April 2, 2013

NPM 2013 - B is for Bishop

B could have been for Baudelaire. B could have been Berryman. B could have been Bidart. B could have been the haiku master, Basho. B could also have been for Borges, who wrote both prose and poetry extensively. But two poems that delighted me many years ago spring to mind and so B is for Bishop, more specifically Elizabeth Bishop.

The first poem of hers is perhaps her most famous one, a villanelle. As Mutlu Konuk Blasing explains, the villanelle is a great choice because: "Writing and losing are one art because the formal repetition of loss, which promises mastery, simultaneously finalizes disaster: "(Write it!) like disaster." Repetition duplicates and divides, both masters and loses, and thus makes for "disaster." The division-by-duplication of the "aster" is the ill star that governs poets." There is a lot more about the poem at the link, if you are interested.... but moving on to the poem itself....
One Art
by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or

next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

It is not clear to me if this is the poem she refers to in her interview with the Paris Review where in answering a question about poems that write themselves, she says: "I wanted to write a villanelle all my life but I never could. I’d start them but for some reason I never could finish them. And one day I couldn’t believe it—it was like writing a letter. There was one rhyme I couldn’t get that ended in e-n-t and a friend of mine, the poet Frank Bidart, came to see me and I said, “Frank, give me a rhyme.” He gave me a word offhand and I put it in. But neither he nor I can remember which word it was. But that kind of thing doesn’t happen very often. Maybe some poets always write that way. I don’t know."

Another poem by Bishop that I love is called Insomnia but before we get to it, here is a lovely painting painted by the poet herself!

Sleeping Figure, by Elizabeth Bishop. (The figure is almost certainly Louise Crane. Bishop traveled with her in Europe, and they lived together in Key West.)

 And now the poem; especially love the ending!
by Elizabeth Bishop

The moon in the bureau mirror

looks out a million miles
(and perhaps with pride, at herself,
but she never, never smiles)
far and away beyond sleep, or
perhaps she's a daytime sleeper.

By the Universe deserted,

she'd tell it to go to hell,
and she'd find a body of water,
or a mirror, on which to dwell.
So wrap up care in a cobweb
and drop it down the well

into that world inverted

where left is always right,
where the shadows are really the body,
where we stay awake all night,
where the heavens are shallow as the sea
is now deep, and you love me.

Update: I just noted that during the 2011 NPM celebrations, I had a post that included 2 of her poems - One Art (again; I clearly love the poem!) along with Questions of Travel. 

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