Diann Blakely's Reviews > Poems

Poems by Elizabeth Bishop
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Sep 08, 2011

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What would Elizabeth Bishop have thought about National Poetry month? An early advocate for the art's democratization, the late poet William Matthews, reminded practitioners that “the work of the body becomes a body of work.” Nothing of poets lives on except their lines, and I think Bishop would be have been in accord with both his work in the community and his words.

Even if I'm wrong, memorable lines are bewilderingly ubiquitous in FSG’s centennial birthday gift of Bishop’s POEMS. Enough has been written about this extraordinary writer to hide her entire adopted country of Brazil from the map, but who mentions Bishop’s wonderful sense of humor? Consider one of the gem-like mottos in “Songs for a Colored Singer,” i.e. Billie Holiday: “I’m going to go and take the bus / and find someone monogamous.” Consider also the considerable energy Bishop--gay, an orphan, transient--spent passing for normal, and my use of the word “passing” is intentional; Billie Holiday notwithstanding, Bishop used to say that her favorite line of iambic pentameter was W. C. Handy’s “I hate to see that evening sun go down.”  

It's interesting, in this regard, to compare Afaa Michael Weaver’s "What Elizabeth Bishop Could Not Know” (http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/pr...), which provides a point of view Holiday might have felt herself. Or would she have read works like "Pink Dog" (http://erickacamila.blogspot.com/2010...) and noted that Bishop always identified with outsiders, particularly when those marginalized were female--"Look! It's a she!"--and argued with Weaver? I'm better at raising questions than answering them, but I would have liked to be a winged creature--a "girl-moth"?--on the wall during their discussion, for Weaver is a writer I hold in very high esteem, and while our acquaintance is slight, I'm also profoundly grateful to him for introducing me to Hank Lazer's LYRIC AND SPIRIT (Omnidawn).

IIn any event, I like to keep these posts as up-to-date as possible, thus I wish to conclude with two items: 1) "Visions Coinciding: An Eiizabeth Bishop Centennial Conference," 1-2 December, which the Poetry Society of American will co-ordinate with NYU's Gallatin School of Individualized Study (http://www.poetrysociety.org/psa/emai...), and the Tibor de Nagy's exhibit will concurrently run exhibit of Bishop's work and items from her private collection (http://www.tibordenagy.com/exhibition... 2) a quotation from Bishop I have long loved, for if )there’s one phrase to be plucked as a summary of Bishop’s life and work, it’s “awful but cheerful,” and need I truly ask who has described human existence any better?

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