Thursday, June 29, 2006
I am pleased to report that Mortlake still stands, though its environs have certainly been tested by the rains and the Schuylkill river.
During the intermittent moments when flood and storm have rendered me study-bound, I've been reading Alice Quinn's edition of Elizabeth Bishop's juvenilia and uncollected poems, drafts, and notes titled Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke Box, (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2006).
Although the publication of writing that (the famously perfectionist) Bishop preferred not see the light of day has been controversial in some quarters, the book has been a revelation to me.
In his piece on the collection in the April 27th edition of the New York Review of Books, Charles Simic summed it up pretty well:
Unlike just about every other poet whose collected poems are bound to contain embarrassments, [Bishop] never published a bad poem. As she told an interviewer, she was prepared to wait forty years for a poem to get finished since no good poet can afford to be in a rush. Such extraordinary patience is a standard not many of us are able to emulate. The publication of her uncollected poems, drafts, and fragments, which most certainly would have mortified her if she were still alive, solves a few puzzles and deepens others. As far as her reputation as a poet goes, these 106 flawed and at times marvelous poems will only enhance it. This would not be true of most other poets, but Bishop is a special case. Determined as she was that every poem of hers should surprise the reader with something new, she rarely wrote the same kind of poem twice.On a personal note, the painstaking way that Bishop crafted, edited, and revised her exquisite poems, a process which produced copious documentary evidence, kind of makes her a historian's poet.
This collection includes photo-reproductions of the sixteen extant typed and hand-written drafts Bishop wrote of her marvelous poem "One Art," and of equal artistic, biographical, and documentary interest are her three pages of typed notes for a never-finished "Elegy" about Lota de Macedo Soares.