From poetry to pop music: International Emily Dickinson conference comes to CWRU

Seldom are recluses compared to rock stars. But then Emily Dickinson was anything but common.

Long considered among America’s finest poets, Dickinson has inspired debate and adulation from the first major publication of her works four years after her death.  This week, some of her fiercest fans will come to Case Western Reserve University to explore how her 19th-century verse links to modern-day music.

“Emily Rocks,” the 24th annual meeting of the Emily Dickinson International Society,

combines master classes and poetry workshops, with talks and cabaret-style poetry performances.

“We thought it a natural connection that Cleveland, being the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, to do something about the musical connections to her poetry,” says Case Western Reserve Professor Gary Stonum, the meeting’s organizer and one of the society’s founding members.

In addition, Dickinson had familial ties to the university. Though she spent her life in New England, her grandfather, Samuel Fowler Dickinson, a former president of Amherst College, served as treasurer of Western Reserve College (now part of Case Western Reserve) when it was located in Hudson. Gwen Mayor from the Hudson Library will discuss his life as part of the conference.

Also among the presenters is Martha Nell Smith of the University of Maryland’s Institute of Humanities.

“Dickinson’s unrelenting and courageous facing of our most deep, most complex and contradictory emotions is the kind of artistic bravery to which many in rock and roll are drawn,” she said. “Rock and roll is simultaneously reassuring and provocative, skirting the boundaries between safety and danger, and that’s something [Dickinson] does over and over.”

Pomona College Professor Kevin J. H. Dettmar, the author of Think Rock, continues the theme with a talk titled “Emily Dickinson and Zombies.” A full schedule of workshops and events are planned for the weekend.

For more information, visit