Curious audiences at various Kichigami Regional Library locations were treated to history and poetry written by Emily Dickinson and adapted and performed by Rhoda Jackson recently.
Jackson toured many KRLS locations such as Wadena, Pine River, Pequot Lakes, Longville, Walker, Park Rapids, Blackduck, Bemidji and Cass Lake while dressed as poet Emily Dickinson and speaking poetic lines inspired or borrowed from her letters and poetry. She even showcased some of Dickinson’s minor eccentricities.
Jackson portrayed Dickinson waiting on train repairs so she could return home after visiting a surgeon. The audience then played fellow passengers that she could bare her life to. All of the anecdotes, stories and poetry Jackson used in her portrayal were true to life and taken from various letters, poems and biographies written on the poet.
“I tried to keep things as factual as I could. The only thing I invented was the train breaking down and finding an opportunity to speak of her life,” Jackson said following a performance in Crosslake.
Jackson’s dramatic portrayal is a mix between a one-act play and a historic lecture or monologue. Through this medium, she was able to share Dickinson’s story, including various well known or less known facts. She described Dickinson’s family relationships, her part in the formation of a Shakespeare club, her history of eye problems and surguries, her love of nature, her love of baking and other aspects of her life, as well as passages of poetry.
“I really enjoyed it. I seem to remember studying about her, but I don’t remember any specific poetry she had written. It was a very good presentation,” said Jessie Guelich from Emily. “We come to a few of these here and we always enjoy them.”
“She did a heck of a good job. It was really interesting. It held your attention,” agreed Bob Pierre from Crosslake.
Jackson came to live in the Park Rapids area in 1999 from the Twin Cities. Since 2002 she has been involved in community theater productions at Long Lake Theater in Hubbard.
“I’ve done a couple one-woman shows in addition to ensemble plays. This is the first dramatic portrayal in a non-theater setting,” she said.
Jackson’s interest in Dickinson was piqued in 2011 when a regional poet told her about the play “Belle of Amherst” by Julie Harris. He suggested she should read the script and attempt the show. Prior to reading it, she always thought Dickinson was just a woman in white who lived in an attic.
“Once I read that script I then became interested in finding out more about Emily Dickinson,” she said.
Jackson used letters from books by Thomas Johnson, Judith Farr and Brenda Wineapple to prepare her performance. Jackson’s dramatic portrayal in the Kitchigami Regional Library System was made possible with funding from the state of Minnesota Legacy Amendment, Arts and Cultural Heritage fund.
If you missed her portrayal in Pine River, Pequot Lakes or Crosslake, she will also appear at the Brainerd Public Library at 5 p.m. April 2.