“Presentiment is that long shadow on the lawn / Indicative that suns go down,” wrote Emily Dickinson. “The notice to the startled grass / That darkness is about to pass.” The 19th-century poet lived in Massachusetts and was a prolific writer, but fewer than a dozen of her poems were published while she was living.
Still, Dickinson’s work continues to resonate. Local actor Carol Kessler spent a decade depicting the poet in the Chautauqua performance, Emily Dickinson Unplugged. She’ll resurrect the performance for a Sunday, Dec. 14, benefit for local repertory company Pan Harmonia.
“I’ve loved her poetry since I was a teenager,” says Kessler. After watching a video clip of Julie Harris performing The Belle of Amherst, the one-woman play based on Dickinson’s life, “I read biographies of her and got so interested in the real Emily.”
Kessler adds, “I have come to a decision that she was not like she was portrayed, and that’s why the piece is called ‘unplugged.’ It’s really about getting down to the basics of what Dickinson was about.” She created a Chautauqua — a 45-minute monologue performed in costume — for the New Mexico Humanities Council when she lived in that state.
The piece, culled from Dickinson’s letters, took about a year to create. “She was such an honest poet, but her use of language is phenomenal,” says Kessler. “I just love having her words come out of my mouth.”
Since relocating to Asheville in 2009, the actor has performed Emily Dickinson Unplugged once, in a private show. This week’s visit with the poet doesn’t require an invitation, and it includes a flute and guitar opener and a wine reception to round out the evening. The latter seems especially appropriate as Dickinson penned the lines, “I bring an unaccustomed wine / To lips long parching, next to mine, / And summon them to drink.”
WHAT: Emily Dickinson Unplugged, a benefit for Pan Harmonia
WHERE: The Cathedral of All Souls in Biltmore Village
WHEN: Sunday, Dec. 14, 3 p.m. Wine reception follows in the Owen Library. $20 suggested donation. RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org