The Big Read Blog (Archive)

A Poettree Grows in Miami

The PoetTree at Miami Beach Botanical Garden. Emily Dickinson's poems hang from the tree, and visitors can also share verses of their own. Photo by Laura Jamieson

Emily Dickinson may be one of the world’s most celebrated poetesses, but during her own lifetime, she was known for something a bit more domestic: her garden. With just a handful of poems published while she was alive, Dickinson’s reputation was more closely associated with the beautiful blooms she cultivated at her Amherst, Massachusetts, home, where she was often seen gardening by moonlight.

“Even if you don’t know that [Dickinson] was a horticulturist, and had her little books of pressed flowers, you can read it in her poems,” said Nicole Swift, the assistant program coordinator at The Center for Literature and Theatre @ Miami-Dade College. “She compares so much to nature that it’s inescapable.”

As part of The Center's 2012 Big Read, which focuses on the poet, Swift worked with the Miami Beach Botanical Garden to highlight the relationship between Dickinson’s poetry and the natural world. Through April 15, visitors to the botanical garden can peruse or pluck Dickinson poems that hang from the PoetTree. Anyone with the inclination can also pen a few verses of their own, and leave them on the tree for others to find. Noting that many people’s main experience with poetry comes from high school textbooks, Swift said that, “The idea for the PoetTree came about to try and present poetry in a new and different way that would engage people that wouldn’t otherwise seek it out.”

Thirty of Dickinson’s poems have also been placed on placards throughout the garden, many of them in scenic spots relating to the poems’ subject matter. “Bring me the sunset in a cup” has been placed in a seated area facing west, paying homage to Miami’s own famous sunsets. “A Murmer in the Trees—to note” can be found in the Japanese garden, which Swift says “is a little more secluded so all you hear is rustling; you don’t necessarily hear the street noise.”

Outside of the botanical garden, The Center is spreading Dickinson near and far across Miami with book discussions, lectures, trivia, and even an original play about Dickinson in Spanish with English supertitles. There is also a “Where’s Emily?” campaign, featuring posters of Emily Dickinson throughout the city. Passerby who take a photo of themselves with the poster and upload it to The Center’s Facebook page will receive a free copy of The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson.

The goal for the entire program is simple: to have the community rediscover poetry. “Though we have a really good writing community [in Miami], poetry is not necessarily at the forefront,” Swift said. “I hope people take away the idea that poetry isn’t necessarily for academics…that you can relate to it, and that it’s accessible.”

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