Recap: Bishop

December 4, 2010

I was trying to think of a way to go back and celebrate some of the major poets we studied this semester, and I think I’m going to go about it by talking about my favorite poems from some of the authors. First up: Elizabeth Bishop. My favorite Bishop poem happens to be one of her most popular ones, and one that we have discussed in class: “In the Waiting Room.”

I think this poem, in many ways, is the speaker’s realization of her own identity as a woman, and furthermore, as a citizen of the world.  The speaker’s contemplation of these ideas is best seen in the lines “What similarities–/boots, hands, even 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?” Bishop beautifully introduces the idea of a young girl contemplating the threads that weave together women of different races; it’s a thread that transcends cultural boundaries, family heritage, and even sexuality. I think Bishop’s brilliance lies in the fact that she presents a believable speaker who addresses her realization of her sexual identity but has no way to resolve it, except to be immersed back into the “outside” world. One of the more interesting lines is “Then I was back in it.” Is she back in the world where she doesn’t recognize her acceptance of female identity and sexuality? Regardless of this line’s ambiguity, Bishop addresses these “big” issues with accessible language  and wonderful poetic control. She deserves to be studied among the best contemporary poets, and I think “In the Waiting Room” is one of her strongest poems.

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