for the last six months—so much time indoors. Besides the occasional walk, I’ve been inside a house or a hospital or a car shuttling me between them. Since my diagnosis, fall has turned to winter and now spring to summer, and I’ve only gotten the seasons in glimpses. One of the challenges of being in isolation this way—which anyone who’s had to quarantine knows—is how easy it is to get stuck when you don’t have a literal landscape change.
And so I’ve had to figure out how to exist in summer when I’m not well enough to venture out like we did on Sunday. We have a back terrace—just the steel frame, no pavers yet, but I walked to the nearest Target and got an outdoor rug, and I hauled it the half-mile home on my shoulder. (When my dad saw me doing this, he said there was something deep inside of me, something ancestral, that knows how to carry a rug. I laughed and agreed that the balancing act felt strangely familiar.) I set up a little bistro table, and in the corner I keep adding new plants, new flowers and succulents and herbs, all flourishing in the warmth and light.
This week marked the summer solstice—the official beginning of the season, though it really feels like we’re in the thick of it. And so today we have two poems on summer from the iconic Emily Dickinson and a prompt inspired by them. Whatever your relationship to this vibrant, lazy, lush, and sprawling season, I hope this speaks to you.
P.S. Mark your calendar: Our next gathering of the Hatch, our virtual creative hour for paid subscribers, is happening Sunday, July 10, from 1-2pm ET. It’s going to be a celebratory 100-day project edition. Learn more here!
P.P.S. Earlier this week I sent out a special community-wide Dear Susu, asking you to help me answer a question from a mother whose son was only days out from a second bone marrow transplant—“What is your mantra for hard times?” Our community contributed hundreds of stunning, powerful lines. If you need a little light, you can find it here.
Prompt 201. Two Poems on Summer by Emily Dickinson
To hear these songs for the spoken voice read by Carmen, click here.
Your prompt for the week:
In two poems written two decades apart, Emily Dickinson writes of summer—first enchanted by its dazzling lushness and vibrancy, then disillusioned at its indifference and idle excess.
Consider which resonates with you, and what it says about your relationship to summer. Then compose your own ode to the season. If you’d like, use Dickinson’s first lines as a frame or as a refrain: “A something in a summer's Day” or “Summer — we all have seen —.”
Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, in 1830. She was prolific as a poet and sent poems in letters to friends; however, during her lifetime her work was not publicly recognized. She died in 1886 and the first volume of her work was published in 1890; since then, she has never been out of print. She is considered one of the founders of a uniquely American poetic voice.
Featured Community Member
Danna Layton is a writer and artist who works in education and lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. Like many, she discovered the Isolation Journals at the height of the pandemic and found the prompts to be a much needed way to keep her “creative self afloat.”
But Danna’s 100-day project of composing “found poems” inspired by visual art was born of an even more urgent need. “I had completed a very rough draft of a novel and had just begun revising,” she says. “Then my father died, and all my creativity just disappeared. I had never done a 100-day project, or even considered doing one. Suddenly, the Isolation Journals 100-day project was all over my feed, so I decided this was my sign to reconnect with my creativity, show up for myself, and rouse myself from grief. I needed to do this.”
For Danna, the 100-day project has provided solace, but it has also made space for experimentation. “I found that with each poem I was playing with language and image again,” she says. “I was surprised with how absolutely fun and frustrating the process of making tiny poems could be—just like the creative process.”
For paid subscriber benefits, see—
In the Eye of the Beholder, a discussion on displaced self-image inspired by Melissa Febos’s brilliant essay collection Girlhood
Dear Susu #7: Lighting the Way, where our community answers the question, “What is your mantra for hard times?”
On Creative Surprise and finding beauty everywhere, an interview with the illustrator and bestselling author Mari Andrew