Saturday, March 19, 2011

More on Bishop




I really should have written more about Lloyd Schwartz’s talk on Elizabeth Bishop because it was so nuanced and detailed.

Accuracy, spontaneity, and mystery—three words that describe Bishop’s work. Those three words she used herself in an unpublished essay referenced by Lloyd in his talk.

What struck me in his talk is how popular she has become after her death. Her last book, Geography III, became a commercial success, but it wasn’t until after her death that she became a sort of a cult figure. Most of us regard her as a poet’s poet. I know she’s had an influence on my poetry—the sense of wonderment and, yes, accuracy of imagery.

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I’ve often wondered what would happen to one of her poems if she was in a workshop setting. Would we suggest that she cut stanzas in her long poems? I can imagine a conversation like this, “Yeah, ‘The Moose’ is a great poem, Elizabeth, but I think the heart of the poem starts when the moose first appears. Can you cut the bus ride stanzas?”

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Susan Rich asked me to speak more about Bishop’s cousin, who attended the talk. I did not directly speak with Elizabeth Bishop’s younger relative, but she chatted afterwards with Lloyd and others for quite a while. I overheard (did not want to interject myself into the conversation), that her mother (?) was a first cousin, 20 years younger than Elizabeth. But the younger cousin (don’t want to reveal her name) works locally as a graphic designer. Sorry, I don’t have much.

I could see the family resemblance in her face.

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Lloyd will also give a talk on Bishop at the Mass Poetry Festival in May.

Hear Lloyd talk about Bishop and her poem “Pink Dog” on WBUR’s show Here and Now, on the anniversary of her 100th birthday.

4 comments:

Hannah Stephenson said...

I do love her so, as well.

I love what you suggest about how her poems might be changed in a workshop setting. I'm not always sure how helpful that can be (esp. if the writer is unsure of his/her voice).

dylan said...

I love Bishop's "One Art"; but some of her most haunting lines come from "At the Fishhouses":

Bluish, associating with their shadows,
a million Christmas trees stand
waiting for Christmas.


I got a slight chill the first time I read those lines!

January said...

Dylan, thanks for sharing. It's been a while since I read "At the Fishhouses," must go and look it up now. Thanks!

And "One Art" is just an incredible poem.

January said...

Hannah, yeah, workshops are tricky. I'd like to think Bishop's voice and talent would come through in any situation.

What journals would she publish in today (APR, Tin House, VQR)? Would she use online submission systems? Would her poems be rejected by overworked/unpaid student staffers at college publications? Hmmmm ...

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