September 7, 2010

In reading Elizabeth Bishop’s Man-Moth, I am struck by the lucid image she provides of a man, bent on reaching into the heavens.  In the end, though, he slips back to earth.  Unaware of what he has lost, he quickly falls back into his old life and fruitless dreams.  I can not help but comparing Bishop’s clear image of the Man-Moth, who “trembles, but must investigate as high as he can climb” (16) and after failing “returns / to the pale subways of cement he calls home” (25/26), to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s, The Poet, a sweeping indictment of the poets, who have misled him in his attempt to find transcendental meaning in his existence. By laying claim to Emersonion Transcendentalism and adapting it to her own unique style, Bishop provides a strong echo and much more lucid image of Emerson’s description in The Poet. 

A strong parallel can be drawn between the experience of Bishop’s Man-Moth and Emerson’s description of the “ravishment of the intellect by coming nearer the fact … (and) the centrifugal tendency of man, to his passage out into free space, … (which)  help him to escape the custody of that body in which he is pent up” (199).  Of particular note is Emerson’s depiction of his experiences with the false poets;

With what joy I begin to read a poem which I confide in as an inspiration!  And now my chains are to be broken: I shall mount above these clouds, and opaque airs in which I live, – opaque though they seem transparent, – and from the heaven of truth I shall see and comprehend my relations.  That will reconcile me to life and renovate nature, …  Such is the hope but the fruition is postponed.  Oftener it falls that this winged man, who will carry me into the heaven, whirls me into mists, then leaps and frisks about with me as it were from cloud to cloud … he does not know the way into the heavens, and is merely bent that I should admire his skill to rise, like a fowl or a flying fish, a little way from the ground or the water; but the all-piercing, all feeding and ocular air of heaven that man shall never inhabit.  I tumble down again soon into my old nooks, and lead the life of exaggerations as before, and have lost faith in the possibility of any guide who can lead me thither I would be.                                                   (191-2)


On a lighter note: 

Bishop’s Man-Moth leads Emerson and his reader to new celestial heights.


Works Cited

Bishop, Elizabeth. Man-Moth. The Complete Poems 1927-1979. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984. 14-15.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Poet. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller Selected Works. Ed. John Carlos Rowe. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. 186-206.

Skipp, Abi. Wendy Peter Pan and Tinkerbell. Photo. Paris: June, 2010. Flickr. 07, Sept., 2010. <>

Designed by Tim Sainburg from Brambling Design

Designed by Tim Sainburg from Brambling Design

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Questions of Travel and Rhyme

September 7, 2010

After reading Questions of Travel, I felt that it was important to mention how Bishop plays with language. In many of her poems there is a regular rhyme scheme. For instance “The Burglar of Babylon” begins with the stanza:

On the fair green hills of Rio

There grows a fearful stain:

The poor who come to Rio

And can’t go home again. (112)

The first and third lines of this stanza rhyme merely because the word “Rio” is repeated, yet the second and fourth lines are slant rhymed. In the rest of her poem, Bishop continues to rhyme the second and fourth lines of her stanzas. In the fourth stanza, the slant rhyme returns as bishop rhymes “come” with “catacomb”. Additionally “The Armadillo” is marked by a regular rhyme scheme, however what makes Bishop unique in her usage of language are the embedded rhymes, and echos of rhymes that one can find in poems like “Song for the Rainy Season”. In the last stanza Bishop writes:

the great rock will stare

unmagnetized, bare,


the forgiving air (102)

This stanza is an example of how Bishop creates these echoes within her poems. By creating a rhyming couplet and then later ending a line with a word that continues the rhyme. Bishop is not only connecting ideas but playing with sound and the way the human reader will hear her work.

Additionally, in “Squatter’s Children” Bishop writes, ” apparently the rain’s reply/ consists of echolalia”(95). I found this poem to be one where Bishop became most innovative in her usage of sound and rhyme.  Every stanza ends with a rhyming couplet, yet within the poem there are also the echos that I previously mentioned. Yet this poem is also a good example of the repetitions that Bishop embeds in many of her poems.  She writes, ” they play, a specklike girl and boy/alone, but near a specklike house”(95). The repetition almost acts like the echolalia that Bishop writes about, however for the reader it accomplishes something unique. When one examines the repetition in ” Visits to St. Elizabeths” the words “that lies in the house of Bedlam” have a constantly evolving meaning that changes and deepens with every stanza.

