Thursday, September 08, 2011

Endicott College/Ibbetson Street Press Visiting Author Series: Every Broom and Bridget with Tom Daley

Endicott College/Ibbetson Street Press Visiting Author Series is presenting a one man play by Tom Daley that views the 19th Century American poet Emily Dickinson through the eyes of her Irish servant Tom Kelley titled: "Every Broom and Bridget." The series is directed by Professor Doug Holder.

Thursday Sept 29th 3:30PM Tia's Theatre Center for the Arts Endicott College 376 Hale St. Beverly, Mass.

Reflecting the prejudice of much of the Yankee upper crust towards Irish Catholic immigrants in America, as a young woman, the poet Emily Dickinson recommended to her brother (and half-seriously) that he kill some of the Irish boys he was teaching in Boston (“There are so many now, there is no room for the Americans”). However, later in life, she entrusted her poems to a beloved Irish housekeeper, Margaret Maher, who kept them in a trunk in the Dickinsons’ attic (and who refused to follow Emily Dickinson’s instructions and burn them after Dickinson’s death).

Every Broom and Bridget—Emily Dickinson and Her Servants, a play by poet and educator Tom Daley, dramatizes these contradictions. The play is narrated by the character Tom Kelley, an Irish-born Dickinson family groundskeeper whom Emily Dickinson appointed her chief pallbearer. The play weaves poems and letter excerpts by Dickinson together with excerpts from communications from the Dickinsons’ Irish housekeeper, Margaret Maher; Emily Dickinson’s friend and posthumous editor, Thomas Wentworth Higginson; and others to elucidate a relationship imagined to include affection, condescension, and resentment between the poet and the people who served her well-to-do family.

The poet and her servants are all “channeled” through the voice of pallbearer Kelley, who is haunted in later life by a vision of the day of “Miss Emily”’s funeral. Using minimal costume changes and different accents, Daley (as Tom Kelley) re-creates events, real and invented, surrounding the burial of the poet who “could not stop for Death.”

Tom Daley is a member of the faculty of the Online School of Poetry ( and has served on the tutorial faculty of Walnut Hill School for the Arts. Tom’s poetry has been published in numerous journals, including Harvard Review, Fence, Prairie Schooner, Barrow Street, Poetry Ireland Review, and has been anthologized in Hacks: The Grub Street Anthology, the Bagel Bards Anthology, and Poets for Haiti. He graduated with highest honors in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina, where he won the Charles and Fanny Fay Wood Academy of American Poets Prize.

Excerpt from the play:

Tom Kelley, Emily Dickinson’s Chief Pallbearer, Muses over Her Memory the Night after Her Funeral.
by Tom Daley

Ah, Miss Emily! There’s no lamplight
burning your windowpanes this evening.
There’ll be nothing burning ever again
for me in this place. How many nights have I run
here from my watchman’s rounds at the college
to keep a secret vigil under your windows
as the shadow of your pen feathered
its mysterious codes out to the Milky Way?

Just around the corner,
in your garden, is where we
committed our first confidences—
spring mornings when I helped
you dig rows for your flowers,
or brought you a load of manure.
Or in autumn, when we put
the beds to sleep, and you told me
of your squelched yearnings and how
sometimes that other world pierced
you clear through, like the tines
of a pitchfork.

That’s where we had our short laughs
about the long lunacies
of men and women. And that’s where
I told you of my terrible feeling
that I was only a tenant
in the garret of my own heart.

There was never a woman to talk
to like you, not Maggie, or my
wife Mary, concerned as they were
with their travails, worrying over
children sick or dying,
or constantly maneuvering
the negotiations over
housekeeping out of deadlock.

But you had your distractions, too,
and after all, you were the daughter
of a Protestant squire—only
occasionally and then discreetly aware
of the constant and fervent attention
of your Catholic serf.

You and your people never had to sing
for your supper like the fishmongering
Molly Malone; you never wheeled
anything like a barrow up a street
or down a lane. And, yet, I know you
lugged a magnificent burden
all the same.

Miss Emily, I’d ask God to grant you eternal
rest—but I somehow I know your unquiet soul
will be having none of it.
I remember overhearing you say
that at school there was always
a clock—and always a regiment of girls
gripping their hymnals and standing at stiff
and compliant attention. I’ll wager my right
arm you turned on the sour heel
of your theology and stared them all down.
That’s my girl!

Lord, if the apostate Emily Dickinson
refuses your gift of everlasting peace, may
perpetual light shine upon her all the same.
She was a trinity of illumination to me:
Whale oil, lamp wick, and above all, flame.
I curse my fate for having lived
long enough to see you snuff it all away!

from Every Broom and Bridget, a play about Emily Dickinson and her Irish servants
by Tom Daley

Part of this address was originally published as a poem, “To Emily Dickinson,” in Alehouse Review

*** A highlight of the Oxford University roundtable was daley's performance of Tom Kelley's elegiac address to the deceased poet as he gazes up at her bedroom window.... the audience was powerfully moved--some to tears." -- Jonnie Guerra, past president of the Emily Dickinson International Society

No comments:

Post a Comment