Opus Posthumous
March 9, 2006 10:08 AM   Subscribe

Elizabeth Bishop is one of the most esteemed modern American poets, yet her Collected Poems, containing all of the poems published during her lifetime, runs to a scant 287 pages. Now, 27 years after her death, a selection of her unpublished poems has been published as Death and the Juke-Box by Alice Quinn, an editor at the New Yorker. (more inside)
posted by whir (14 comments total)
I haven't managed to track down many reviews of the new book, excepts from which have been popping up in the New Yorker and NYRB of late. This one at the Atlantic Monthly is only available to subscribers. Here is a bibliography of some of Bishop's unpublished work, and this morning there was an interesting discussion about her on KQED's Forum program with Quinn and NEA chairman Dana Gioia.
posted by whir at 10:08 AM on March 9, 2006

287 pages of good poems is plenty.
posted by smackfu at 10:11 AM on March 9, 2006

I agree that her published collected poems is plenty, but Wallace Stevens's Opus Posthumous seems like a good argument that these after-the-fact collections can be valuable.

Argh, "excerpts."
posted by whir at 10:22 AM on March 9, 2006

Awesome stuff whir. However, three cheers for poets who were capable of being good readers of their own stuff--every page of Bishop's Collected is gold. Robert Lowell's? Not so much.

Yet another volume for the buy list.
posted by bardic at 10:30 AM on March 9, 2006

The Fish
By Elizabeth Bishop

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn't fight.
He hadn't fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
--the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly--
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
--It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
--if you could call it a lip
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels--until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.

posted by digaman at 10:50 AM on March 9, 2006

Frankly, I've been disappointed with the poems the New Yorker has been publishing. I doubt I'll buy the new book unless I look through it and find enough stuff that impresses me. Most times, writings are unpublished for a reason.

And when is a decent edition of Frost's published stuff going to get published, dammit?


posted by languagehat at 10:58 AM on March 9, 2006

Um, in case that was unclear: I've been disappointed with the poems from this book the New Yorker has been publishing. Though I'm often disappointed by their poems in general.
posted by languagehat at 10:59 AM on March 9, 2006

I had been wondering where these "new" poems from Bishop were coming from.

I've enjoyed them.
posted by digaman at 11:16 AM on March 9, 2006

I don't know how I managed to type "Death and the Juke-Box" above instead of the actual title "Edgar Allen Poe and the Juke-Box," but I guess the slip makes some sense.

I've got mixed feelings about this myself, because I like how immaculate Bishop's body of work is and I wouldn't want to have the waters muddied by a bunch of juvenilia. On the other hand, this material already existed in the archives at Vassar, now it's just more widely available.

languagehat, what are you looking for in a complete Frost that the current editions don't offer? A good critical apparatus? Different revisions of his poems? Just curious.
posted by whir at 11:41 AM on March 9, 2006

What's wrong with the LoA Frost, languagehat?
posted by goethean at 11:41 AM on March 9, 2006

my favorite --

The Armadillo

Elizabeth Bishop

for Robert Lowell

This is the time of year
when almost every night
the frail, illegal fire balloons appear.
Climbing the mountain height,

rising toward a saint
still honored in these parts,
the paper chambers flush and fill with light
that comes and goes, like hearts.

Once up against the sky it's hard
to tell them from the stars --
planets, that is -- the tinted ones:
Venus going down, or Mars,

or the pale green one. With a wind,
they flare and falter, wobble and toss;
but if it's still they steer between
the kite sticks of the Southern Cross,

receding, dwindling, solemnly
and steadily forsaking us,
or, in the downdraft from a peak,
suddenly turning dangerous.

Last night another big one fell.
It splattered like an egg of fire
against the cliff behind the house.
The flame ran down. We saw the pair

of owls who nest there flying up
and up, their whirling black-and-white
stained bright pink underneath, until
they shrieked up out of sight.

The ancient owls' nest must have burned.
Hastily, all alone,
a glistening armadillo left the scene,
rose-flecked, head down, tail down,

and then a baby rabbit jumped out,
short-eared, to our surprise.
So soft! -- a handful of intangible ash
with fixed, ignited eyes.

Too pretty, dreamlike mimicry!
O falling fire and piercing cry
and panic, and a weak mailed fist
clenched ignorant against the sky!
posted by vronsky at 12:31 PM on March 9, 2006

posted by Smedleyman at 2:47 PM on March 9, 2006

What's wrong with the LoA Frost, languagehat?

Nothing, as it turns out -- I just didn't know about it! Having had my attention called to it, I went to Amazon, used "Search inside the book," and discovered that my touchstone line "The woods are lovely, dark and deep" is rendered correctly, without Lathem's intrusive comma. Now all I have to do is acquire the book (I just added it to my wish list). Thanks, MetaFilter!

(I don't keep up with the literary world the way I used to, obviously.)
posted by languagehat at 3:13 PM on March 9, 2006

Not to necropost, but here is one of the first reviews of Edgar Allen Poe and the Juke-Box, from the SF Chronicle. Looks interesting, if maybe more for the biographical data than the work itself.
posted by whir at 11:53 AM on March 14, 2006

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