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Elizabeth Bishop

When I first read Bishop as a young poet, I was dazzled by her perfect syntax and rhythmic modulation, the nearly flawless detail of images. Rereading her as, I would like to think, a mature poet, I am struck by the power of her social conscience. Pity is the underlying feeling she conveys, compassion and a deep feeling for the injustice of privilege. Few of her poems overtly express outrage, but it is very much at the surface with a poem like Pink Dog. It is so clearly about how society at large treats its poor and homeless, wanting them to just dress up and play a part so we don’t have to feel uncomfortable by their presence. But in light of it, I reflected on other, earlier, Bishop poems and realize they do the same thing, such as House Guest. Here is a figure who is forced to live a life not of her own choosing. In that context, the poem concludes,

Can it be that we nourish
one of the Fates in our bosoms?
Clotho, sewing our lives
with a bony little foot
on a borrowed sewing machine,
and our fates will be like hers
and our hems crooked forever?

It recalls Kennedy’s assertion that “freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free.” It aligns with what happens in the poem “In the Waiting Room.” The speaker, about to turn seven, realizes her singular self, “you are an Elizabeth,” and this is coeval with realizing she belongs to humanity, “you are one of them.” But this gives rise to countless questions of identity—what does it mean? So the speaker asks,

What similarities—
boots, hands, the family voice
I felt in my throat, or even
the National Geographic
and those awful hanging breasts—
held us all together
or made us all just one?

The poem returns, in the end, to its historical (and social) context: World War I.

Then I was back in it.
The War was on. Outside,
in Worcester, Massachusetts,
were night and slush and cold,
and it was still the fifth
of February, 1918.

Again the poem is located in social issues, constructs. Where do our allegiances lie and why, the poem seems to ask. Or, more importantly, why decide to kill for country or cause when to be you or anyone, well, “nothing stranger/had ever happened, that nothing/stranger could ever happen.” All those running about killing and obsessing over borders and politics and power and land are like Bishop’s sandpiper, lost in the details of a world that is

minute and vast and clear. The tide
is higher or lower. He couldn’t tell you which.
His beak is focused; he is preoccupied,

looking for something, something, something.
Poor bird, he is obsessed!

Her poetry seems to say, take pity on us, on yourself. We are alone, even in the most crowded city. And for those with privilege, even more so, take pity. As the speaker in Manuelzinho says at the end, speaking to his land worker, whom he had looked down on,

You helpless, foolish man,
I love you all I can,
I think. Or do I?
I take off my hat, unpainted
and figurative, to you.
Again I promise to try.

Her poetry or its speakers do not even presume to know themselves fully. They have the humility of realizing that absolute self-knowledge is limited and to presume it is to fall into the same evil as those who presume to any kind of absolute knowledge. Every flawed one of us must humbly struggle to be a better person in whatever station we find ourselves.

If you haven’t heard yet, Mark Strand has released a new book with Monk Books called Mystery and Solitude in Topeka.

In honor of this beautiful new book, THEthe will be giving away a signed copy of this limited edition chapbook. All you have to do to “enter” the drawing for this book is make a comment on any THEthe post (past, present, or future). Each comment is an entry to win, so feel free to go crazy (we like your comments anyhow!). Please observe the commenting guidelines; no spam or blatantly vapid comments, please.

Please sign in with some form of contact information (via Facebook, Twitter, etc.) so that we can contact you if your name is drawn.

I recently learned how to use spreadsheets, and despite my own self-warnings about abstraction and its dangers, the ability to manipulate vast rows of numbers is beguiling to me.

Using my newfound ability, I have created a rather uncomplicated formula to get this list of the 10 “most popular” posts in 2010. It’s too simple just to use “hits” or pageviews. Lots of people accidentally surf into a website and surf out as fast as they came (Google giveth and Google taketh away). My formula takes unique hits, time spent on a post, as well as bounce and exit rate all into account. All answers, of course, are functions of the question, so…take this list with a grain of salt.

1. Dorothea Lasky’s Poetry is not a Project or Cutting More Lines in the Cosmic Divide by Ben Fama

Dorothea Lasky’s POETRY IS NOT A PROJECT made huge waves when debuted at this years AWP. The newest book on UDP‘s Dossier imprint, Lasky lays out, in 19 quick pages, a theory of poetry that reaches back through High Romanticism into a more hermetic time. Illustrated beautiful throughout bySarah Glidden, Lasky’s theory pushes against the limits set out by conceptual writing, striding toward a more cosmic and otherwordly approach to artistic creation. There’s a lineage of deep thought coming from poets back from Blake to Spicer’s ideas of poetic dictaction and Barbara Guest’s short collection of writing on art, Forces of Imagination. I was graced with the wondrous task of editing this book, and I present to you a soundbytey narrated version of the greater text, so you can get a flavor of what’s happening here.

2. The Ill-Wrought Urn? A Literary Critical Debate in Truth & Beauty, Part 1 by Adam Fitzgerald

One of the most debated poems of the 20th century wasn’t written by a modernist, nor was it even penned in that century. John Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn was written in May 1819, published a year later (Keats died in February 1821) alongside the other Great Odes—one of the most considerable series of poems in the entire English language, and certainly the cornerstone of Keats’ reputation as a poet.

