When Apple announced that one of the first original series on the tech company's streaming service, Apple TV+, would be a show about Emily Dickinson — "Emily’s coming-of-age story — one woman's fight to get her voice heard" — my reaction was — "LEAVE EMILY ALONE!!!" She's been through enough! We have hardly any information on Dickinson because she stayed in her room for, like, 30 years! She spent all her time writing letters and poems with bad punctuation — poems and letters she mostly sent to her freaking next door neighbor/informal editor/likely lover! She could barely bear to walk next door!
Where did she even poop or pee?? This is just one of many intriguing questions scholars sadly have yet to answer — about Emily Dickinson's life. But it's the mystery — and her posthumous fame — that makes her such a compelling artistic figure. In the past three years there have been two movies — and now a show called Dickinson — about the quiet genius who wore white and whose poems are — still! — some of Harvard's most controversial IP.
The stakes for this new "sexy" Dickinson are high — if it succeeds there will surely be a run on shows about poets, which will be a windfall for the hordes of Americans struggling to find a "use" for all those goddamn poetry classes that account for a sizable portion of their student debt. I look forward to writing about the steamy, soapy Showtime series on Lord Byron (featuring the Shelleys [who actually have a pilot in the works] and Keats, obviously) — it will take viewers on a scandal-filled adventure from England to Italy to Greece. Who wouldn't want Matthew Weiner to develop a Mad Men-esque office drama about the insurance company where Wallace Stevens served as a vice president? Why not a dark, controversy-generating HBO miniseries on Anne Sexton's trauma-filled life? Or a live Quibi show on which Robert Pinsky discusses "process" with other poets while they walk across a small liberal arts campus and sip tea? A Netflix poetry competition in which 10 of the best unknown poets have to complete a series of prosodic challenges to find the Next Great Poet — judged by Joy Harjo, Rita Dove, and a special guest rapper every week? Today's challenge — THE VILLANELLE!!! I dwell in possibility.
Until each streaming service has as many poet shows as it does comedy specials, I must content myself with single pieces of content. All Dickinson viewers should — in an ideal world — read each of Emily Dickinson's 1,800-plus poems at least three times through in order to fully comprehend the nuance of Hailee Steinfeld and Wiz Khalifa's performances, but — alas! — our world can never approach this ideal. Instead, I will provide you a list of the mere 15 Dickinson poems you absolutely must read before you dive into Apple TV+'s Dickinson. Otherwise, you'll be totally lost — or, at the very least, less enriched as a person.