August 3, 2021

Prompt: Historical Intimacy

When I was in a weeklong poetry workshop with Billy Collins a chunk of years ago, he looked at a poem I was working on titled "Sex with Amelia Earhart." He said it reminded him of his poem "Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes" (which appears in his collection Picnic, Lightning).

The two poems both have a title intended to give a little shock. Collins uses a lot of allusions to Emily's poems including well-known lines from them. His poem is more romantic and less sexual than mine, but I imagine both poems would gather around them the same criticisms: sensationalist and maybe even misogynist. I know that both of us thought about that and both of us disagreed with those appraisals. I think we both thought of them as love poems. Male poet imagines a romantic relationship with a female inspiration from the past.

In an interview on Fresh Air, Collins said "I mean, I actually at one point, when there were so many books out about speculating particularly on Emily Dickinson's sexuality, you know, was she lesbian, was she celibate, did she have an affair, I was driven actually by all of that curiosity and speculation to write a poem called "Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes," in which I attempted, in a kind of playful way, to put the matter at rest by having sex with her."

I showed both poems to another poet, Kristin D'Agostino, and she suggested they might be a prompt here .

Create an intimacy between you and a historical person. Imagine a conversation or romantic encounter. "Intimacy" can occur at many levels. I did some searching online and it seems that some psychologist list four types of intimacies: emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical. Only one of those involves touching.

That is your prompt for this month. Choose your person. Select the type (types?) of intimacy. A conversation over coffee? A passionate weekend? So many possibilities.


Deadline for submissions to our next issue: August 31, 2021

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  1. Now I want to read your Amelia Earhart poem!

    1. Maybe it will appear in with the other accepted submissions. Or is that a conflict of interest?


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