Jenna's Reviews > Geography III

Geography III by Elizabeth Bishop
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Aug 31, 14

bookshelves: english-language-poetry, formal-verse-in-english
Read in May, 2009

It took me a long time to warm up to Elizabeth Bishop, mainly because her style of poetry is so emphatically not-warm and impersonal and seemingly dispassionate. Over the years, I've come to appreciate that there *is* a kind of cold, slow, subtle beauty inherent in the very meticulousness of her descriptions. And I do wish I had her profound sense of place. Still, I wonder if I'll always prefer poets who pack a stronger emotional punch.....poets whose poems burn and rage like wildfires.....poets who speak to the impatient passionate teenager inside of me as well as to the seasoned grown-up.
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message 1: by Austin (new)

Austin "Cold hands, warm heart": sometimes an outer composure is a better token of intense inner feeling than passion worn for all the world to see. Burning, raging poetry often leaves ME cold: it takes a talent like Lorca's, say, to pull it off; otherwise it just seems like protesting too much. I agree that many of Bishop's "place poems" hold more of an intellectual than an emotional appeal, but I think her great night poems--"The Man-Moth," "The Unbeliever," "Insomnia"--are full of terror and passion and duende.


Douglas  I'm reading this now. Good so far.


Brendan Mm, but wildfires burn out quickly; Bishop's poems are built to last. I actually find much of her work supremely emotional -- all the more so due to the control and reticence she maintains over so much of it. Underneath that well-crafted veneer of cool, sardonic wit is a vast well of loneliness, whimsy, heartbreak, and humor. To take the most obvious example, it's difficult for me to recite "One Art" aloud without my voice catching at the last stanza. The pun in the parenthesis -- "(write it!)" -- is (as Seamus Heaney pointed out in one of his lectures) very much intended, and it is devastating.


message 4: by Jenna (last edited Jan 15, 2015 07:37AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jenna Thanks for chiming in on this thread, Brendan. Despite the poem's famousness, I've never had that emotional response to "One Art" -- I can't quite say why that is. Maybe I am made of stone.

(That being said, one of her poems, "Insomnia," did bring tears to my eyes the first few times I read it...

My appreciation of Bishop's work over the years has increased, but I do still find her general coolness offputting, and I don't think I'm the only one. I remember once, years ago, having lunch with a very intelligent person, a physicist, who earnestly wanted to learn more about poetry. I remember us sitting there munching, and him holding a copy of Bishop's "Exchanging Hats" in his hand -- he had gotten it from one of those rustic machines sometimes found on university campuses that dispense poems -- and him frowning at it. "It's clever and all, but what is the point?" he asked, in genuine frustration. At the time, I couldn't think of an answer. I think that the fact that very cool, very cerebral poetry is in vogue right now is really offputting to laypeople -- that is, people who don't do poetry for a living. They want to like poetry, but they feel they are lacking an emotional access-point to it. To people like these, I usually recommend they start by reading the works of other, more emotionally frank poets, like, say, Larkin or Plath.)


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