Sunday 27 July 2008

Elizabeth Bishop's letters

I spent yesterday reading Elizabeth Bishop's letters, got about a fifth of the way through the book (too big, heavy to hold, what was the publisher thinking of.)

On p. 54, in a letter to Marianne Moore, about the sestina: ...It seems to me that there are two ways possible for a sestina. One is to use unusual words as terminations, in which case they would have to be used differently as often as possible - as you say, "change of scale". That would make a very highly seasoned kind of poem. And the other way is to use as colorless words as possible - like Sidney, so that it becomes less of a trick and more of a natural theme and variations. I guess I have tried to do both at once [in her poem A Miracle for Breakfast].

I think Sidney is a town in Florida, where she was at the time. I have made notes of other things she says, but those are more in the nature of going off on tangents so shall not mention them here.

I was pleased to discover the source of the word 'mackerel' used to describe a sky in the poem Invitation to Miss Marianne Moore, the one with the Please come flying leitmotif mentioned in yesterday's post: she had a kitten named Minnow, but its colour was really mackerel, she writes, a certain kind of grey...

I shall be reading Marianne Moore next, once I have thoroughly examined EB.

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