Elizabeth Bishop in the Twenty-First Century

Elizabeth Bishop in the Twenty-First Century: Reading the New Editions

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 320
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    Elizabeth Bishop in the Twenty-First Century
    Book Description:

    In recent years, a series of major collections of posthumous writings by Elizabeth Bishop--one of the most widely read and discussed poets of the twentieth century--have been published, profoundly affecting how we look at her life and work. The hundreds of letters, poems, and other writings in these volumes have expanded Bishop's published work by well over a thousand pages and placed before the public a "new" Bishop whose complexity was previously familiar to only a small circle of scholars and devoted readers. This collection of essays by many of the leading figures in Bishop studies provides a deep and multifaceted account of the impact of these new editions and how they both enlarge and complicate our understanding of Bishop as a cultural icon.

    Contributors:Charles Berger, Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville * Jacqueline Vaught Brogan, University of Notre Dame * Angus Cleghorn, Seneca College * Jonathan Ellis, University of Sheffield * Richard Flynn, Georgia Southern University * Lorrie Goldensohn * Jeffrey Gray, Seton Hall University * Bethany Hicok, Westminster College * George Lensing, University of North Carolina * Carmen L. Oliveira * Barbara Page, Vassar College * Christina Pugh, University of Illinois at Chicago * Francesco Rognoni, Catholic University in Milan * Peggy Samuels, Drew University * Lloyd Schwartz, University of Massachusetts, Boston * Thomas Travisano, Hartwick College * Heather Treseler, Worcester State University * Gillian White, University of Michigan

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3296-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Elizabeth Bishop has emerged as one of the most important and widely discussed American poets of the twentieth century. However, Bishop published comparatively little in her lifetime, and our image of her as a writer and as a person has undergone a sea change over the past several years due to the publication of three major new editions of her work. The first of these editions, appearing in 2006, wasEdgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments,edited by Alice Quinn, a book that generated no little excitement and controversy through its publication of almost one...

  5. Part I Textual Politics:: Looking into the New Elizabeth Bishop
    • Alice in Wonderland: The Authoring and Editing of Elizabeth Bishop’s Uncollected Poems
      (pp. 11-25)

      Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box,edited by Alice Quinn, was marketed as a new book of poems by Elizabeth Bishop, or at least as a new book of “Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments.” The book’s subtitle was the first thing to attract Helen Vendler’s scorn in her infamousNew Republicreview of the book: “This book should not have been issued with its present subtitle of ‘Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments.’ It should have been called ‘Repudiated Poems.’ . . . Students eagerly wanting to buy ‘the new book by Elizabeth Bishop’ should be told to go back and...

    • Postcards and Sunsets: Bishop’s Revisions and the Problem of Excess
      (pp. 26-40)

      T. S. Eliot thought that every important new work alters the existing canon. As numerous examples attest, the rule holds true also of individual author canons, where the belated addition of a lost novel, essay, or poem compels us to read the entire oeuvre in new and unexpected ways. Elizabeth Bishop’s readers have long known that the poet’s 1983Complete Poemswas not “complete.” For some time after publication of that volume, through the efforts chiefly of Thomas Travisano, Lloyd Schwartz, and Lorrie Goldensohn, other poems began to see print.¹ This process of recovering Bishop’s unpublished poetry culminated in 2006...

    • Bishop’s Buried Elegies
      (pp. 41-53)

      The arrival of Alice Quinn’s edition of uncollected Bishop texts makes available to a public readership these tantalizing uncollected pieces—hard to describe as a group—which only Bishop scholars have been familiar with up to now. It will be fascinating to follow the long-term influence of this volume on Bishop criticism. Once the book goes into paperback, it will surely be used by some teachers in advanced undergraduate or graduate classes. Many more quotations from uncollected material will start appearing in scholarly articles, for there’s hardly a poem in this book, in whatever state of completion, lacking in quotable...

    • Elizabeth Bishop’s “Finished” Unpublished Poems
      (pp. 54-66)

      One of the major controversies over Elizabeth Bishop’s posthumous publications has been the ethical issue about bringing into print poems she either regarded as unfinished or chose not to publish. Some critics have rushed in to “save” Bishop’s reputation for perfection, complaining that these poems that she left unpublished at the time of her death compromise the high standards she maintained with her published poems. But in Helen Vendler’s 2006New Republicreview ofEdgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box,her anger at theNew Yorkerfor publishing unfinished draft s of poems without indicating that they were in fact...

