Bluffton Packet

Ode to Emily: Group shares love of poetry

Ellen Beinhorn leads the discussion during April's meeting of the Emily Dickinson International  Society at the Bluffton library. Beinhorn is the founder of the local branch of the group, which meets September through May to read and discuss poetry.
Ellen Beinhorn leads the discussion during April's meeting of the Emily Dickinson International Society at the Bluffton library. Beinhorn is the founder of the local branch of the group, which meets September through May to read and discuss poetry. JAY KARR/The Bluffton Packet

The conference room at the Bluffton library was buzzing with conversations. Friends were sharing stories, newcomers were getting acquainted.

In walked Ellen Beinhorn, and all attention turned to the distinguished, white-haired woman with the oversized Harry Potter-esque glasses.

"Oh my goodness, what a nice showing," Beinhorn said to the 13 women and two men. "Emily thanks you."

Emily is Emily Dickinson, arguably the most famous and innovative female poet of all time who continues to attract a wide audience more than a century after her death. Many of Dickinson's Lowcountry admirers are members or take part in the Beaufort branch of the Emily Dickinson International Society.

The group's informal meetings are once a month from September through May, usually at the Bluffton library. But they are not opposed to branching out. In December, the group celebrated Dickinson's Dec. 10 birthday at a Bluffton restaurant. In May, they'll gather for a high tea in Beaufort.

Meetings center on themes, such as Dickinson's love poems at February's meeting. Flowers set the mood at the latest get together, a tribute to Dickinson's appreciation for flowers and nature, which is a recurring theme in hundreds of her poems. Members arrived with lilies, irises and other flowers that were arranged in vases to spruce up the conference room.

One by one, members of the group recited and discussed their favorite Dickinson flower-themed poems, which included "The Daisy Follows Soft the Sun," "The Good Will of a Flower," "I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed," and "All Overgrown by Cunning Moss." Some people chose to read other poets' works or original poetry.

"We're quite a lively group," said Mary Filak, a Dickinson authority from Callawassie Island. "It gives us a place to discuss Emily Dickinson.

There aren't many people who talk about poetry at cocktail parties anymore. You have to find a group of like-minded people."

It was Beinhorn's idea to start a Dickinson chapter in Beaufort County. The Riverbend community resident is an expert on the poet, writing and illustrating a book in 2008 titled, "Emily & Me." She also has lectured and taught courses on Dickinson and other poets at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at University of South Carolina Beaufort.

The chapter was founded in January 2009 and has a mailing list of roughly 40 people and growing.

Dickinson was born in 1830 and lived in Amherst, Mass., until her death at age 55. Throughout her reclusive life, she wrote roughly 1,700 poems that were discovered by her sister after her death and led to Dickinson's posthumous fame. She also composed thousands of letters, which have been studied over the years.

"Emily's appeal comes from a tenderness of heart, a love of nature, an unrestrained imagination and an irrepressible intellect," Beinhorn said. "Today's world is attracted to her words because of their depth, charm and sincerity."

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