Elizabeth Bishop: The Restraints of Language

Elizabeth Bishop: The Restraints of Language

Elizabeth Bishop: The Restraints of Language

Elizabeth Bishop: The Restraints of Language

Synopsis

This illuminating study examines Elizabeth Bishop's rhetorical strategies and the way they shape the formal and thematic movements of her poetry and stories. Unlike other recent studies of Bishop, Doreski's does not concern itself primarily with her visual imagery, but rather deals with her poetry as a series of linguistic strategies designed to create the maximum illusion of representation while resisting the romantic devices of self-revelation and solipsistic narration. Doreski argues that Bishop takes advantage of the inadequacies of language, and with a postmodern sense of limitation explores the gaps and silences narrative must bridge with the mundane, the patently inadequate, leaving an air of emotional intimacy without committing itself to the banality of full exposure. This study finds the poems and stories mutually illuminating, but while moving back and forth among her various works, acknowledges the intelligent ordering of the volumes Bishop published in her lifetime.

Excerpt

For a time I feared this study, like the stream in Bishop "To the Botequim & Back," would keep "descending, talk[ing] as it goes," disappear into a cavern, and never be seen again [CPr, 79]. I once had reason to believe myself among the first critics to contemplate the entirety of Bishop's career. Long before the publication of Geography III, I had spent hours at the Boston Public Library searching through Life and Letters To-day, Partisan Review, and the New Yorker, tracking down Elizabeth Bishop through her then- uncollected work.

My preoccupation originated the evening I abandoned a Bailey's soda (a treat for a Californian new to the city of Boston) in favor of a reading by (as the Boston Globe put it) "the poet of 'The Fish.' She arrived flustered, distracted, and forty-five minutes late. She anxiously read through four poems, glanced up, and prepared for a hasty retreat. Brought back to the microphone, Bishop acquiesced to one question: Would she read "Sestina"? A lifetime of working to bring her knowledge and her poetics into mutual focus had generated a surface tension powerful enough to convert the rough draft "Early Sorrows" into the tonally perfect "Sestina," averting through formal and rhetorical dexterity the temptations of sentiment. Bishop's reading confirmed my sense that the restraints of language shaped the tone, tensions, and even the topics of her poetry. Rather than an escape from emotion this represented its liberation not only from bathos but from the high ironies of . . .

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