  6. Part II Crossing Continents:: Self, Politics, Place
    • Bishop’s “Wiring Fused”: “Bone Key” and “Pleasure Seas”
      (pp. 69-87)

      Elizabeth Bishop’sEdgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Boxand the Library of America edition of Bishop’s poetry and prose provide readers with additional context enabling a richer understanding of her poetic project. Alice Quinn’s compelling tour of previously unpublished archival material and her strong interpretive directions in the heavily annotated notes let us color in, highlight, and extend lines drawn inThe Complete Poems.Some of those poetic lines include wires and cables, which are visible in Bishop’s paintings, as published in William Benton’sExchanging Hats.If we consider the extensive presence of wires in the artwork alongside the copious,...

    • Dreaming in Color: Bishop’s Notebook Letter-Poems
      (pp. 88-103)

      In an interview with Elizabeth Spires about a year before her death, Elizabeth Bishop spoke with unprecedented openness about her experience of psychoanalysis, letter writing, and the composition of poems. When Spires asked Bishop if she ever had a poem come to her asdonnée,Bishop claimed that she had writt en her summa of elegies, “One Art,” with remarkable ease; it was, she stated, “like writing a letter” (“Art of Poetry, XXVII” 118). Bishop’s alliance of her villanelle with the narrative praxis of letter writing reflects the definitive turn that her poetry took in the late 1940s. It was...

    • Elizabeth Bishop’s Drafts: “That Sense of Constant Readjustment”
      (pp. 104-116)

      In a much-noticed review of Alice Quinn’sEdgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box,Helen Vendler steadied the troops against any eager embrace of these uncollected and previously unpublished poems and fragments. Back into their archival lairs the whole lot should go: against “the real poems,” these are only “their maimed and stunted siblings” (33). And indeed it is true that only a small handful of the poems rise to the level that the best ofThe Complete Poems: 1927–1979offer us. Those on the lookout for a new collection of poems to rivalGeography IIIor any other of...

    • Foreign-Domestic: Elizabeth Bishop at Home / Not at Home in Brazil
      (pp. 117-132)

      The orienting metaphor for Elizabeth Bishop’s life and work is North and South, the poles of her travels and dialectical sources of her art. From earliest childhood to the last years of her life, with remarkable persistence, she carried core material wherever she traveled—a carapace of memory and sensibility to substitute, or compensate, perhaps, for the missing home. Some poems she began early were completed only in her last decade. Some kernels of poems traveled with her from North to South and back again, but never found resolution. As she traveled, however, certain of her core concerns reached new...

    • Bishop’s Brazilian Politics
      (pp. 133-150)

      Among the major contributions of the new Library of America edition of Elizabeth Bishop’sPoems, Prose, and Lettersare not only more poems, a handful of which are finished or nearly so, but a great deal of Bishop’s exceptional prose, most of which was published only in magazines and literary journals throughout her career, such as her wonderful essays written at Vassar in the 1930s. But some of the best pieces were not published at all. Among these is an account of a trip she took to Brasília, the new capital of Brazil, and the surrounding indigenous people. She traveled...

  7. Part III New Correspondences:: The Poet with Her Peers
    • “Composing Motions”: Elizabeth Bishop and Alexander Calder
      (pp. 153-169)

      Bishop’s lifelong interest in visual art and her offhand remarks that she would rather have been a painter suggest the depth of her attraction to poetry’s sister discipline (Brown, “Interview” 24; A. Johnson 100).¹ Yet, the scarcity of extended descriptions about the visual arts in her letters and notebooks, combined with the rather daunting range of artists whom she mentions, make it difficult to tell any cohesive story about her response to particular features in the art that she saw. The discourse about artists at midcentury—the reception of painters of interest to the poet—provides a mediating context for...

    • “A World of Books Gone Flat”: Elizabeth Bishop’s Visits to St. Elizabeths
      (pp. 170-185)

      “I’ve seen Pound some more and won his heart by telling him that I was a collateral descendent of Aaron Burr, whose only mistake was [in Pound’s words] not having shot Hamilton twenty years earlier,” Robert Lowell writes Elizabeth Bishop on November 20, 1947. And he goes on: “He remembers your work before the war as having more ‘address’ [again Pound’s word, whatever it means] than Mary Barnard and some New Directions’ woman whose name he can’t recall” (WIA15).

