Emily Dickinson’s Trashcan is the brainbaby of Ben W. Dalton, a humorist and leading scholar of high school transcripts. Over many months of study and investigation, Dr. Dalton, Ph.D., uncovered a previously unknown collection of Emily Dickinson’s papers tied up in the 19th-century version of a plastic trash bag (a well-massaged pig gut). These delicate pieces of crumpled, rather smelly paper unveiled the inner workings of Dickinson’s writing process, in which she drafted strange and sometimes frankly disturbing versions of poems that she would later resolve into world-renowned pieces of literature, which she then hid a closet.
Disclaimer for the extremely literal-minded: I did not actually discover any discarded drafts of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. This is all made-up.
Post-script for the moderately interested: All of my “drafts” are based on The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson, a popular but actually woefully incomplete edition of her poems compiled and published in 1924 by Martha Dickinson Bianchi, Emily’s niece.
Post-post-script for the genuinely nerdy: The poems in the 1924 edition were heavily edited from their original versions, with much of Dickinson’s unusual punctuation (including frequent dashes), erratic spelling, and odd but purposeful capitalization being stripped away. At the bottom of each “draft,” I typically link to an online copy of the cleaned-up poem, but I sometimes also link to the authentic version, especially if pointing to some helpful analysis or interpretation. All 1,700 of her original poems—as Dickinson wrote them, including many variants—are collected in R. W. Franklin’s astounding three-volume variorum.