14 June 2005

another letter to another poet

Elizabeth Bishop’s response to Donald Stanford, a young poet approximately her age, on his responses to the poems she sent to him when she was a Vassar student in 1933 and 1934:

I realize that “sickening rupture” and “awful socket” . . . are, as you say, crude—but at the same time I think they “go.” After all, the idea behind that sonnet is not a very pretty one, and “sickening rupture” is its introduction. “Awful socket” has been prepared for by it, and the following line, which you liked, closes the unpleasant incident. They are the perceptions which give rise to the whole thing, so I don’t see how they could very well be left out or smoothed over. In the last one I’m afraid I didn’t intend to suggest the machine age at all—as I remember it, I had just brought two clocks back from the jeweler’s—and surely clocks are ancient enough to appear with dignity. The fault is mine, though, if you thought I was talking about a canning factory. . . .

Raising one’s eyes airplane-wise means simply upwards. You can say sidewise, why not up-wise, and so on to what’s up there?

I agree with you more on the subject of rhythm than would probably seem to be the case from the poems I sent you. I can write in iambics if I want to—but just now I don’t know my own mind quite well enough to say what I want to in them. If I try to write smoothly I find myself perverting the meaning for the sake of the smoothness. (And don’t you do that sometimes yourself?) However, I think that an equally great “cumulative effect” might be built up by a series of irregularities. Instead of beginning with an “uninterrupted mood” what I want to do is get the moods themselves into the rhythm. This is a very hard thing to explain, but for me there are two kinds of poetry, that (I think yours is of this sort) at rest, and that which is in action, within itself. At present it is too hard for me to get this feeling of action within the poem unless I just go ahead with it and let the meters find their way through. . . .

And one thing more—what on earth do you mean when you say my perceptions are “almost impossible for a woman’s”? “Now what the hell,” as you said to me, “you know that’s meaningless.” And if you really do mean anything by it, I imagine it would make me very angry. Is there some glandular reason which prevents a woman from having good perceptions, or what? . . .

You tell me to watch out for unpleasant phrases like “meditate your own wet”—when I have watched out for them and put them in deliberately. It has a lot to do with what I am attempting to write, so I guess I shall try to explain it to you. “Meditate your own wet” is unsuccessful, I see now, because it has such unpleasant connotations and it’s liable to carry the point rather afield. But—if you can forget all your unpleasant associations with the words—I think possibly you’ll admit that the phrase does for a second give you a feeling of intense consciousness in your tongue. Perhaps even that is unpleasant, but I think that momentary concentration of sensation is worthwhile . . . Have you ever noticed that you can often learn more about other people—more about how they feel, how it would feel to be them—by hearing them cough or make one of the innumerable inner noises, than by watching them for hours? Sometimes if another person hiccups, particularly if you haven’t been paying much attention to him, why you get a sudden sensation as if you were inside him—you know how he feels in the little aspects he never mentions, aspects which are, really, indescribable to another person and must be realized by that kind of intuition. Do you know what I am driving at? Well, if you can follow those rather hazy sentences—that’s why I quite often want to get into poetry . . .


2 comments:

  1. When are you arriving??

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  2. thanks for posting this.

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