Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Sunday, February 8, 2009

"Elizabeth Bishop's Poetic Voice: Reconciling Influences" by Laura Ebberson

Elizabeth Bishop was born on this date (February 8) in 1911. Sherod Santos writes about Elizabeth Bishop in an essay, “In a Glass Darkly: Reflections on Contemporary American Poetry,” which was included in his volume of criticism, A Poetry Of Two Minds (University of Georgia Press, 2000): “If any one person were going to serve as a model for younger poets, I think she’d make a pretty good choice.” Santos further describes Bishop’s career: “In a writing life that spanned more than fifty years, Bishop published just over ninety poems. There are no epics, no poems of elaborate or showy technical experiment, there’s nothing that requires an academic guide, nothing to make a reader feel inferior to the text. In fact, her poems seem completely free of that desire to be as great as someone else or to make their mark on the world of literature. And yet, of course, the mark they’ve left is both large and indelible.”

Certainly, Santos correctly sums up Bishop’s quiet excellence, and he hints at the manner in which her poetry has contributed as an example for many contemporary poets. Nevertheless, readers also ought to be reminded of ways Bishop first learned and carefully developed her craft while under the influence of others, most prominently Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell, and established a personal voice somewhere between the styles promoted by this pair of instrumental figures. Laura Ebberson recently explored this issue in Volume VIII, Number 1 of Valparaiso Poetry Review. Therefore, today appears the perfect time to remind readers of Ebberson’s article, and I encourage all to examine her essay.


by Laura Ebberson

With Alice Quinn’s recent publication of Elizabeth Bishop’s uncollected poems, drafts and fragments titled Edgar Allan Poe and the Jukebox, she has stirred up new discussion and debate about the mid-twentieth century poet. Critics are disagreeing over how the collection will affect readers’ perception of the poet. Adam Kirsch believes that the collection can increase readers’ understanding and admiration of Bishop (Times Literary Supplement). He sees the collection as “chosen material that cast a great deal of light on Bishop’s mind and methods” (3). Helen Vendler, on the other hand, vehemently asserts that the publication will alter readers’ opinions of the meticulous and reticent writer. She declares the publication a “betrayal of Elizabeth Bishop,” and believes the poems “[transgress] her commitment to exactness.” This new debate about Bishop’s uncollected work reminds readers of the critical debate surrounding Bishop that has persisted for many years. Both arguments involve her fastidious revision process and discomfort with giving readers obvious insight into her personal life.

Bishop’s career almost appears fated for discussion and debate because of her relationship with two poets of diametrically opposite writing styles. In a conversation about her revision process, she said “If I’ve shown my work to anyone for criticism, it’s usually been to Cal Lowell or Miss Moore” (Wehr 323). Bishop’s two major influences, poets Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell, embodied very different poetic styles. Moore strove to be what Bishop described as “fundamental[ly] … [a poet] who has brought a brilliant precision to poetic language by meticulous conservatism … [and] maintaining the ancestral, ‘out-of-date’ virtues of American culture” (Ribeiro 15). Her other influence, Lowell, “had … embraced poetry in the grand style, thinking in terms of the largest gesture, history and politics” and, more famously, the poet who started what Bishop herself called “that nonsense of confessional poetry” (Millier 198 and Schiller 22). Bishop’s relationship with both of these poets created a tension between their opposing approaches toward poetry. Her response to this tension resulted in the creation of her own style of writing, one that satisfies both Lowell’s “confessional nonsense” and Moore’s “meticulous conservatism.” Although she created a unique blend of these elements, a debate arose over which was the defining characteristic of her poetry: the precision learned from Moore or the personal revelation she learned from Lowell.

The original critical discussion surrounding Elizabeth Bishop focuses on those two different sides of her writing styles. The prevailing critical interpretation “valued [her poems] for their brilliant surfaces, keen observation, and formal perfection” (Travisiano 903). Bishop strove to provide perfect representations of the physical world through her poetry. To her “the physical world was real, and language, if used carefully, could describe it well enough to communicate something essential” (Gioia 25). Many critics praise her ability to render realistic and vivid images of the scenes she described.

The opposing critical interpretation, however, centers on the personal and emotional side of Bishop’s poetry. These critics focus on Bishop’s relationship to the overwhelming popularity of “confessional poetry” from the early 1940’s to the early 1970’s. Confessional poetry gave poets an outlet to express their personal experiences or emotions. Poet-critic Jonathan Kirsch writes, “The motive for confession is penitential or therapeutic—by speaking openly about his guilt and suffering the poet hopes to make them easier to hear” (Kirsch x). While confessional poetry existed before 1956, critics often refer to Robert Lowell’s Life Studies as a benchmark in the development of modern confessional poetry. In this compilation, Lowell depicts a raw and honest look into his life and exemplifies the candid autobiographical expression of the confessional movement.

Bishop’s poetry, however, does not fall neatly into this category of “confessional” because she does not immediately place herself into her poetry, even though “connections between Bishop’s themes and images, and her autobiography, are obvious to anyone who reads her letters or visits the archive at Vassar” (Costello, “Impersonal Personal” 334). Bishop adamantly opposed confessional poetry throughout most of her career, but one sees her reliance on personal experiences as subjects in much of her poetry. From chronicling her experiences and travels in foreign lands to reminiscing about her childhood in Nova Scotia, Bishop could not avoid her personal life from seeping into her poetry . . . .

Visitors are urged to read the rest of Laura Ebberson’s essay, “Elizabeth Bishop’s Poetic Voice: Reconciling Influences,” in Valparaiso Poetry Review.

* * * * *

Readers also are invited to examine a pair of previous posts in “One Poet’s Notes” concerning Elizabeth Bishop: “Jennifer Yaros: ‘Nature and the Self: Dickinson, Bishop, Plath, and Oliver’” and “Elizabeth Bishop: The Poet’s Voice.” In addition, Elizabeth Bishop can be heard reading “The Fish,” “In the Waiting Room,” and “The Moose” at a Salon audio web page.


Bruce Oksol said...

I find it uplifting that these poets could really appreciate nature. I have no idea if they ever thought how absolutely unique the blue planet is. Looking at the night sky is enchanting but to know that the earth remains the only planet that supports life, and such advanced life, is quite jarring. I can only imagine what these authors would have thought if they had been able to see the blue speck (earth) in a photograph taken from deep in space by the Hubble telescope. All those empty, cold, sterile rocks, and earth, alone, with real color.

John Guzlowski said...

Bruce, I agree with you. Poets have a gift for looking at nature and just about everything else, I reckon.

And they probably don't need the Hubble Telescope. They have there own telescopes, the imaginary kind that let them see all there is to see.

Reading the end of your comment about the sterile rocks and earth alone, I thought about another one of my favorite poets, Robert Frost, and his poem "Desert Places."

Here it is (please forgive the line breaks. they may not come through):

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

The woods around it have it--it is theirs.
All animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.

And lonely as it is that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less--
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars--on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

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