Friday, April 07, 2006

Elizabeth Bishop: Poet

All these poetry posts are doubtless losing me my readership, but I'm long, long used to unpopularity.

I don't recall having heard of Elizabeth Bishop, but I can't believe that I really have not since I've just discovered how good she is by reading her excellent poem Visits to St. Elizabeths on a website maintained by The Academy of American Poets (from where I've borrowed the image to your right).

I reached that place through following up a link posted by Olen Steinhauer, of Contemporary Nomad: Evading the Codes of Settled Peoples, an excellent literary blog run by four serious, published writers.

But I had recently seen a couple of posts on Bishop at Brendan Wolfe's Beiderbecke Affair, so my curiosity was already roused, partly due to the controversy that Brendan discusses concerning the recent publication of Alice Quinn's oddly titled collection of Bishop's unpublished 'poems': Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke-Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments.

The controversy stems from Helen Vendler's harsh review of the book at The New Republic: "Betraying Elizabeth Bishop: The Art of Losing" (April 3, 2006). According to Vendler:
This book should not have been issued with its present subtitle of "Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments." It should have been called "Repudiated Poems." For Elizabeth Bishop had years to publish the poems included here, had she wanted to publish them. They remained unpublished (not "uncollected") because, for the most part, they did not meet her fastidious standards.
Vendler doesn't object just to the subtitle; she thinks the poems should not have been published at all since she believes that Bishop would have rejected the proposal "with a horrified 'No.'"

Speaking as a historian with an interest in things literary, I'm glad that Bishop wasn't asked, but even if she had spoken against publication, why should that stop us? We have no such quiet respect for the privacy of any others now dead and gone. Nor should we expect any when we are no longer alive and wriggling on the wall but are penned in formulated phrases that spit out all the butt ends of our days and ways.

T. S. Eliot's antisemitism. Ezra Pound's fascism. These get turned over and over under the magnifying glass of scholarship.

Or through the looking glass of poetry.

Read, for instance, Bishop's Visits to St. Elizabeths, published in 1950, about Ezra Pound, fascist and poet, poet and fascist.

This is the man.


At 10:45 PM, Blogger Olen Steinhauer said...

On the Pound subject, if you haven't read it, check out Humphrey Carpenter's A SERIOUS CHARACTER, the bio of Pound. Makes for some fascinating reading.

At 1:18 AM, Blogger Saur♥Kraut said...

Actually, I find this interesting. Someone very close to me has been named one of the worlds top 200 poets for 2003 and 2005.

At 6:09 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Olen, I'm not familiar with the book, but I'll try to look into it.

Saur, that's intriguing ... but who decides that ranking, by the way? I ask out of ignorance.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Janet Malcolm's book, "The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes," is most informative and properly ambivalent on this subject. The fact of the matter is that there's no way to protect the dead from being used & abused by the living. I think that if Bishop wanted nothing else to ever appear in print, she should have a) been a less interesting poet or b) destroyed her papers.

At 6:45 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Good points, Brendan, and good to see you here again.

Jeffery Hodges

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