Thursday, April 27, 2006

Good TLS things

Adam Kirsch on Elizabeth Bishop's uncollected drafts and fragments:

Compared to the decades-long gestation of other poems, “One Art” came to Bishop quickly, in just a few months – “like writing a letter”, she said. But the sixteen drafts of the poem reveal how far it evolved to reach its seemingly predestined form. The first draft shows the basic premiss already established, but Bishop expounds it in a dismally coy first-person monologue:

One may find it hard to believe, but I have
actually lost
I mean lost, and forever two whole houses,
one a very big one. A third house, also big, is
at present, I think, “mislaid” – but
maybe it’s lost, too. I won’t know for some

If this attempt is paralysed by its assumed airiness, the succeeding drafts are nearly sunk by naked sentimentality. “One Art” became a villanelle as early as the second draft, but by the ninth Bishop was still contemplating a bathetic ending: “The art of losing isn’t hard to master. / oh no. / anything at all anything but one’s love. (Say it: disaster.)”. And not until the twelfth draft does she abandon the saccharine rhyme comparing the beloved’s eyes to “the small wild aster”. The perfection of “One Art”, the drafts show, was not given, but earned, through the disciplined refusal of Bishop’s deepest poetic temptations. That insistence on perfection, documented on every page of Edgar Allan Poe and the Jukebox, is what makes Elizabeth Bishop not just a cherishable poet, but an exemplary one.

(The layout of the verse may have gotten messed up, by the way, in the paste-up.)

Also Raymond Tallis on Mary Midgley's memoir (mmmm, that's one I have to get, sounds great) and Bharat Tandon on Alan Warner (a mixed but very perceptive review, with some interesting thoughts on modes of contemporary fiction).

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