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Solitary Woman in a Glass House:
Visual Translations of Emily Dickinson Poems

Solitary Woman in a Glass House: Visual Translations of Emily Dickinson Poems
Solitary Woman in a Glass House: Visual Translations of Emily Dickinson Poems
Solitary Woman in a Glass House: Visual Translations of Emily Dickinson Poems

Architecture at its best is an inspiring configuration for the transcendence of the tourist soul. Such is the way of poetry, too. Both fabrications, when successful, are encounters with the inner sanctuary of the sublime, buttressed by the senses. And Solitary Woman in a Glass House: Visual Translations of Emily Dickinson Poems is a lucid example of the construction of the supernatural from the natural.

Don Cook chanced upon the idea of visually translating the structure of Dickinson's poetry while helping someone with a homework assignment several years back. According to Cook's articulated explanation of his method: "Using [Dickinson's] syllabic grid as a floor plan, I assigned upright, load bearing values to the rhyme, alliteration and refrain patterns--and was startled to discover that, from an architectural standpoint, many of her poems were able to support a roof . . . the sketches that grew out of this investigation suggested a High Modernist glass box."

Cook's axonometric drawings, models, and paintings contain a Japanese sensibility and the rational California Modernist style that he credits, particularly, among its practitioners, Richard Neutra. Asymmetry, intermediacy, simplicity, and the relationship of internal and external experience feature in each of these sources.

Cook's muse is historically described as living an eccentric and hermetic existence, isolated from literary circles as well as a larger society, her style elliptical, tending to reduce ideas to a few crucial words. This reductionism more than anything aligns Dickinson as a vanguard Modernist. Her Gothic and Romantic themes dealt largely with mortality, light, and darkness, the fragility of life, and desire. But it is her use of observable examples of nature, and the predisposition that every concealing surface is a thin membrane over some natural wonder, that most perfectly qualify her for unfurnished residency in a glass house.

The houses Cook contrives beautifully resonate with the poems he selects. He uses an elliptical arc in several models, partly for referencing Dickinson and partly because the arc serves the symbolic purpose of the sublime so effectively: the shape proposes only one perceivable part of a larger encompassing plan. It's also permissive rather than static, allowing for psychic and physical flow.

Cook's "(Were I With Thee) No. 249" is the greatest romance of them all. It features the rather unexpected addition of an automobile parked in its carport. Beyond the port is a space of simple quietude constructed for two individuals to sit face to face, each with their own distinct, perpendicular wall configuration behind his or her seat. This little model might be thought of as the house where Dickinson's soul mate has come home at last to be with her--to-night--and forever.

Reprinted from The Baltimore City Paper