Category Archives: History

Elizabeth Bishop’s “Sonnet”

Introduction by Lloyd Schwartz

Elizabeth Bishop's SonnetElizabeth Bishop’s “Sonnet” is often taken to be her last poem. It was published in The New Yorker on October 29, 1979, three weeks after she died. And it feels like a posthumous poem, with its images of release from illness, from emotional conflict, from being “a creature divided.” In fact Bishop had written it more than a year earlier, then with surprising speed finished another poem, “Pink Dog” — a bitterly ironic, grotesquely comic “samba” set in Rio at Carnival time, in which she advises a “poor bitch,” a hairless scavenger with scabies (her chilling mirror image, another creature out of place among the Cariocan revelers), to “Dress up! Dress up and dance at Carnival!” The New Yorker rushed this mardi-gras poem into the February 26 issue, while “Sonnet,” acquired months before, would have to wait another eight months to see the light of day.
.
Yet in some ways “Sonnet” really is the later poem. Bishop began drafting “Pink Dog” in Brazil as early as 1963, under the title “Goodbye to Rio” — one of the first signs that she had started to think about leaving Brazil, where after more than a decade the sweetest life she’d known was beginning to sour. “Sonnet” is the very last poem that she both started and also completed. It’s the closest thing we have to her final poetic testament.

Sonnet

Caught — the bubble

in the spirit level,

a creature divided;

and the compass needle

wobbling and wavering,

undecided.

Freed — the broken

thermometer’s mercury

running away;

and the rainbow-bird

from the narrow bevel

of the empty mirror,

flying wherever

it feels like, gay!

Read the complete article
.
We will be reading and discussing Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry on September 28. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the list of featured poems thus far.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Poem, Study

Elizabeth Bishop, Fighting The New Yorker Over Extra Commas and Steaming Cowflops

By DWIGHT GARNER

Elizabeth Bishop, Fighting The New Yorker“What I think about The New Yorker,” the poet Elizabeth Bishop wrote in 1940 to her mentor, Marianne Moore, “can only be expressed like this: *!@!!!@!*!!”
.
Bishop was 29 at the time, not so long out of Vassar, and had just published her first poem in the magazine. Moore was nearly 60 and had just had a poem rejected by its editors. Bishop’s fit of typographical pique was her way of expressing sympathy.
.
Over the next four decades, until her death in 1979, Bishop would publish nearly all of her best poems — fastidious, plainspoken, uniquely potent — in The New Yorker. She helped define what a New Yorker poem, in the best sense of that phrase, was. She was their gold standard. In turn the magazine helped define her.
.
Read the complete article
.
We will be reading and discussing Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry on September 28. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the list of featured poems thus far.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Reminder, Study

A Possible Keats

Fleur Jaeggy
A Possible KeatsJohn Keats (1795-1821) was seven years old and in school at Enfield. He was seized by the spirit of the time, by a peculiar compulsion, an impetuous fury—before writing poetry. Any pretext seemed to him a good one for picking a fight with a friend, any pretext to fight.
.
Fighting was to John Keats like eating or drinking. He sought out aggressive boys, cruel boys, but their company, as he was already inclined to poetry, must have provided some comic and burlesque treats. For mere brutality—without humor, make-believe, or whimsy—didn’t interest him. Which might lead a person to extrapolate that boys aren’t truly brutal. Yes, they are, but they have rules and an aesthetic. Keats was a child of action. He’d punched a yard monitor more than twice his size, and he was considered a strong boy, lively and argumentative. When he was brawling, his friend Clarke reports, Keats resembled Edmund Kean at theatrical heights of exasperation. His friends predicted a brilliant future for him in the military. Yet when his temper defused, he’d grow extremely calm, and his sweetness shone—with the same intensity as his rage had. The scent of angels. His earliest brushes with melancholy were suddenly disrupted by outbursts of nervous laughter. Moods, vague and tentative, didn’t settle over him so much as hurry past like old breezes.
.
From These Possible Lives by Fleur Jaeggy, translated by Minna Zallman Proctor.

