Saturday, July 2, 2011

Elizabeth Bishop, the poem I can't live without. Thoughts on the new collection.

Cirque D'Hiver
Elizabeth Bishop

Across the floor flits the mechanical toy,
fit for a king of several centuries back.
A little circus horse with real white hair.
His eyes are glossy black.
He bears a little dancer on his back.

She stands upon her toes and turns and turns.
A slanting spray of artificial roses
is stitched across her skirt and tinsel bodice.
Above her head she poses
another spray of artificial roses.

His mane and tail are straight from Chirico.
He has a formal, melancholy soul.
He feels her pink toes dangle toward his back
along the little pole
that pierces both her body and her soul

and goes through his, and reappears below,
under his belly, as a big tin key.
He canters three steps, then he makes a bow,
canters again, bows on one knee,
canters, then clicks and stops, and looks at me.

The dancer, by this time, has turned her back.
He is the more intelligent by far.
Facing each other rather desperately—
his eye is like a star—
we stare and say, "Well, we have come this far."

There has been some controversy over the new collected of Bishop's. I still dig the original...but the new collected offers something different. It offers her dirty napkins with scribbles, and calls them her "letters" and her "poems". Granted I love the idea of totally access to a writers private and public oeuvre, but there is something unsettling about it not being mindfully delineated from the rest of her intentionally "finished" poems. Thoughts?

(this doubtfulness offered in part by April Bernard and Paul Muldoon)

1 comment:

divisjm said...

I don't have an answer, but I do think this is a particularly pertinent question, given how intensely private Bishop was. If these books have an introduction(s), I'd be curious to see whether this is addressed.