Serious scholars of poetry know that in reclusive poetess Emily Dickinson’s most notable publications during her life were in the Springfield Republican newspaper. Between 1858 and 1868, she anonymously published a handful of verses in the paper, many differing quite significantly from the editions discovered by her sister Lavinia after Emily’s death in 1886.

What is less well known is the series of occasional poems that appeared in the Republican‘s sister publication, the Springfield Democrat between 1871 and 1882. The Democrat was a guttersnipe paper that specialized in sensational and taboo topics; it folded in 1883 after an obscenity case in Boston, in point of fact. It was the New York Post to the Republican‘s New York Times and very popular and reviled for that very reason.

The poems published therein were clearly inspired by Emily Dickinson’s poetry, but were universally vulgar and denigrating, directing shocking (for the time) insults and invective at unnamed parties. Scholars have somewhat facetiously dubbed the unknown author “Emily Disserson” due to this.

For example, the following was published in the Springfield Democrat on April 2, 1879, clearly based on Dickinson’s Hope Is A Thing With Feathers:

Hope you’re tarred and feathered –
And run right out of town –
As we sing a tune uncensor’d –
Of how we cast – you down –

And sweetest – in your cries – is heard –
And sore must be your ass –
That could abash the little bitch
That spoke so much of sass-

I’ve seen it on your bitchy hands –
And on the whorish lip –
You – never – in one-night stands,
Never shame loosen – your grip.

Experts disagree on whether the anonymous author was a family member, an acquaintance, an unrelated party, or even Dickinson herself. Most discount the latter theory, for obvious reasons. The closest to a scholarly consensus, advanced by Dr. Philip Sagle of Southern Michigan University, is that the author was Ms. Caroline Treacle, a close friend of Lavinia Dickinson.

Ms. Tracle was notorious for her profane language and ease of offense, and is recorded in the Springfield Social Register as being banned from the Springfield Sewing Circle for “using such language as would make a Sailor blush and a Whore take up the Cross.”

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!