Read the complete excerpt.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Reviews

The Invisible Poems Hidden in One of the World’s Oldest Libraries

A new technique is revealing traces of lost languages that have been erased from ancient parchments.
RICHARD GRAY
The Invisible Poems HiddenFor centuries they have gathered dust on the shelves of a library marooned in a rocky patch of Egyptian desert, their secrets lost in time. But now a collection of enigmatic manuscripts, carefully stored behind the walls of a 1,500-year-old monastery on the Sinai Peninsula, are giving up their treasures.

.
The library at Saint Catherine’s Monastery is the oldest continually operating library in the world. Among its thousands of ancient parchments are at least 160 palimpsests—manuscripts that bear faint scratches and flecks of ink beneath more recent writing. These illegible marks are the only clues to words that were scraped away by the monastery’s monks between the 8th and 12th centuries to reuse the parchments. Some were written in long-lost languages that have almost entirely vanished from the historical record.
.
But now these erased passages are reemerging from the past. In an unlikely collaboration between an Orthodox wing of the Christian faith and cutting-edge science, a small group of international researchers are using specialized imaging techniques that photograph the parchments with different colors of light from multiple angles. This technology allows the researchers to read the original texts for the first time since they were wiped away, revealing lost ancient poems and early religious texts and doubling the known vocabulary of languages that have not been used for more than 1,000 years.
Read the complete article

Leave a comment

Filed under History, News, Study

Good-Bye

Elizabeth Bishop [unpublished]
.
Good-Bye-imageGood-Bye-text
Dated by Vassar “[1931–34]” (Vassar 64.3); published in
Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke-Box. Due to the state of the manuscript, some words are barely legible (and are enclosed in slashes in the transcription). In line 4, Alice Quinn offers “curly”; in line 11, “you’re” has been read as “your”; no satisfactory interpretation of the word in line 13 has been found; in line 19, Quinn also offers “slick”; in line 20, Quinn offers “negotiate.”
.
We will be reading and discussing the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop on September 28. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the list of featured poems thus far.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Poem, Study

ELIZABETH BISHOP’S MISUNDERSTOOD “BRAZIL”

By Benjamin Moser

ELIZABETH BISHOP_S MISUNDERSTOOD “BRAZIL”Half a century has passed since the Life World Library was launched, in 1961. Today, its volumes languish in Internet bookstores, begging for takers at less than a dollar. They are cheapened by their age, their association with the mass-market Time Life brand (“Mysteries of the Unknown,” “Home Repair and Improvement”) and its suburban, middle-brow readership, though that might be too strong a term: one wonders how many people actually read these picture books. But the Life World Library was once wildly popular, and not without ambition and quality, as the author of the volume on Brazil proves.
.
This was no less than Elizabeth Bishop, who, by the time she came to write it, had been living in Brazil for a decade. Her eccentric aristocratic spouse, Lota de Macedo Soares, gave her entrée to the highest political and artistic circles: in the twentieth century, no foreign visitor of similar rank was as well-placed, or stayed as long (fifteen years). Because Brazil was everywhere in her work, and because the Life World Library contains her longest statement on the subject, the book has been granted a degree of scholarly attention seldom lavished on its fellows.
.
Making it even more intriguing are the clouds of censorship that swirl above it. These are emphasized by Lloyd Schwartz, the editor of “Prose,” a collection of Bishop’s writing, which appeared last year. Bishop “famously disliked how the editors changed what she wrote,” Schwartz says. Moreover, her original final chapter was “completely different” from the published chapter, which “deals with what the United States and Brazil have in common, and in it she praises Brazil’s more effective way of dealing with issues of race.” Schwartz therefore chose to publish a version “taken mainly from her own typescript at Vassar.”
.
Read the complete article

We will be reading and discussing the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop on September 28. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the list of featured poems thus far.