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Mapping Identity

September 7, 2010

After finishing Questions of Travel and considering it alongside our previous Bishop readings and critical essays, it seems to me that there exists a common theme of identity formation in terms of geography (spatial relationships, domain and borderline areas) in all of these works. Looking first at the critical essays, if we think of poetry in terms of a physical space, many of the essays discuss and evoke the following questions: To whom does this space belong? To whom is it accessible? Should the rights lie exclusively with an educated elite few or a universal population/private versus public space? Can art and “politics” reside together in this space or do they require separate domains? The boundaries and delineations of this space seem to be in a constant state of flux and poetry, itself, at different periods in time and geographic locations has reflected upon its identity.  The Modernist Period in particular was characterized by a sense of self-consciousness or self-doubt.  A lack of or changing identity resulted in a body of work that was defined by this crisis, in turn, giving it an identity and a place.

                If we look next at Bishop’s collection Questions of Travel, the reader is asked to consider identity in terms of geography immediately with “Arrival at Santos.” In this poem, as with many others in the collection, Bishop takes the reader to a borderline location to discuss the running themes of: boundaries, inclusion v. exclusion, “here” and “there,” “us” and “them,” expectation and reality, truth and fantasy/delusion/denial, shelter/safety and exposure/danger, innocence/naivety and knowledge.   At these borderlines she is able to create a tension that reflects a struggle with sense of self, “homelessness” (or belonging) and/or  the dynamics of power that define human relationships.  Often, identity is defined in terms of who/what you are not which may only complicate, rather than aid, founding a solid sense of who/what you are.  “Other-ing” is a common tool in nation-building and identity formation and sometimes serves as a justification for unbalanced power dynamics between groups that become engrained in their sense of identity.  Bishop addresses this as well when she obscures or challenges the lines/territories differentiating a person/group from another in some of her poems in this collection.  Another recurring spatial representation is structural: that of “the home” or house.  Who or what can live in this space delegated to comfort, security and safety and how are they (or not) impervious to “dangers” of the natural or outside world? In short, these physical spaces, their occupants, and the interactions at the frontline represent complications in the human need for classification and delineation to provide order in their world.

                All of this being said, I think “The Map” was a great way to begin looking at these discussions.  I’d like to offer a reading that considers Bishop’s concept of interaction at the borderline and human demarcation of the world in this poem as commentary on poetry or meta-poetic in nature.  If we consider the art of mapping as something to help us in placing our “YOU ARE HERE” sticker, it can be argued that poetry attempts to do the same as a guide to understanding and ordering the world around you in some way.  However, the first line of Bishop’s poem reads, “Land lies in water; it is shadowed green” which calls to mind the end of Brooker’s essay where he paraphrases Emmanual Levinas when arguing, “…art is not reality, but its shadow…” followed by, “Art…works by substituting an image of reality for reality itself,”(72).   Taking “lies” in Bishop’s poem to have double meaning, she is telling the reader that art cannot “be true” but only represent truths just as the land on a map is only a depiction of the land it represents. She follows this by going to the edge, the border between water and land.  With tension evoking words like “hang,” “lean,” “lift,” and “tugging” she describes the interaction of these elements at their meeting place.  Perhaps here Bishop is contemplating the ability of art to attain what it is seeking: what is true.  Can it be held without it being “perturbed” or disturbed? Or it is grasping, unable to hold it firmly as “the fine tan sandy shelf” is an unstable ground?

If the first stanza discusses a map in terms of itself, contained, then the second stanza discusses the map in terms of utility as the world interacts with it, violating its isolation.  The piece of art, lifeless in its representation has been stained by a history of use.  As the narrator interacts with the map, art meets its audience and through this lens (“under a glass”) becomes an entity with the possibility of sustaining life, “expected to blossom” or “provide a clean cage for invisible fish.”  Mentioning the printer next, she notes the marks of an artist/creator within his work as he stamps himself on it and into it, making himself known and disturbing a separation of the two. Perhaps this is an image to show that intent and intrinsic value can or inevitably exist within the same space of art.

