Left Behinds

The anti-andrewsullivan.com. Or, the Robin Hood (Maid Marian?) of bright pink Blogger blogs.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Elizabeth Bishop is one of my favorite poets, despite the fact that saying so is such a cliche (and despite having watched Cameron Diaz's, ahem, indelible reading of Bishop's signature poem, One Art, in some horrible movie last year). Geography III, for instance, is a flawless collection. I studied Bishop enough in college to know that she was a fierce perfectionist, so I was ambivalent about the publication this month of "uncollected poems, drafts, and fragments." These works are of huge interest to scholars (and have long been available to them), but I don't think Bishop would have approved of these lesser poems ever being included in her canon, much less published in the New Yorker as recently discovered work.

Helen Vendler confirms my worst fears, and then some.

I'm not a literary critic, so I'll spare you my musings (for the most part). I'll just say that what makes Bishop great is that she was a poet of precision and restraint, an anti-confessionalist. She scoffed, for example, at Lowell's flowery, hyperbolic confessions (and had almost nothing to say about the feminist poets, other than impassioned demands not to be included among them). In her poems, you get the sense that she felt deeply, but strove to control those feelings. That's what makes One Art, for example, so great -- her confessions are all the more powerful for their restraint.

Yet too often here, as Vendler writes, "Bishop succumbs to a bleak inventory of autobiographical fact, unable to transmute it into a poem." Which is, of course, exactly why she discarded these fragments and first drafts (many of which she actually crossed out completely in her journals). Here there is no control, only raw feeling. That is, perhaps, the real Elizabeth Bishop, but not the real poet Elizabeth Bishop. It is cruel to expose her like that.


Tags: culture, elizabeth bishop

7 Comments:

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  • At 7:52 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Thanks! I'm glad that my meagre attempt at lit crit got a vote of confidence from such an aesthete!

     
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  • At 7:59 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

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  • At 9:29 PM, Blogger Phoebe Evergreen said…

    What a terrifying last stanza.

    I stand by In Her Shoes, even still. Cried, even.

    Actually, I think Ebert even gets it just about right. I wouldn't go so far to say that the movie is about the transformative power of the written word; the movie has so much going on in the lives of its characters that each of the "transformation" hooks are embedded deep inside all the living that has preceded them. It's rich that way.

    This site lists poetry in movies. Blake does well. "Jerusalem" and Eliot's "Prufrock" are the only poems listed with four movies each.

    And yes, this is just about the deepest conversation I can have about poetry.

     
  • At 12:31 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    We're going to have to agree to disagree about In Her Shoes. I know another smart person who really liked it, so I'll chalk it up to personal taste or something.

    Did you see Mark B's movie about 'Jerusalem'? Various people reciting it in Arabic, interspersed with odd little interviews and stuff. It was about the cultural legacy of crusade and romanticism or something.

     
  • At 10:29 AM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Also, it has been suggested that I was just paraphrasing the Vendler, but I wrote this after only having read the first paragraph of the Vendler (only reading the full thing afterwards).

    For the record.

     

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