Tag Archives: Elizabeth Bishop

“It is dark speckled. An airstrip? A cemetery?”

Today is the day (I just read in Tom Nissley‘s A Reader’s Book of Days over my morning cereal) that Elizabeth Bishop met Marianne Moore and vice-versa, a fitting prompt for this month’s Objects poem—”12 O’Clock News” by Elizabeth Bishop. 

*If you have New Yorker access, you can read it in a nicer online format here. But it’s also in Geography III and of course her Complete Poems, and what the hell are you doing being alive and not having Bishop’s Complete Poems at hand anyhoo? 

This is a very writer’s writer’s piece, and I’d not argue it’s her bestest ever, but the elements of her voice that encompass wryness-of-the-self, and a bit of that which I affectionately call cheesiness, but really is a flavor of sentimentality*, and at last and best her humor, are throughout so it’s a refreshing read now and then. Continue reading

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My proto-dream-house, my crypto-dream-house

Because it was my birthday last week, I want to talk about “The End of March” by Elizabeth Bishop. I always respond to it, even more so than any of her other poems which I also love, with that sort of delight you get when someone gives you a gift that is totally “you” (i.e. unexpected but perfect).

“The End of March” begins “It was cold and windy, scarcely the day / to take a walk on that long beach” (don’t you just love to do that too, take walks on the beach when it’s too cold to do so, and so no one else is?).

The first stanza continues with description of the beach, Bishop’s typical noticing eye comment on the initial description to further precision: “Everything was withdrawn as far as possible, / indrawn: the tide far out, the ocean shrunken, / seabirds in ones or twos” etc. She speaks of the wind, well not just the wind it’s “The rackety, icy, offshore wind” blowing back “the low, inaudible rollers” and let’s pause a moment there to savor the rhythm/sound/mouth shape of saying that phrase aloud, “the low, inaudible rollers” Continue reading



One of the many reasons I admire A.E. Stallings’ “Sestina: Like” and Bruce Beasley’s “Year’s End Paradoxography” so much is that the modern technology/modern world is integrated in those two poems in the way farmland or city streets or the human body are in so many other poems — thoroughly, and as metaphor, and amongst other topics, and not called out per se, and in ways that feel (though only time will tell on this point) like the poems will survive with their strengths intact even after the technology they engage with has moved into obsolescence.

Based on my admittedly totally unscientific general sense of the poetry I myself read, a flip through the Best American 2012 anthology, and some poking about this week in the searchable online poem databases of the Poetry Foundation and The Academy of American Poets, I feel I can say (until proven otherwise — please feel free to bring my attention to other poems in the comments box below) that current-day technology doesn’t show up as much in contemporary poems as you’d think it would. Continue reading

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Elizabeth Bishop is the most important poetry god.

The most important in my personal pantheon, I mean.

And more generally, I don’t think you can love poetry and not love Elizabeth Bishop.

I’ve touched on most of my other major gods in this blog before (Mark Doty, Yusef Komunyakaa, and the most recent addition, Larry Levis), but haven’t said much yet about her. One must tread lightly when analyzing one’s gods, after all. But I’ve been writing Poetry Dork posts for exactly a year now, so it’s about time I paid Bishop some attention here.

Doty, Komunyakaa, Levis, and Bishop are poets who “are it” for me. They do what poetry is supposed to do, what I want it to do. They write poems that are and do what poems are and do when they are at their best. Continue reading

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James Dickey

I usually start talking about James Dickey‘s poems by saying, “The one where…” The ideas behind the poem, the context and ‘what happens’ — the vision, in other words — is what sticks with me so much more than individual lines.

The one where the stewardess is falling to earth (“Falling“); the one where he puts on the taxidermied head of a boar and becomes the boar as it’s being hunted, years ago, by his now-dead father (“Approaching Prayer”); the one where the hobo is nailed to a train car by his hands and feet (“To a Folk-Singer of the Thirties“); the one where the speaker is in the pantry thinking about dropping bombs on his suburban neighborhood from the plane he flew during the war (“The Firebombing“); the one about animals being predators in Heaven (“The Heaven of Animals“); the one about the half-sheep, fathered by a farm boy, who dies right after birth (“The Sheep Child“); the one where the soldier drinks water from a dead soldier’s helmet and sees his memories (“Drinking From a Helmet”); the one with the surreal colors in the grass and the horses, (“The Dusk of Horses“); the one about the shark trashing the house (“The Shark’s Parlor“).

Intensity and life are the two themes I’d call out if I was asked to call out two themes in his poems. Or maybe it should be intensity and life-and-death. Continue reading

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Farm Animals

It’s set to be a gorgeous, blue-sky 50′ February weekend in Portland. Let’s take a field trip to a farm to see the animals.

We’ll drive down the road and see on either side “those dear old ladies, / the loosening barns,” barns hiding deer and tractors.

When we get to the farm, we’ll visit the sow Blackula, lying in her pen “in the mud to consider herself.” (She is being closely watched from a fence post by the “excellent clamberer,” the cat Jeoffrey).

Off to the left, there’s a field of sheep. There are both black-faced sheep “not shrewd like the pig,” and gray sheep  Continue reading

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Weekend Getaway

Gas up the car, put on some poetic tunes, and head to the coast to get to know some fish or crustaceans.

Or head inland, if you like, to a creek. Or go higher, and climb around over the rocks.

Or just drive, and drive, and drive. (But not for so long that you’re tempted to marry your automobile…)

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Mirror, Mirror

Self-reflection. Common topic for writers, of course. We like worrying about the nature of, the meaning of, the various -nesses and -isms of ourselves. “Self, comma, the” is prevalent in the index of every poet’s autobiography.

The ability to see yourself reflected, physically, is what makes us human, as opposed to just human-shaped, according to our own lore. By which, of course, I mean vampires, and their inability to cast a reflection (though the self-recognition ‘mirror test‘ is a whole other fascinating topic).

And so, a mirror poem. “The Gentleman of Shallot” by Elizabeth Bishop, which has a charming tone in its logical exploration of an absurd idea. (But how absurd, really, is any metaphor for construction of the self?)

The Gentleman in question, having noted that neither of his eyes “is clearer/nor a different color/than the other” decides he must be half looking-glass:

He felt in modesty
his person was
half looking-glass,
for why should he
be doubled?
The glass must stretch
down his middle,
or rather down the edge.
But he’s in doubt
as to which side’s in or out
of the mirror.
There’s little margin for error,
but there’s no proof, either.
And if half his head’s reflected,
thought, he thinks, might be affected.

One of the delightful things in this poem is his curiosity. Although he realizes that “If the glass slips/he’s in a fix—/only one leg, etc.” this danger doesn’t bother him. In fact he loves the uncertainty. Continue reading

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