 To summarize my interpretation of the rest of the poem, Bishop restores balance in this contained space (the map) by finally explaining the relationship between land and water as a representation “feeling” for the unattainable while the unattainable/unrepresentable “lend(s)” itself to the representation.  This image lacks the tension seen in their relationship in the first stanza.  She continues by saying that although this might “agitat(e)” elements existing within representation, or the art, it leads to a further “investagat(ion)” of the unrepresentable or what is unattainable.  Art may be upset/challenged by the reality it attempts to recreate, but it also allows, in turn, for a deeper examination of the reality, creating balance.  Finally, she could be concluding that balanced mapping and, by extension creation and art, is not indulgent and “displays no favorites”, but is “delicate” and careful in its representation which makes it not untrue.

If I’ve made a strong enough argument, I think it is fair to say that “The Map” encapsulates an interpretation of identity formation, as discussed in the critical essays on audience and the artist/poet and the purpose of art (externally and internally) as well as other works by Bishop, in terms geography and spatial relationships and interaction.

**I also have forgotten to mention our mapping of the critics, themselves.  Placing them in relation to one another also helped us to define them individually. 

                (Lastly, I don’t mean for this to be what I think is a comprehensive list of Bishop’s themes in total.  The aspect of time, elements of form and many other important things I probably haven’t even realized yet add depth to the Questions of Travel collection and should be discussed; I just thought it might be interesting to consider the combination of this selection of poetry and critical discourse about poetry in terms of space.  Thoughts?)

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Banned and Dangerous Art

September 7, 2010

Hey all, didn’t know if any of you had been following another blog run by Dr. Mikhalevsky in the philosophy department, but there’s an interesting post of hers that discusses Whitman and Brooks as “Dangerous Poets”. Thought you all might like to check it out.

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Copo of the Mo’: Marge Piercy

September 6, 2010

Insert Stereotypical Poet-With-a-Book Picture Here.

Since there is a larger focus on the largely known, largely taught canonical poets in the class, I thought it might be a good idea to post and talk about some of our own favorite contemporary poets. In this way, we can hopefully supplement what Dr. Scanlon is doing by having us subscribe to DailyPoetry. So, fellow poetry-lovers, I introduce to you what I’m going to call “Copo of the Mo’ ” (short for month, although it doesn’t have to be of that particular time frame; I just like the way it sounds).

In our first edition, I’d like to discuss Marge Piercy. Piercy’s poetry often focuses on feminist concerns, although she also works with other social agendas such as mental illness. She often works in highly personal free form (Bishop would be most displeased). I’d rather you check out her stuff than have me ramble for eight pages, so take a quick look:

The Friend

We sat across the table.
he said, cut off your hands.
they are always poking at things.
they might touch me.
I said yes.

Food grew cold on the table.
he said, burn your body.
it is not clean and smells like sex.
it rubs my mind sore.
I said yes.

I love you, I said.
That’s very nice, he said
I like to be loved,
that makes me happy.
Have you cut off your hands yet?

While “The Friend” deviates from some of her work in the tightness/shortness of the lines and general lack of imagery, what I particularly love about this piece is its abruptness. Piercy drives the cruelty of the male figure and slavish nature of the speaker home through the simplicity of her speech (with words such as “poking” or “nice,” which are childish in nature)., as well as a lack of punctuation.  And although this is not necessarily the technique that Piercy always uses, there is usually the effect of rawness and edge at the end of a lot of her pieces. If you’d like to check out more of her stuff, go here (she has another volume coming out in February!).

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A Contemporary Use for Poetry

September 6, 2010

I saw this article the other day and it made me wonder if the contemporary use of poetry is, like Heaney says in “The Redress of Poetry” it can serve both his definitions: 1) “reparation of, satisfaction or compensation for, a wrong sustained or the loss resulting from this” and 2) “to set (a person or a thing) upright again; to raise again to an erect position. Also fig. to set up again, restore, re-establish”. It fulfills the first one in this instance by serving as a means for reparation for the wrong done to those who died and those who have survived to record the experience, here in written format. The second is more figuratively fulfilled through the restoration and re-establishing of the lives of those who have survived; i.e. as a means of coping with the event.

