Plath’s Play

September 4, 2010

Found this cool article that I thought some of you might be interested in.

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Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish”

September 2, 2010

The fish has caught the speaker.     No, Really:  The fish has CAUGHT the speaker.    This is the shocked impression that I was left with after the last stunning line of Bishop’s “The Fish.”

As the speaker cradles the impressive weight, and recognizes each detailed wound – the speaker is left in a paralyzed, appreciative vacuum:  the only thing they can manage to do is to gaze, memorize.  Every inch of The Fish is a full narrative.  A Fish is worth a thousand words.

At the climax, there is no loss of victory by releasing The Fish; nothing is forfeited.  The Fish has left his impression: the five hooks in his lip, his white sea lice, his sea weed.  The Fish leaves with a surreal purposefulness.

The Fish has caught the speaker.

A quick thought concerning “The Man-Moth,”  why was “The Fish” larger, clearer and more emotionally personified than the Man-Moth, a creature that is half human? What does this imply about the regal-ness of the natural world?

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Surface observations

September 2, 2010

Bishop seems fascinated with the terrestrial.  Her book opens with a description of a map and her thoughts of what it represents of the real formations of the earth.  Then we read her description of travelling from the way the city takes over the land and the country begs it to slow down.  There continues to be a very earthy tone in “The Monument,” confusing wood and clouds and sea, finding woodgrains in them all. “A sea of narrow, horrizontal boards/lies out behind our lonely monument, / its long grains alternating right and left/ like floor-boards–spotted, swarming-still,/ and motionless. A sky runs parallel,/ and its palings, coarser than the sea’s:/ splintery sunlight and long-fibred clouds.”  “The Believer” acts as another poem that takes the Earth as a subject, but it has the twist of whether it is something that works for us (“He said: “up here/ I tower through the sky/ for the marble wings on my tower-top fly.”) or a power acting against us: “The spangled sea below wants me to fall./ It is hard as diamonds; it wants to destroy us all.”  The poem has a feeling of faith and perception about its subject matter, but the Earth is what we have faith in, instead of a divine power.

The “Man-Moth,” however, takes and earthy subject and sends him on a quest to investigate the hole in the sky (the moon).  It has a sense of supernatural and otherworldness to it, and I enjoyed it for the out-of-body feel it had.

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Eyes are the Window to the Soul

September 2, 2010

The cliché line, “your eyes are the window to your soul,” can be supported by two of Bishop’s poems. These two poems being “The Man-Moth” and “The Fish.” The narrator speaks in each of these poems as having looked into the subject’s eyes and defining the character by the shape and darkness of their pupil or iris. “If you catch him,/ hold a flashlight up to his eye. It’s all dark pupil,/ an entire night itself…Then from the lids/ one tear, his only possession.” Through the man-moth’s eyes, we see the loneliness of his world, the darkness he lives in. His world is so dark, the audience can only see with a flashlight.

In addition, I could never before say I have felt any remorse for a fish; however, Bishop’s poem, “The Fish,” has changed my assumption. Through the fish’s eyes, I felt pain, uselessness, “but shallower, and yellowed,/ the irises backed and packed/ with tarnished tinfoil seen through the lenses…they shifted a little, but not/ to return by stare.” The fish is performing everyday, mundane routines. His yellow eyes show how sick he is of this life, so sick, he no longer fights when he is hooked. His shallow life consists of nibbling the bait, being hooked and escaping. Life is rough for this little Nemo and how could it not be with five hooks in your grim, bottom lip?

The poems that we read today were a mockery – which made them that much more captivating- and makes me believe that to show us the subject of her poems, the man-moth and the fish, Bishop had to do so through the cliché belief of looking in on the window of their souls.

