Monday 28 July 2008

After a long absence

Reading Elizabeth Bishop, I know that I am often missing the point.
Yesterday I read - among other poems of hers - a long ballad and derived little pleasure from it.

On the other hand, there is a poem called In the Waiting Room, where she describes a strange experience, a sense of merging with her aunt who had cried out in pain from the dentists' room next door, which was followed by the assertion of a sense of her own I:

...I said to myself: three days
and you'll be seven days old.
I was saying it to stop
the sensation of falling off
the round, turning world
into cold, blue-black space.
But I felt: you are an
you are an
you are one of them.
Why should you be one, too?
I scarcely dared to look
to see what it was I was....


...Why should I be my aunt,
or me, or anyone?
What similarities-
[ ... ] -
held us all together
or made us all just one?

(p. 160, Elizabeth Bishop, The Complete Poems, 1927-1979, (1980) Farrar, Straus and Giroux, NY)

I particularly liked the line ...Why should you be one, too?... the playfulness of it, and the shyness of ...I scarcely dared look...

Furthermore, this poem could be useful as an example of narrative poetry, no rhyming or form except for the rhythm of the words and the breaks from line to line. I am working on a poem entitled After a long absence which is narrative, and which would suit this style.

The main problem with After a long absence is that a second story is inserted into the story of the poem, with unfamiliar actors , which took place elsewhere, but which is connected by association of ideas to the events described. How to make the transition to and from the main story a smooth one for a reader, so that they may travel on this little journey without a sense of disruption?

Typographic indications might work - for instance at present the second story is framed by a line in italics After a long absence..., and the same sentence is repeated afterwards. But a past experience using italics taught me that they may appear cheap.

It might be better if a gap were left within the column of the main story, while the text of the second story was moved as in a side-step, into an adjacent column.

One might say that this is gimmickery.

It would be best if the connection was made clear or an enemy might say, two poems made out of the one. That would result in two poor little poems without much merit. They would simply wilt and die.

Too much time spent writing this today.

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