Harvard Critic Helen Vendler on Emily Dickinson

THU, FEB 24, 2011 (9:38)

When Helen Vendler was only 13, the future poetry critic and Harvard professor memorized several of Emily Dickinson’s more famous poems. They’ve stayed with her over the years, and today, she talks with ThoughtCast’s Jenny Attiyeh about one poem in particular that’s haunted her all this time. It’s called “I cannot live with You-“. According to Vendler, whose authoritative Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries has recently been published, it’s a heartbreaking poem of an unresolvable dilemma, and ensuing despair. This interview is the first in a new ThoughtCast series which examines a specific piece of writing — be it a poem, play, novel, short story, work of non-fiction or scrap of papyrus — that’s had a significant influence on someone, that’s shaped and moved them.

+ BIO: Helen Vendler

Helen Vendler is the A. Kingsley Porter University Professor of English at Harvard University. Her many books include Invisible Listeners: Lyric Intimacy in Herbert, Whitman, and Ashbery (Princeton), as well as studies of Shakespeare, Keats, Yeats, Stevens, and Heaney. She is a frequent reviewer for the New Republic, the New York Review of Books, and other publications.

+ BIO: Jenny Attiyeh

My name is Jenny Attiyeh, and I began my career in 1987 in London as a freelance reporter on the arts for the BBC World Service Radio. I remember my first interview for “Meridian”, as the program I worked for was called. It was with Placido Domingo, and I’ve never been so nervous since. After my work permit ran out, I returned to Los Angeles, my home city, and continued as an arts reporter for KCRW, an NPR station in Santa Monica. While there, I reported and produced an award-winning documentary on Japanese-American internment during World War II. Shortly after, I was accepted to a National Public Radio residency, which brought me to Washington, D.C. and to WBUR, an NPR station in Boston to report stories for NPR’s Performance Today. I later attended the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. After that, I remained in New York City for 9 years, during which time I worked primarily as a reporter on television and radio. I hosted and produced a weekly arts and culture segment for WNYC TV, a PBS station, until it went out of business (thanks to then Mayor Giuliani, who sold the station). Before the lights went out, I managed to produce a mini-documentary on the making of a Philip Glass opera, “Les Enfants Terribles.” I worked next as a correspondent for a nationally televised PBS program called “Freedom Speaks” which focused on the media, until it too was taken off the air. (I detect a pattern here…) In between gigs, I also worked as a reporter for WBAI radio, a Pacifica station, and WNYC radio, an NPR station, covering local politics and the arts. I then moved to Maine, where I lived by the harbor in Kittery, and worked as a reporter for New Hampshire Public Television. There, I covered the ‘99/2000 New Hampshire presidential primary season, and interviewed the major presidential candidates. I also participated as a panelist in nationally televised presidential debates, hosted by Peter Jennings and Tim Russert. Following the conclusion of the New Hampshire primary season, I moved to Boston, where I did freelance writing on academics, the 2004 presidential campaign and the single life, among other subjects. From this base, in early 2005, I launched ThoughtCast.

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