Award Winners

The Writer Magazine/Emily Dickinson Award - 2012

Jennifer Maier


                                        ...—and then it was
                      There interposed a Fly—
                                                     #465, Emily Dickinson

I had no wish to interpose—
I kept my distance on the window pane.
The room was hot and close.

She lay in white, expectant as a bride. Repose
became her. While mourners prayed in vain
I watched the sky; I never interpose.

In fact, I'd just as soon be elsewhere when it goes.
The green world's fresh with corpses—why remain?
I wanted out. The room was hot and close.

Bright birds get poems; I'm lucky to get prose.
What's that to me? Patient, I circle around. Your Bane's,
my Inspiration, my blank page. Why should I interpose?

The Amherst Journal struck me, I suppose.
And stunned, I stumbled, reeling on the windowpane.
The air was blue; the room was hot and close.

She might have heard me buzzing there—who knows?
She turned and fixed my red eye in her own. It's plain
I was her velvet-coated suitor, then. I interposed.
We left together. The room was hot and close.

Phillis Levin on Jennifer Maier

Vitally alive to Emily's Dickinson's eccentric vision, the author of "Fly" revises and re-envisions poem #465 ("I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –") from the fly's perspective, that fly we know so well, the one who enters the room a millisecond after Dickinson's speaker "signed away / What portion of me be / Assignable." The poem is a double portrait, a counter-lyric, a fitting shadow companion opposing as well as channeling its source. This fly (all eyes) is a somewhat kindred spirit to the speaker of Dickinson's poem—detached, unobtrusive, ironic, and wry; a witness to the deathbed scene, an unwitting creature "who'd just as soon be elsewhere" but is drawn into the drama, becoming "her velvet-coated suitor, then." Strangely believable in its unfolding, "Fly" offers multiple pleasures in the way it plays with pattern, voice, and point of view. The villanelle form is a surprising guise and disguise—one that feels just right, embodying as it does the claustrophobic limits that can induce wild imagining. The refrain lines, when they first occur, replicate the alternating four-beat and three-beat lines of iambic ballad measure; but the poet stretches and transforms those lines with each recurrence. By the time we reach the closing stanza, where those two refrain lines and those two familiar characters ultimately meet, the lightness and weight of their leaving "together" is fully charged, a beautifully realized artful act. "Fly" dwells in a realm where "will," "desire," and "fate" are words that remain unspoken while their meanings continue to haunt, provoke, and ramify.