The bulk of Emily Dickinson’s poetry was written more than 150 years ago. But her legacy lives on thanks, in part, to a collaboration between a New School faculty member and her former student.
For her new book of poetry, Gates and Fields (Belladonna*), Eugene Lang College faculty member Jennifer Firestone drew on her experiences of teaching the famed poet’s work in her classes, as well as research around burial sites and rituals and fractured lyrics used in songs, repetitions, and ghostly prayers.
In true New School spirit, Gates and Fields was a collaborative effort involving Firestone and one of her former students, dancer-turned-poet Emily Skillings, Literary Studies ’10. Skillings, who recently released her debut book of poetry, Fort Not, served as editor of the book, helping Firestone select the cover art and solicit blurbs and providing editorial comments on the manuscript.
“Collaboration explicitly puts on display the process of writing, which sometimes is not given its fair shake,” says Firestone. “You learn things not only from your collaborator but about your own flexibilities and limits. It was just very meaningful to have this experience, with my former student editing one of my books.”
Skillings credits Firestone with introducing her to not only the poetry community but also feminist poets and history — subjects that inform the mission and vision of Belladonna*, a Brooklyn, N.Y.–based independent publisher specializing in the work of women poets.
Belladonna* is largely volunteer based, which means that editorial work is shared by a committee. Skillings began working with Belladonna* on Firestone’s recommendation.
“Lang taught me that different art forms influence one another and that thinking in an interdisciplinary way, and valuing the process, leads to exciting work,” says Skillings. “My study of dance at Lang really made me aware of space and its relationship to the body in my poems, and I think I learned that to be a good writer, you have to read all the time.”
Gates and Fields marks the second time Firestone has worked with a member of the Eugene Lang College community. In 2014, she and Laura Liu, associate professor of geography and global studies, published LITtle by LITtle, a book of photographs by Liu and accompanying poems by Firestone.
Lang is renowned for its small class sizes, rigorous approach to learning, and emphasis on education through real-world experience. For Firestone, the mission and vision of Lang are embedded in her own teaching.
“I aim to develop a crossover between my classroom and other social spaces and constructs of thinking so that the work we do doesn’t become too abstract and isolated,” says Firestone. “I want my students to think of learning as rigorous and exciting and that not knowing is something to be curious about, rather than something from which to hide or of which to be afraid.”