I can't do it.
Where other people see a mysterious recluse, abiding by the rules of her own genius, I see a drama queen, hiding behind doors because she has realized that the best way to get lots of attention is to be hysterical most of the time. Her publisher, Thomas Higginson, met her in person twice, and afterward said he thanked God he didn't have to do it more often.
Emily took a toll on people. Her letters, such of them that survive, are punctuated with the same dashes as her verse, and they give her a breathless, schoolgirl quality. She doesn't speak directly, but in a series of ellipses, designed to convey that she feels something very powerfully, but declines to specify what. No wonder she became the darling of postmodernism; she could be saying anything.
And then there's the matter of slant rhyme. When the late Julia A. Moore used it, people rightly decided that she had a tin ear. When Emily Dickinson does it, it's genius. The only difference I can see is that Emily chooses better subject matter.
Here's the crux of my belief about Emily Dickinson. I think that her poems were "discovered" at exactly the right time. Her idiosyncratic style fit perfectly with the 20th Century's rejection of traditional poetic forms. Furthermore, since she was dead and was not, even when alive, all that communicative about her poetry, people could read into it, and her, whatever they wanted. Her singular lack of metric variation, her slant rhyme, her missing punctuation, could all be marks of genius, or they could be personal tics. We'll never know.
Yes, her poems are short. Yes, they're unconventional (for a given value of unconventional). Yes, her images are usually clear. Yes, she occasionally creates a striking phrase. I dont' care. I've tried to care, and I can't. You can sing most of her poems to the tune of the theme song for Gilligan's Island. She is as preoccupied with death as E.A. Poe, and as narrow as Anne Bradstreet, possibly even narrower. She wades in pools of grief and enjoys the expression of agony on other people's faces. She feels funerals in her brain, hears flies buzzing when she dies, and goes for buggy rides with Death. Frost beheads playful flowers, houses bustle when someone dies, and brains run smoothly in their grooves. She could be Ezra Pound's mother.
Naturally, I do not wish, by so exposing my own bias, to discourage anyone from going into transports of delight at Dickinson's poetry and strewing boquets about. The appreciation of poetry is largely a matter of taste, and as E.D. herself said, "I taste a liquor never brewed." I don't think we mean the same thing.
In the interest of fair play, here is a blogger who has brought Emily into a different, and better light, and if you want to read a positive review, check this out. You'll like it. Be advised, there's some dropping of the f-bomb in this blog, along with some other "strong" language.