Elizabeth Bishop



I've forgotten what it was that was supposed to be "mammoth". But the misprint seemed meant for me. An oracle spoke from the page of the New York Times, kindly explaining New York City to me, at least for a moment.

One is offered such oracular statements all the time, but often misses them, gets lazy about writing them out in detail, or the meaning refuses to stay put. This poem seems to have stayed put fairly well - but as [Thomas] "Fats" Waller used to say, "One never knows, do one?"

from Elizabeth Bishop, "On 'The Man-Moth,'" in Schwartz and Estess 286.

But reading Darwin one admires the beautiful solid case being built up out of his endless, heroic observations, almost unconscious or automatic-and then comes a sudden relaxation, a forgetful phrase, and one feels that strangeness of his undertaking, sees the lonely young man, his eyes fixed on facts and minute details, sinking or sliding giddily off into the unknown. What one seems to want in art, in experiencing it, is the same thing that is necessary for its creation, a self-forgetful, perfectly useless concentration.

from a Letter to Anne Stevenson, reproduced in Stevenson 66.

One thing I feel I should warn you against ... do be careful of the female element ...! It's fine up to a point, but shouldn't be stressed, I feel-the beauty of pots and pans, simple household tasks (that are really neither simple nor beautiful), babies' smiles, that are really just reflexes, and so on ... MEN don't talk about being MEN all the time, in their poetry, & I don't think women should either.

from a letter to a student, quoted in Dodd 125-26.

There seemed to be one thing common to all their 'primitive' writing, as I suppose it might be called, in contrast to primitive painting: its slipshoddiness and haste. Where primitive painters will spend months or years, if necessary, putting in every blade of grass and building up brick walls in low relief, the primitive writer seems to be in a hurry to get it over with. Another thing was the almost complete lack of detail. The primitive painter loves detail and lingers over it and emphasizes it at the expense of the picture as a whole.

from her Collected Prose 46.

I did-do-like early Chirico-but "The Weed" was influenced, if by anything, by a set of prints I had of Max Ernst's-lost long ago-called Histoire Naturelle (something like that) in which all the plants, etc., had been made by frottage-on wood, so the wood grain showed through. I'm perhaps saying too much-Lota always said I did-it was much better to keep people in the dark! But this has already been remarked on in that Twayne book, I think.

from One Art 478

Going insane is very popular these days, and it frightens me to see so many young people flirting with the idea of it. They think that going crazy will turn them into better poets. That's just not true at all! Insanity is a terrible thing ... a terrible thing! I've seen it first-hand in some of my friends, and it is not the "poetic" sort of thing that these young people seem to think it is.

from a letter to Wesley Wehr, quoted in Wehr 41.