Brett C. Millier’s biography of of Elizabeth Bishop is very readable and clearly structured in chronological sections. I’ve made it up to 1947 so far, about 200 pages into the 600 of this tome. Millier tries to follow Bishop’s emotional as well as poetic development by drawing from letters, stories, note book entries, and published as well as unpublished poems. She is sympathetic in her account, and while Millier does explain that there are many things that simply cannot be known, she shares her own theories about what might have been the case.
My friend Lora knows what a geek I am. She knows I’m into sci-fi, and so she lent me Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars. First of all, as you can see, it’s got a gorgeous cover — an image of the Clone Nebula. However, the book is just as gorgeous inside. Not visually, — well, it’s a book, with white pages and black print, handsome as far as font and paper goes, but that’s not the point. The point is that the poems are very enjoyable indeed.
Thumb through this book and you’ll run into David Bowie, scenes from 2001 — A Space Odyssey, and some retro-futuristic settings. Smith combines these various elements (and more, of course) with news items to touch on serious issues — the abuse at Abu Ghraib, numerous shooting sprees that happened in 2009, abduction and incest. The result is both beautiful and haunting.
I know I usually go more in-depth and give you a little taste of what’s in the book, but this is the end of the semester and my batteries are flat. I did, however, want to write at least a brief post about this as a recommended read and, of course, as a note to myself to get my own copy asap, since Lora doubtlessly would like hers back. So, in lieu of a longer discussion, here is a clip of Smith reading from Life on Mars:
and, of course, how could I resist Mr. Bowie — so here’s a link to the song Smith got her title from:
…I felt I should give Moore another chance. I’m glad I did. What made it easier was someone pointing out “The Fish” specifically — what a beautiful piece.
I have figured out, I think, what frustrated me so when I first tried to read her poems. Let me give you a hint: think syntax (thing 1) and code (thing 2). Let me explain. Sometimes, — frequently, actually, — Moore’s sentences are almost a page long, or longer. And while my brain, having been wired for the complex sentences of German, should be able to handle this just fine, it often doesn’t. In part, that’s due to (thing2), code. What I mean by code is Moore’s plentiful allusions and quotes.
disclaimer: This is post 1 of 2 on the same book & poet.
I have to admit this was a frustrating experience. A surprise, if you will. I knew Bishop was very fond of Moore, and somehow expected a sort of poetic kinship, but couldn’t find it. Where Bishop’s poems, to me , were largely very accessible, with footholds and corners and such, Moore’s poems — starting at the beginning — are more like teflon. My mind just slips off, I can’t get a grip. There is craft, certainly, and form, and there are allusions and interesting details, but I had a difficult time getting into this book. That said, I’ve been struggling with a lot of headaches, so this has probably affected my reading experience. Continue reading
Contribution to our USM-wide Poem-In-Your-Pocket Day activity. The Center for Writers / USM’s poets are going to be distributing poems to as many departments as possible. We’ve been trying to find poems that somehow relate to the departments we chose. I picked Marine Science (yep, not too difficult to find one there) and … Polymer Science. That one was a little harder. I settled on a chemistry-themed poem about the sublimation point.
After last night’s reading by Farrah Field and Jared White (and their patient baby boy), and today’s workshop (“playshop”) and reading by the charming Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie it really does feel like poetry month. I am still in the running in our small poetry marathon, — everyone writes a poem a day for the whole month of April. We’ve passed the half-way point already, and many interesting poems have been shared back and forth. I love poetry month!
These past ten days or so I’ve been meaning to read (and then write about) Bishop’s prose. After reading much of the first section (Stories and Memoirs) of the prose volume of the collected works, I have some thoughts to share about Bishop’s non-poetry.
I particularly enjoyed her autobiographical short stories — her attention to detail and her selectiveness when it comes to which details would work most naturally are just as evident here as in any of her poems. Here’s how her young narrator describes Mr. Johnson in “In the Village”:
He is very old, and nice. He has two fingers missing on his right hand where they were caught in a threshing machine. He wears a navy-blue cap with a black leather visor, like a ship’s officer, and a shirt with feathery brown stripes, and a big gold collar button. (77)
…since Poetry Month is rapidly approaching, I thought some (admittedly tame) guerilla poetry action would be appropriate. I picked out some enjoyable poems (including short pieces by Plath, Dickinson, Sassoon, Hughes, and others) and printed and folded them. Then, last night, I hid them in about forty plastic eggs throughout the Liberal Arts Building. I had not thought about how to hide these colourful things until it was time to actually do it and I must admit, it was hard to find places for them that were not utterly obvious.
Some of the eggs have since been found (and hatched), and one honest soul even tried to return one as lost property. Here’s one found in the English department:
Translations are peculiar creatures. Especially when it comes to poetry. Think about it — much of the work poetry does relies on associations, some more loosely connected to a word than others, and on the type of melody and pattern we have learned to expect from our own language. Words can seem so inconspicuous, but they do a lot. They are like pack mules, with a mountain of ideas and associations tied to their backs. Some have rat tails. Others stick to you like a balloon to a well-sunned cat. (If you’re no fan of linguistic games, skip the next 2 paragraphs.)
Some of my favorite comic strips have occasionally touched on books, writing, and poetry, much to my delight. Here are some of the ones I’ve collected over time. Enjoy! And if you do, consider supporting Darby Conley (Get Fuzzy) and Stephan Pastis (Pearls before Swine) by investing in a book.
So I’ve reached the end of the poems — and it feels like looking over someone’s desk while they just popped out for a sec. The FSG Poems includes images of the handwritten and typed drafts Bishop left behind, complete with comments, scratched-out words, etc. Apparently, Bishop was prepared for the eventuality that her drafts would survive her — she left directions in her will that they could be published, as deemed appropriate. This is a rare privilege, simply because with the other poems, what we get to see is the final version, but here, we see a process. And writing is always a process; poems don’t just magically appear out of nowhere.