Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Edgar Allan Piccolo

What's that? A compression of the title of the collection of Elizabeth Bishop's uncollected poetry, Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box, using slang cited in the OED (1946 E.Bishop North & South 50 He's drinking in the warm pink glow To th' accompaniment of the piccolo.)('piccolo' might also refer to a small upright piano, EB's early instrument). The juxtaposition resonates tinnily with Emerson's jingle-man comment, though it appears motivated more by Poe's compositional apparatus, however compromised:

Poe said that poetry was exact.
But pleasures are mechanical
and know beforehand what they want
and know exactly what they want.
Do they obtain that single effect
that can be calculated like alcohol
or like the response to the nickel?

Alice Quinn has assembled these poems largely from notebooks now ensconced at Vassar, including facsimiles of rough to finished drafts (the villanelle "One Art" shows the progression in almost any many drafts as lines), and, beyond limning this with the published work (or vice-versa), has provided a concordance with Bishop's life in the footnotes. However lightly trod, such footing is parlous with such a craft-conscious perfectionist as Bishop; at its most imposing, effectively satirized by Nabokov's Pale Fire, it distorts the life lived in letters. This was brought home in the very first footnote, quoting EB: "What form of punctuation to use for Aunt M[aud]'s conversation -- 'manner of speech, which was inclined to drift gently to and fro in the subconscious'", parallel to the stroke-inflected speech of Nabokov's adumbrant character:

I was brought up by dear bizarre Aunt Maud,
A poet and a painter with a taste
For realistic objects interlaced
With grotesque growths and images of doom.

Reading EB's Complete Poems, I had the sense that an important element of her technique was similar to that of the landscape painter, with each element of composition carefully selected and fitted in, not simply as a setting but as scenery in motion, populated and possessing a human significance, and appraised at a remove from but yet as an integral part of it, just as it becomes itself integral to the appraiser, whether the artist/poet or the viewer/reader, a connection absent from taking Nature as mirror or allegory. The paradigm extends beyond landscape, to cartography, to formal structure, to emotion, to memory, to allusion, to poetry. Even if not developed in the critical literature, it is still not nearly explanation enough, certainly in light of the evidence Quinn makes available.

And it is evident that what Bishop made available for publication was overly selective: Her Collected Poems is tighter than the Selected Poems of many respected poets. There are many gems in Poe & the Juke-Box, some just as well-cut and highly polished, and Quinn has performed great service in organizing this material for a general audience (more directly dealt with in Jan Atlantic, subscriber only). It's also served to put Virginia Adair on my radar. (What prompted me to take Bishop up was the occasion of a reception hosted by Gotham & FSG, heavily attended by a New Yorker demographic in which I felt somewhat out of place, artless and nowhere along the publishing chain, explaining myself NYer cartoon caption fashion: "I'm good with words and numbers. There's safety in numbers." I was told I fit right in.)

29.3 via The Page, Vendler in The New Republic sees this as a great disservice. Citing the weakest lines of what I've cited the strongest lines of. But what Bishop published was not without weak lines; these aren't her best, but contain better than her least, which will differ between estimations, which is not the sole province of the author, nor of the critic. (cf...)

10.4 Simic in
NYRB and NewCritter Logan weigh in
... and GWhite in


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