ROBERT LOWELL ONCE SURMISED that the publication of his friend Elizabeth Bishop’s letters would lead to her being recognized “as not only one of the best, but also one of the most prolific writers of our century.” That day does not seem far off. One Art, the first selection of Bishop’s letters, appeared in 1994 and was nearly seven hundred pages long; her correspondence with Lowell himself, Words in Air, stretched across nearly nine hundred pages. Now Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker, the chronicle of her forty-five year relationship with the weekly magazine, has arrived and it is over four hundred pages.
The once well-guarded secrets of Bishop’s personal life are now exhaustively bare. Her early feelings of abandonment, her struggles with alcoholism and depression, her romances with various women—most notably her partner of fifteen years, Lota Costellat de Macedo Soares—and her careful stewardship of her own career have all shaped the reception and reading of Bishop’s slim output of poems. Bishop admitted she enjoyed writing letters because doing so is “kind of like working without really doing it,” and her letters focus attention on her fluid, relaxed style. Here, for example, is Bishop describing some Brazilian post office travails to Katherine White, an editor at The New Yorker:
It is such a job to mail things here—the stamps have no glue, or not enough, and you have to stand in line at a glue machine, and get all covered with it—if you trust stamps to begin with; they say they are stolen in the PO often, and the mail just thrown away. (A newspaper editor friend of mine here found a cache of thousands of pieces of mail for the paper that that had happened to—imagine.) So if you don’t trust stamps you have to go to the central office where there is a stamping machine—and in any case you have to go to one of the few post offices, since the mail boxes are never collected—haven’t been for years. No one ever dreams of writing a letter within the country—they just vanish. Fortunately air-mail in and out is considerably better … If you do receive this, it is an [sic?] earnest of more. I never used that expression before & I don’t think I like it—I also rather doubt you’ll be able to use this short poem [“The Shampoo”], but there are more coming.
We will be reading and discussing the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop on September 28
Filed under Reviews, Study
I return to it
again: avid faces,
conscious of the threads
fate has spun; fingers
with scissors to cut
those threads and release
the garment towards which
the muscular lover
helplessly is being drawn.
From: R.S. THOMAS TOO BRAVE TO DREAM Encounters with Modern Arts Edited by Tony Brown & Jason Walford Davies.
When R.S. Thomas died in 2000, two seminal studies of modern art were found on his bookshelves – Herbert Read’s Art Now (1933/1948) and Surrealism (1936), edited by Read and containing essays by key figures in the Surrealist movement. Some three dozen previously unknown poems handwritten by Thomas were discovered between the pages of the two books, poems written in response to a selection of the many reproductions of modern art in the Read volumes, including works by Henry Moore, Edvard Munch, George Grosz, Salvador Dalí, René Magritte and Graham Sutherland – many of whom were Thomas’s near contemporaries. These poems are published here for the first time – alongside the works of modern art that inspired them. Thomas’s readings of these often unsettling images demonstrate a willingness to confront, unencumbered by illusions, a world in which old certainties have been undermined. Personal identity has become a source of anguish, and relations between the sexes a source of disquiet and suspicion. Thomas’s vivid engagements with the works of art produce a series of dramatic encounters haunted by the recurring presence of conflict and by the struggle of the artist who, in a frequently menacing world, is ‘too brave to dream’. At times we are offered an unflinching vision of ‘a landscape God / looked at once and from which / later he withdrew his gaze’.
Filed under History, Poem, Study
All day we watched the gulls
striking the top of the sky
and riding the blown roller coaster.
godding the whole blue world
and shrieking at a snip of land.
Now, like children,
we climb down humps of rock
with a bag of dinner rolls,
and spread them gently on stone,
leaving six crusts for an early king.
A single watcher comes hawking in,
rides the current round its hunger
carved in silk
until it throbs up suddenly,
out, and one inch over water;
to come again
smoothing over the slap tide.
To come bringing its flock, like a city
of wings that fall from the air.
They wait, each like a wooden decoy
or soft like a pigeon or
a sweet snug duck:
until one moves, moves that dart-beak
breaking over. It has the bread.
The world is full of them,
a world of beasts
thrusting for one rock.
Just four scoop out the bread
and go swinging over Gloucester
to the top of the sky.
Oh see how
they cushion their fishy bellies
with a brother’s crumb.
A final reminder that we’ll be reading and discussing the poetry of Anne Sexton this Thursday, July 27. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for a list of poems to be featured.
Filed under Poem, Reminder