Friday, February 8, 2019

Elizabeth Bishop — birthday celebration

It`s the birthday of poet Elizabeth Bishop (more about the author) born in Worcester, Massachusetts (1911).
She was painfully shy and quiet in college, but during her senior year, she mustered up all her courage and introduced herself to her idol, the elder poet Marianne Moore. The meeting was awkward at first, but then Bishop offered to take Moore to the circus. It turned out they both loved going to the circus and they both also loved snakes, tattoos, exotic flowers, birds, dressmaking, and recipes. Moore became Bishop's mentor and friend.
Bishop was an extremely slow writer and published only 101 poems in her lifetime. She worked on her poem "The Moose" for more than 25 years, keeping it tacked up on her wall so that she could rearrange the lines again and again until she got it right. But she was an obsessive letter writer. She once wrote 40 letters in a single day. (Source: The Writer’s Almanac)

And here is my favorite by Bishop: “The Fish." Bishop`s strong suit is her worshipful celebration of sublime concrete imagery and sensory experience; for me, that kind of celebration should be the goal of all poets.

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn't fight.
He hadn't fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
- the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly- 
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
- It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
- if you could call it a lip
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
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. 



5 comments:

  1. must have been a catfish... catch and release: good...

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    1. Hmmmm .... the kind of fish never crossed my mind ..... not much of a fisherman here .....I rejoice over the rainbow! ....

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    2. oil spill: absorbent materiel required...

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  2. I'm not adept at reading poetry. But I'm glad she let the fish go.

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    1. This was a great poem for intro to lit classes! The imagery is palpable.

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