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Bishop and Heaney

September 1, 2010

I don’t know about everyone else,  but I found parts of Heaney’s essay, “The Redress of Poetry” quite tough to follow. It seemed like he was continuously shifting his analysis back and forth between poetry’s connection to political and societal ideas, traditions etc., and to its inherent relationship to the natural world through language and the complex interaction between the two. But I really couldn’t say much more about it, and certainly nothing more concrete. However, one passage in particular stuck out to me, and I thought about it after reading  Elizabeth bishop’s poem ” The Fish.” The passage from Heaney is on page 15 of his essay:

“On the contrary, I want to profess the surprise of poetry as well as it’s reliability; I want to celebrate its given unforseeable thereness, the way it enters our field of vision and animates our physical and intelligent being in much the same way as those bird-shapes stenciled on the transparent surfaces of glass walls or windows must suddenly enter the vision and change the direction of real birds’ flight. In a flash the shapes register and transmit their unmistakable presence, so the birds veer off instinctively. An image of the living creatures has induced a totally salubrious swerve in the creatures themselves. And this natural, heady diversion is also something induced by poetry and reminds me of a further (obsolete) meaning of ‘redress’…“Hunting. To bring back (the hounds or deer) to the proper course.’ In this ‘redress’ there is no hint of ethical obligation; it is more the matter of finding a course for the breakaway of innate capacity, a course where something unhindered, yet detected, can sweet ahead into it’s full potential.”

Obviously, Heaney is relaying (or trying to relay) a lot in this passage, but I’m most taken in by his thoughts on the relationship between the representation of the “real world” through poetry (and language) and the physical form of the thing itself, the actual animal–in Bishop’s case: the fish. Here’s an excerpt from the last 21 lines of Bishop’s poem “The Fish”:

A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels–until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go. (55-76)

I’m sure there can be many readings of this poem: maybe the rainbow that flows forth over the oil and the rusted engine symbolizes the romantic idea of the triumph and power of nature over mankind’s attempts to control it; maybe the fish’s “victory” in this poem, and perhaps the narrator’s as well, is that same triumph–the continuous ability of the fish to outlast and survive a man’s (or woman’s) attempts to capture and kill it. Or maybe the fish is a metaphor for something else entirely.

Regardless of these readings, I found Bishop’s presentation of the fish to point back to the passage from Heaney’s essay. Through her language, Bishop has re-created this particular fish for us, and maybe this image of the “real” creature is the one that touches that intelligent part of one’s brain, that through her capacity to reproduce the “real world” through poetic language, Bishop has presented to us the “unhindered potential” of her poetic form of the fish.

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How Beautiful a Fish Can Be

September 1, 2010

This evening is the first time that I have read Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “The Fish”. Before now, my only contact with the poem was through a spoken performance given in my Literature in Performance class one year ago. When I first heard the poem I couldn’t really focus on it and it was hard for me, a lot of the time, to follow what was being said, i.e. the basic narrative. However, upon this reading, silently, at first I was much more involved in the poem and found myself lost in the splendorous “victory” the speaker feels at catching the fish after it’s having got away so many times.

I loved the way our understanding of the fish built up and up, at first unimpressed by his “grunting weight, / battered and venerable / and homely.” It is almost easy to miss that key word–venerable–in lieu of the numerous derogatory adjectives: “his brown skin…like ancient wallpaper” or “full-blown roses / stained and lost through age”. Again, we are led to a pleasant description–the “full-blown roses” only to be disappointed on the following line through their shriveled metaphoric state. It is easy to find yourself disgusted by the “barnacles,” the skin “infested / with tiny white sea-lice” or the impoverished state of the “rags of green weed” hanging beneath his body.

And yet, Bishop takes us by the hand, walking us through her own evolving perception of the fish. We begin to see that the creature isn’t entirely helpless, that, in fact, if we are not careful in how we handle him, we may be “cut so badly” by his “frightening gills”. His “coarse white flesh,” forcing us to think about the skin of the fish, is described (instead of in scaly terms that might bother many who are unaccustomed to finding beauty in such humble places as fish) as being “packed in like feathers”.

She goes on to describe his eyes as “far larger than mine,” usually taken as a good quality, though she does qualify this line, making them “shallower, and yellowed”. It seems as though the speaker would like to raise the fish to her level, but must ultimately face the truth of reality: she is the fisher, it the catch. This goes on until she has elevated the fish still further, turning the “five big hooks” into “medals with their ribbons / frayed” and the “old pieces of fish-line” into a “beard of wisdom”. From here, she has turned this “homely” fish into a veteran of war and thus her simple catch into a feat deserving of victorious celebration. The “oil” becomes beautiful in her eyes, a “rainbow” that spreads to all around her “until everything / was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!”

