The Writer Magazine/Emily Dickinson Award - 2013
Brian Teare on Gregg Wrenn
Immediately framing its action within "the open portico of the imagination," "Flagellation" stages a drama that is both metaphysical and physical; its imagistic clarity and cinematic movement allow the speaker and the Beholder of the poem "to commune…in an impossible space." In these ways, it is like many Emily Dickinson poems, where what's figurative and what's literal are often indistinguishable and what's important is the how the poem articulates the terms of both communion and its impossibility. Of course it's in articulating such terms that "Flagellation" differs the most from Dickinson: the time is "the Monday//after Easter" and the scene is "a hill town," and the speaker's "tied to this column" like some kind of Saint Sebastian waiting for "one daddy/and then another…about to whip me." It's a kind of metaphysical leather bar, one in which the speaker experiences submission as a potential "way back/to unshakeable beauty, truth//instead of smut." And though smut seems a long way from Dickinson's diction, the poem asks us to return to her epistolary tendency to couch her deepest desires in postures of submission, to re-read her coy invitations as casting calls to participate in her elaborate costume dramas of attachment and abandonment, ecstasy and abandon: "Won't you enter my realm//and fuck me up?" And though I love this blunt question, and I love that it could be a précis of any number of Dickinson poems or letters, I love even more the final line of "Flagellation," underscoring as it does the fact that Dickinson's actors always perform in a theologically precarious space, where God is as likely in residence as on permanent hiatus.