Poems: The Centenary Edition

Michael Hofmann writes:

It is strange, leafing through these Poems, that, while most of the pages seem to come up in colour as expected, are vibrant, gaudy, full of lush deep-pile detail, familiar, others – ‘From the Country to the City’, ‘Little Exercise’, ‘Anaphora’, ‘Letter to NY’, ‘Sunday, 4 a.m.’, ‘Night City’ – look utterly new, as though I had never seen them before. A book of Bishop’s is a funfair, each ride or booth is its own idiom, and still there are corners where no one looks, and there isn’t anything much going on. She is one of those poets where you endlessly revisit the individual poem, where you glut yourself on a few individual poems – in my case, ‘Large Bad Picture’, ‘Florida’, ‘Roosters’, ‘Seascape’, ‘Over 2000 Illustrations and a Complete Concordance’, ‘The Bight’, ‘Cape Breton’, ‘Filling Station’, ‘Sandpiper’, ‘Crusoe in England’, ‘Poem’, ‘The End of March’, ‘Santarém’, ‘North Haven’ and many more – without getting any closer to an encapsulation of the poet, or perhaps, because of the way the poems deflect our questioning (like scales, like tesserae, like azulejos, a favoured Bishop word, which I like to think she liked because it makes no stipulation as to colour, while looking as if it could be the Portuguese for ‘blue eyes’), without even having to reach for the poet at all.

(LRB 8 September 2011)

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