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Ask Dr. Scansion

September 6, 2010

Q:  Dear Dr. Scansion,

I am new to formal analysis of poetry and am anxiously wondering: what terms do I really need to know? Can you help me navigate this new period in my education?



A: Dear “Sylvia,”

The terms of formal analysis and prosody are numerous, and some people may be comfortable taking on a more complex set, but for the most part you should have a vocabulary that includes the following:

1) basic accentual patterns: iamb, trochee, spondee, pyrrhic, anapest, and dactyl (Note: some people think that the pyrrhic doesn’t exist in English.  You will need to resist peer pressure and decide what seems true to you.  For my part, I believe.)

2) common metrical feet: trimeter, tetrameter, pentameter, hexameter

3) common stanza names: couplet, triplet, quatrain, sestet, octave

4) useful ways to characterize sound patterns: rhyme, half- or slant-rhyme, assonance, consonance, dissonance, alliteration

5) terms that describe line/sentence formations: end-stopped, caesura, enjambment

You may want to be comfortable with a handful of other terms, for example:  sonnet, sestina, blank verse, free verse.

Sylvia, there are resources for people like you.  This site has a wealth of information about prosody and form, or you can turn to sites like the glossary on  for better for verse, which is less exhaustive but has clear definitions.  In either case, don’t forget that reliable friends and grown-ups you trust can be helpful in working through these tough times.  Eventually you may even come to see formal and prosodic analysis as an important part of how you think.

All best wishes,

Dr. Scansion

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Some Photographs of ‘Ms. Bishop’

September 5, 2010

Unfortunately I can’t embed these because the photographer has disabled it, but this is a link to a picture of Elizabeth and her mom, and this is a link to a picture of 12 year old Elizabeth.

Here’s a picture of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth in Brazil:

A sweet picture of Elizabeth with a cat:

This is the only picture I can find of Lota, except for one that looks like a sketch:

And one more just for fun:

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Thursday’s Readings vs. Questions of Travel

September 5, 2010

For me, completing the readings for last class was a chore. I just wasn’t pulled in by Bishop’s poetry and, even after class, was left not particularly liking the works we had discussed. I assumed that Bishop wasn’t really my taste. However, this weekend when I was reading her “Questions of Travel” section, I felt like I was enjoying an entirely different poet! I LOVED this collection.

I was trying to think what it could be about these particular poems that set them apart (for me) from the other works we just read by the same author. In my case, I think that it is the more personal voice and quality that a lot of the poems in “Questions of Travel” seem to possess. I love her portraits of people and the descriptions of Brazil and her other destinations. These are just my thoughts.

Did anyone else have such an altered reaction to this weeks reading compared to our first selections by Bishop? Did you notice something in “Questions of Travel” that seemed to be so different?

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I know we aren’t reading Heaney, but…

September 5, 2010

Here is a link to an intriguing review of Seamus Heaney’s most recent collection of poetry, Human Chain. The reviewer, Nick Laird, writes:

Human Chain is stranger – and much greater – than a cursory glance would suggest. Though here, as expected, are exquisitely turned poems about rural events and childhood incidents, the collection also revisits (and sometimes redirects) earlier work, and there is a chilly, other-worldly aura hanging over the whole enterprise.”

Along with some dreamy, vaguely hero-worshipful criticism (the kind Gioia might vomit over), there are some pretty intense spoilers in the review: there are excerpts from four or five different poems, intriguing enough to pique my interest, but short enough to irritate. I suppose copywright laws prevent full texts of the poems from being posted in The Telegraph, but extracting what are ostensibly the best bits and telling readers about how great they are seems tantamount to saying, “Oh, you want to read this book? Well, _____ dies.”

Anyway, Laird’s point seems to be that if you are allergic to “passages of enormous lyric power,” you probably shouldn’t read any Heaney, especially not Human Chain. The book comes out in the U.S. on September 14th, and, like a big nerd, I have already pre-ordered it.

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