And finally, the anti-climactic last line: “And I let the fish go.” At first, we may wonder why the speaker does this. But upon further reflection, and a second reading, we remember that the fish “didn’t fight. / He hadn’t fought at all.” The repetition of the lack of will on the fish’s part along with the short length of the lines adds emphasis to them. We must acknowledge, as the speaker ultimately does, that, if the fish is anthropomorphized into a noble war veteran, he must be treated as such. One can almost see it, swimming in its lake, tired of being caught, tired of being let loose, tired of being the object of human’s pleasure at his own physical expense. And just as quickly as it came, the victory has left.

On another note, related to my introduction, after reading this silently to myself and thinking about all that I have written here and more, I decided to read the poem to a friend of mine. Curiously enough, upon the first reading to them, despite the feeling I put into the reading, they (like me) didn’t follow the narrative. After reading it aloud to them a second time they were better able to understand the poem. But, I wonder why this is. Does it have to do with our disposition towards things that we listen to on a daily basis? Are we as attentive as we should be or as is required to appreciate (or even understand on a more basic level) the things we perceive? Seems like an unrelated and more philosophic point of inquiry, but it never hurts to get the wheels turning a bit. I hope you all enjoyed this poem as much as I did.

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Multimedia Report on The Beats

September 1, 2010

The Beats Wiki

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UMW WIki Tutorial

September 1, 2010

As promised, the UMW Wiki tutorial is up, the only thing I need to add is embedding audio, besides that it should cover a lot. Let me know what questions you have.

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Graphing poetry

September 1, 2010

(By Deborah S.)  The graphic on the board in yesterday’s class was useful because it drove home the point that art is relevant.  I think another, more intricate way, to visualize the concept of Poetry (as an entity in its own right) is through Cubism.  In the Cubist style of art, many sides of the subject are shown at the same time—you experience all its aspects, see all its faces and angles.  You can look at a Cubist work repeatedly and see a new facet every time.  A good example is the painting “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2” by Marcel Duchamp.  See how full of movement the painting is, how we seem to see it from many directions.  I believe a poem is like a Cubist painting.  That’s why many poets can write truthfully about one subject, although each one says something completely different and they often contradict one another.

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On the Relevance of Poetry

September 1, 2010

I must admit that I am deeply moved by the arguments posited in Adrienne Rich’s What I Found There. Rich reminds us to be careful what we wish for. While many poets, today, lament the perceived impotence of poetic forms, most would probably not feel comfortable in a society where writing poetry could lead to internment in prison or a mental hospital, and even death. And yet, this is the price some have paid, for popularity among the common public, in non-democratic societies.

Dana Gioia argues in his essay, Can Poetry Matter?, that the very freedoms of which we are so proud, (Those that enable free trade and relatively free speech, without fear of reprisal) are at least partially responsible for the public’s loss of interest in poetry. He points to the political and economic climate, referring to the close involvement of academia and the rewards system that permeates the university.   He goes on to blame the close subculture of poetry, mentioning among other things, loss of the critics’ voice.

I do not, however, believe that academia is solely to blame for poetry’s downfall, but that the decline is more closely linked to Adrienne Rich’s argument. As a group, American’s are spoiled. Although, we can say what we like without fear of reprisal, we have lost sight of just how precious that right is. Likewise, as Gioia suggests, we take our poetry and our critic’s voice for granted. Rather than say and print that which is necessary we succumb to the free market pressures of our society, leaving behind a wreckage of barely recognizable self- congratulatory propaganda.

Which leads to Rich’s most important arguments, “We must use what we have to invent what we desire” (215). “A revolutionary poem will not tell you who or when to kill … It reminds you … where and when and how you are living and might live __ it is a wick of desire. .. A revolutionary poem is written out of one individual’s confrontation with her/his own longings … in the belief that its readers … deserve an art as complex, as open to contradictions as themselves” (241). This desire, then, to create a complex and contradictory art that relates common humanity is what will continue to hold poetry in a place of relevance within society and within the hearts and minds of its readers, despite any monetary value, large or small, that our free-trade economy chooses to place upon it, now or at anytime in the future.

Works Cited
Gioia, Dana. Can Poetry Matter? Essays on Poetry and American Culture. Saint Paul: Graywolf, 1992. 1-21.

Rich, Adrienne. What I found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics. NV: ww.Norton, 1993.
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Designed by Tim Sainburg from Brambling Design

Designed by Tim Sainburg from Brambling Design

Designed by Tim Sainburg from Brambling Design

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