Monday, April 2, 2018

B is for Elizabeth Bishop: Raw Heartbreak

It's April! Time for the AtoZ Blogging Challenge!

For those who haven't played along before, the AtoZ Blogging Challenge asks bloggers to post every day during April (excepting Sundays), which works out to 26 days, one for each letter of the alphabet. In my opinion, it's the most fun if you choose a theme.

This will be my 5th year participating.

My theme this year is Poets I Love all about some of the poets whose work has touched me over the years.

For my regular readers, you'll see more than the usual once-a-week posts from me this month. I'm having a great time writing them, so I hope you enjoy reading them, too. Be sure to check out some of the other bloggers stretching their limits this month to share their passions with you, too. With over 400 participants, there is bound to be something you'd love to read.


Elizabeth Bishop won her place in my heart with a single, perfect poem: "One Art." It's a poem I come back to again and again. It *really* speaks to me. I wrote a paper for grad school on this poem, a good one that my professor liked.

 Look at my scrawl all over that thing-I was, and am, in love with this poem. This poem is so deep and layered and amazing, I feel incoherent even trying to explain why it’s so amazing.

If you’ve ever tried to write a villanelle, then you know what a challenge it is to use the repeats well, to make sure they deepen and change and subvert each time they reappear. No one has ever impressed me more than Elizabeth Bishop with this form.

“The art of losing isn’t hard to master” doesn’t stand out on its own. It’s not one of those ooh and ahh kinds of poetic lines. But it’s the crux of this poem. Each time she repeats it, I hear Bishop lying to herself, trying to convince herself that she can learn to master losing, that if you do it enough, it won’t hurt so much. Like its a matter of warming up the muscles so you don’t pull anything on your run.

The first time, it’s a line about self help: I mastered losing and you can do it too! Here in just a few easy lessons, I’ll teach you how. She begins with small losses that aren’t too painful: door keys and time. The tone is glib and blithe.

Then the losses deepen, get more personal. That mother’s watch. But she still feigns humor. They’re just things, it’s not a real disaster.

Then they get large, hyperbolic even: houses, cities, realms, a continent! Surely if you can lose something that large, then the small losses don’t matter.

Then we get to you.

I can feel the hysteria bubbling under the claims that it’s all going to be fine. Really, the pain is so bad the poem itself is falling apart, with parentheticals and em dashes, even italics. The control is gone. And my heart breaks with Bishop’s.

What a heartbreakingly wonderful work.

1 comment:

  1. I am going to have to look her up! Thank you for sharing this! I love poetry, and look forward to learning more about it, through your posts!