Leave a comment

Filed under Biography, History, Reminder, Study

The Dressmakers

R. S. Thomas

The DressmakersI 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’.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Poem, Study

The Hoax Poetry Movement That Accidentally Became Legitimate

How Spectra went mainstream

BY MICHAEL WATERSThe Hoax Poetry Movement That Accidentally Became LegitimateWITTER BYNNER HATED MODERNIST POETRY. A rising literary star who was briefly engaged to Edna St. Vincent Millay, Bynner felt that the new crop of free-verse poetry movements was becoming absurd. Not only were these poets failing to create real art, but they also took themselves far too seriously.
.
So he decided to satirize it all.
.
In February 1916, at a ballet entitled Le Spectre de la Rose, Bynner was criticizing the proliferation of experimental poems to some friends when he made a joke. He asked whether they had heard of the poetry movement known as Spectrism—a name he spontaneously invented based on the title of the ballet.
.
Later, he told his Harvard friend Arthur Davison Ficke about the trickery, and together the duo decided to make “Spectrism” a reality. Their main goal was to parody the Modernist poetry they so distrusted.

Read the complete article

 

Leave a comment

Filed under History

WH Auden’s ‘The Age of Anxiety’

It was both hailed as ‘his best work to date’ and damned as ‘his one failure’. Leonard Bernstein’s symphony, inspired by the poem, is the better work of art, argues Glyn Maxwell

WH Auden's 'The Age of Anxiety'In 1944, in New York City, against a background of a changed and frightening world, the finest – and most controversial – English poet of the day began work on a new long poem. On its publication three years later it would garner some of the worst reviews he ever got and leave many of his devotees cold: while TS Eliot hailed it as “his best work to date”, the Times Literary Supplement deemed it “his one dull book, his one failure”. It would inspire a symphony and a ballet and win the Pulitzer prize. It was the last long poem he would write.
.
“The Age of Anxiety” is the strangest flower of a marvellously fertile period. The decade following WH Auden’s emigration to New York in 1939 produced not only the long poems “For the Time Being”, “New Year Letter” and “The Sea and the Mirror” – his sublime meditation on The Tempest – but some of the finest works of this or any 20th-century poet: “In Memory of WB Yeats”, “At the Grave of Henry James”, “If I Could Tell You”, “The Fall of Rome”, “The Quest”. And the great – and latterly disavowed – lament for a falling world “September 1st, 1939”.
.
There are still, remarkably, some who believe Auden’s gift deserted him when he left England on the eve of the second world war, as if this perceived treachery to the motherland crippled him creatively, but another reason for this position is suggested by the words of Anthony Powell on Auden’s death in 1973, as reported by Kingsley Amis, with whom Powell was breakfasting: “I’m delighted that shit has gone . . . It should have happened years ago . . . scuttling off to America in 1939 with his boyfriend like a . . . like a . . .” But there’ll always be an England.

Read the complete article

Listen to Leonard Bernstein’s “The Age of Anxiety” (Symphony No. 2, after W. H. Auden) Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York conducted by Leonard Bernstein

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Study

Philip Larkin exhibition in Hull offers fresh insights into poet’s life

Hundreds of personal items gathered for city of culture show that does not shy away from darker sides of his personality

Philip Larkin exhibitionPhilip Larkin is many things to many people; to some a bleakly beautiful poet with a razor-sharp wit, to others a womanising misogynist whose casual racism is unforgivable.
.
It is into this morally complex minefield that a new exhibition, held in Hull’s Brynmor Jones library where he was famously the librarian, has waded, offering a new perspective on Larkin, one of the city’s most treasured cultural figures.
.
The exhibition, opened as part of Hull city of culture 2017, has gathered together hundreds of personal items from Larkin’s life, from his book collection to his clothes, ornaments from his office and home, unseen photographs, notes and doodles and objects belonging to his many lovers, to piece together a new and fascinating picture of the poet’s life.

Read the complete article

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Study