3. Holy Saturday by Adam Fitzgerald

Today is Holy Saturday, perhaps the least thought upon, least looked upon day in the Easter Triduum. But it has in the last few years come to epitomize for me my own life, spiritual and otherwise, where the pomp and majesty of supernatural events ceases; no gods dying, no gods reborn—merely dormancy on all fronts. This is the day when Jesus lay within his tomb; when the great hoax of the messiah was over; when if there was a hell, Christ descended.

4. Alexander McQueen, RIP by Stuart Krimko

I’m don’t consider myself a comfortable elegist (is anyone?), but reading of Alexander McQueen’s death this morning forces me to take up the mantle. I’m not a huge fashion-buff, but I made the walk past the McQueen store on 14th Street a highlight of my daily commute when I worked in Chelsea. His clothes seemed to me wild and well-tailored in the English way. His suits would have fit beautifully in this show at the V&A in London a few years back; he’s one of the only contemporary designers who would have fit, I think; and I mean fit while also doing his own, completely contemporary thing. That show, by the way, was a revelation.

5. Andrei Tarkovsky and the Visionary Experience by Stewart Lundy

We modern people forget how extraordinary it is for us to have such extravagant colors in our everyday lives. Even a hundred years ago, this was not the case. Common place things like big red barns were not painted that way to exhibit color, but because red paint was the cheapest at the time.

6. Some Sort of Truth: Dorothea Lasky’s BLACK LIFE Hurts Like Joy by Lonely Christopher

Dorothea Lasky is a poet of petulant grace. The particular way she does is she carves into the alphabet for poetry’s hurtfully buried, metastasized epiphanies of black life. Thence comes the fragments of jagged wonder she strings together to decorate her verse with pretty conflict. Her wonder (love and awe) is heavy and plain, stilted like she’s writing after a concussion, but the generalness of language (many fundamental ideas repeating, put forth directly) is thick—it spills over the edges of its meaning into the scary beyond. She meets herself in conversation with the space outside experience’s edges. That is the damaged holiness brought out: a haze of dirty purity like a cough toward an inaccessible God. It hurts like joy.

7. Theory of Everything Abridged by Ben Fama

Ben Luzzatto’s THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, ABRIDGED (UDP, 2010) is one of those rare artifacts that transfers its own actual magic—and it is real magic—until the possessed begins to lift a bit toward the sky.

8. AN AGREEMENT REQUIRES / AN OFFER AND ACCEPTANCE by Emily Pettit

I came here to get you excited.
We have an accidental stare-down.
No bees, no money. No one says this.

9. “Prepare for Peoplery” by Christie Ann Reynolds

I assemble flapping into a mechanical bird.

10. Aesthete and Propagandist: An Interview with Gene Tanta by Brooks Lampe

To put it as pompously as a I can: I intervened in the rich multicultural sonnet tradition by inventing the 13-line sonnet form because I needed a practical way to determine when a poem was done without relying on the Romantic standby of intuition or epiphany or other gestures of closure. The limited lines offered a grid that freed me to attend to other aspects of the poem construction process such as how sound relates to sense within an aleatory composition. Finding the 13-line grid was certainly an example of limitations proffering freedom.

And for good measure I’m going to throw in number 11 because I loved this post:

11. Here Be Dragons by Colie Hoffman

We all have our ways of dealing with the unknown, I guess. Apparently cartographers used to write “Here be dragons” on sections of uncharted territory, especially oceans, where they drew pictures of giant sea serpents. One ancient Roman map cautioned travelers about the presence of dog-headed beings. Another 15th-century map warns of men with horns.

Ode to the The

I liked that you were small and thick,
easy to recognize.  I think
I thought you were married to and, who was often
somewhere in the sentence, holding things
together, while you would be standing, a tin
soldier, the rifle barrel of your h
sticking up over your shoulder.  I felt a little
sorry for you, always announcing,
never the thing itself.  When I looked
you up, they said your meaning is “controlled
by the notion ‘previously recognized,
noticed or encountered,’” and your Indo-European
base is *-to-, and *-ta-, each of them
the’d with its asterisk.  O the,
I have never thanked you, guardian of the noun,
worker ant, moving things along as if
from underneath–river of the,
wheels of the.  Thank you for always
being yourself, never adding
a letter to make a scary face
from within the phrase.  All honor to thee,
enduring grammatical gristle, plain
flourish, stalwart bugler–the the of this song.

_______________________________________

Sharon Olds is the author of many books including Satan Says, which received the San Francisco Poetry Center Award and The Dead and the Living which was both the Lamont Poetry Selection for 1983 and the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her latest collection is Strike Sparks: Selected Poems, 1980-2002. Professor Olds holds the Erich Maria Remarque Professorship at NYU.

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The time has come to reveal (I think) the source (for those who don’t already know) of The The Poetry’s name, namely, “The Man on the Dump” by Wallace Stevens.  Here is a link to the full text.

Considering this, I wrote a little blurb to explain what this virtual forum is/might be.  Here that is:
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The The Poetry Blog takes its name from Wallace Stevens’ poem “The Man on the Dump,” which ends with a question and an answer: “Where was it one first heard of the truth?  The the.”  The The is a forum for ideas on poetry and the poetic aspects of fiction, non-fiction, music, visual art, film, and “the things / That are on the dump (azaleas and so on) / And those that will be (azaleas and so on).”  Our contributors are writers, readers, artists, critics and so on.  Our readers are writers, readers, artists, critics and so on.  All are people on the dump, where “one sits and beats and old tin can, lard pail. / One beats and beats for that which one believes. / That’s what one wants to get near.”  We hope that The The will help us all get a little closer.
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