A series of large-scale embroideries, The Dickinson Composites depict the poet Emily Dickinson’s variant marks in her manuscripts.
Between approximately 1858 and 1864, Dickinson grouped her handwritten poems composed on stationery folios into forty packets—later called fascicles—stab-bound with red and white twist thread. In the fascicles, Dickinson’s first experiments with the variants—the + signs that direct readers to other possible words or phrases in her poetry manuscripts—surface and grow into a complex system she uses throughout her life. These works are based on layered composites Bervin made of Dickinson’s marks on the recto and verso in six fascicles, respectively: 16, 19, 28, 34, 38, and 40.
Despite their obvious presence in the manuscripts, the variant marks and words, so integral to Dickinson’s poetics, are omitted in reading editions, which also override her line breaks. Bervin’s works are aligned with mending, restitution, and the deeper gesture that Dickinson’s poems and variant marks make.