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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Gioia on Bishop

Dana Gioia has an interesting assessment of Elizabeth Bishop in The Wall Street Journal. Here are a few bites:


Elizabeth Bishop's future reputation will surely fluctuate slightly according to the currents of taste, but she has indisputably won a permanent place in the American literary canon. An independent and honest writer who never chased fashion, joined groups or struck public poses, she labored at the art's perennial task—to communicate the joy, sorrow and wonder of being human. She took her time about it, and it shows.


There is a special irony that Bishop has come to be the signature poet of late 20th-century American literature, a period stereotyped by free verse and experimental forms. Bishop admired Modernism, but she resisted being drawn into its endless arguments about stylistic innovation and the radical transformation of human consciousness. She was, in the highest sense of the word, a prosaic poet, who like the supreme prose masters—Flaubert, James, Na bok ov —could create a verbal fabric so fine that nothing was lost to it. Never trying to be merely modern, she succeeded in becoming perpetually immediate and contemporary.


To see a few good images of Bishop's homes in Brazil and read a little about how she was and is seen there, fly here.


  1. Thanks Marly. I love Elizabeth Bishop's work, and have made a study of it. At one point during graduate school, I had a class where a professor asked us to make an anthology of a poet whose work we admired, and to write an introductory essay for it. I chose Bishop. I didn't include her most anthologized and famous poems because they can be found everywhere, and the professor questioned that decision, but I enjoyed the process and gained a new intimacy with her work by compiling the anthology. I still remember the pre-Internet research I did on some references in her poems, which sent me to aged issues of National Geographic magazine! The Brazilian angle on her life was much appreciated.

  2. Interesting to see both the 18th-century house (I'd seen that one before but liked the view from the balcony) and the little rectangle under the big rock!

    That sounds like a fun project. And I would be with you on diving into the more obscure ones. Besides, there are not that many poems--why can't we read them all? They're all meticulous.

  3. Absolutely! I like her essays and stories/autobiographical pieces too.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.