Elizabeth Bishop sometimes gets hated on as a poet’s poet. What the heck does that even mean? Nothing. Nothing.
Baby I don’t care.
Before I actually got this edition of her Complete Poems (which isn’t actually complete, but whatevs) for my very own self, all I knew was “One Art” and that one Sestina. Okay, “One Art” is fine and all that, but it’s so much taught in classes that whenever I read it I hear this unpleasantly teachery voice in my head saying “analyze the language! what do you notice about the repetition! blah blah blah.”*
There was like a whole month when I didn’t want to read any poem other than “Over 2,000 Illustrations and a Complete Concordance.”
My current favorite passage by Bishop is the following, from “At the Fishhouses.”
Cold dark deep and absolutely clear,
element bearable to no mortal,
to fish and to seals . . . One seal particularly
I have seen here evening after evening.
He was curious about me. He was interested in music;
like me a believer in total immersion,
so I used to sing him Baptist hymns.
I also sang “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
He stood up in the water and regarded me
steadily, moving his head a little.
But I’m sure it will change. Her poems just keep giving.
By the way my one criticism of this book is that the cover is horrendously hideous. It’s the color of old lady bathroom, and the only decoration is a sort of mediocre drawing of Bishop’s.
However I am delighted to discover that FSG has released a new edition of Bishop’s work. It’s about time. I might just have to get my hands on that.
*It’s not a good English teacher voice, though I’ve had lots of good English teachers. It’s more like my voice when I used to be a sort-of-okay-but-not-great English teacher.