      In the tenure of his poetry consultantship at the Library of Congress, Robert Lowell would quite certainly “win” Pound’s heart,...

    • Elizabeth Bishop and Flannery O’Connor: Minding and Mending a Fallen World
      (pp. 186-203)

      The pairing of Elizabeth Bishop (1911–1979) and Flannery O’Connor (1925–1964) may seem a surprising and somewhat unexpected association: one a poet and the other a novelist and short-story writer; one a New England / Canadian / Brazilian sojourner and the other a rooted Georgia southerner; one a religious skeptic and the other a devout Roman Catholic; one homosexual and one heterosexual. Moreover, the two never met in person, though they did correspond intermittently, and Bishop once chatted with O’Connor on the telephone when passing through Savannah. Although they apparently had little influence on each other as writers, I...

    • Words in Air: Bishop, Lowell, and the Aesthetics of Autobiographical Poetry
      (pp. 204-220)

      When Elizabeth Bishop left the United States in 1951 and embarked on her journey in the hope of satisfying her “immodest demands for a different world, / and a better life, and complete comprehension / of both at last, and immediately” (PPL71), she had been unhappy and ill at ease in conducting the business aspect of poetry, exemplified by her disastrous year as the consultant in poetry at the Library of Congress. Writing to Lowell while on board the merchant shipBowplate,Bishop remarks, “With me on the boat I brought your review of Randall [Jarrell’sThe Seven League...

  8. Part IV The New Elizabeth Bishop and Her Art
    • Geography IV, or The Death of the Author Revisited: An Essay in Speculative Bibliography
      (pp. 223-238)

      Imagine, if you will . . . Elizabeth Bishop, at the age of sixty-eight, visits a brilliant Boston cardiologist and receives timely medical treatment and advice, thereby avoiding what might have been her sudden death from a cerebral aneurysm in October 1979, at the height of her poetic powers. She is induced by this cardiologist to adopt a healthier regimen, including fewer cigarettes and much less alcohol, and so Bishop lives on into the 1980s, increasingly frail physically, but artistically still vigorous. At last, in 1986, when she reaches the age of seventy-five, her publishers, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, bring...

    • “An Almost Illegible Scrawl”: Elizabeth Bishop and Textual (Re)Formations
      (pp. 239-254)

      The wealth of the recent work on and by Bishop—fromEdgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box,to the previously unavailable material and reorderings in the Library of America edition of her work, to the remarkable letters between Bishop and Lowell inWords in Air—solidifies what has been, over the past twenty years, a growing understanding of the scope of Bishop’s work and the complexity of her person. And part of this new understanding is that Bishop is, in fact, a deeply political poet, and moreover a subversive poet over any number of issues (including sexuality), in ways that...

    • Words in Air and “Space” in Art: Bishop’s Midcentury Critique of the United States
      (pp. 255-273)

      In a 1957 letter of apology written to Elizabeth Bishop for the hypomanic episode he’d recently suffered while the two visited together in Maine, Robert Lowell dramatizes his sense of regret and defeat on the drive home to Boston:

      As I dully drove back over the Bango[r] toll bridge in my gray and blue Ford, the nut still rattling in the hub cap as though we were dragging a battered tin can at our heels, I looked up and a sign said, “When money talks it says, ‘Chevrolet.’” (WIA214)

      Lowell doesn’t elaborate on the anecdote, but given his choice...

    • “A Lovely Finish I Have Seen”: Voice and Variorum in Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box
      (pp. 274-288)

      Who can predict the half-life of a dead poet’s unfinished works? And if they are disseminated for public consumption, who—or what aesthetic—may ultimately co-opt them? These questions have become more salient after the 2006 publication of Alice Quinn’sEdgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box.As is well known, Quinn’s variorum edition has provoked its share of controversy in the literary world, largely regarding issues of authorial intent and a deceased poets’ control over unpublished materials.¹ Perhaps the most famous objection was Helen Vendler’s outrage that the “maimed and stunted siblings” of Bishop’s published poems should be collected for...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 289-298)
  10. List of Contributors
    (pp. 299-302)
  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 303-304)
  12. Index
    (pp. 305-310)