look, if this turns into Helen Vendler vs. the Litblogs, count me out

A fast shout, which I meant to do days ago, to Mark‘s week guest blogging over at the Poetry Foundation. Eloquent, knowledgeable, enthused, intelligent. Rah!

Foundations which The Poetry Foundation are definitely better than: The Work Foundation.

An extra word too about the Monday piece on Elizabeth Bishop. One of the things I meant to post on while I was busy not posting over summer and autumn was that publication of Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke-Box, and ensuing fuss. In the end, though, I just couldn’t make up my mind, and I thought it best to keep my trap shut.

Mark lays out all the arguments for these things being available, and I think he’s right, largely.

The other part of my brain, though, thinks Bishop made it pretty clear that her Complete Poems is how she wanted her work to stand. A poet does have a right to present their art as a fait accompli; poetry that works is a species of magic (in at least a couple of senses) and performance. There’s an audience that would like to watch the astonishing trapeze show, and not think about the thousands of falls and dropped catches that go to make up a few moments of grace – arse celery and all that.

Also, I think Marianne Moore’s reputation has been harmed by the publication of the Grace Schulman Poems. It lacks the assuredness and the authority of the old Complete, and the unquestionable, astonishing brilliance of her pre-War work is watered down. I like there being a simple volume that one can point at and say ‘look – that’s the thing itself’.

One of these days a thin grey spectre is going to enter Grace Schulman’s room as she sleeps. She’ll wake, look up, and the spirit will utter these five words: “OMISSIONS – ARE – NOT – FUCKING – ACCIDENTS”.

But it’s not really that hard to settle this for myself. I wouldn’t be without The English Auden, or the other drafts of ‘Poetry’ by Moore (that, of course, would leave us without ‘real toads in imaginary gardens’). Does the existence of a sketchbook cheapen a masterpiece? I think not – not even if that sketchbook were to provide incontrovertible evidence that Delacroix persistently cheated on the problem of doing fingers.

In conclusion:

1) Bishop should have been a bit quicker about burning her drafts.

2) You don’t have to read the poems she didn’t like if you don’t want to, ie no need for fuss if the ‘Complete Poems’ stays in print as it is

3) If you don’t know her work, may I suggest you go and read some Bishop? She’s terribly good. It’s not fireworks fun, like ee cummings or someone similar, but for clarity of eye and composition, for the gift of getting weight and depth behind natural language in formal structures, there aren’t many to match her. Once that voice gets you, it’ll have you for good.