Friday, December 16, 2005

Lots of disparate things on my mind. Conducted a short interview today for PW with Alice Quinn, who edited Elizabeth Bishop’s uncollected poems, titled EDGAR ALLEN POE & THE JUKE BOX. It comes out in March, and I’m sure it spark much debate—do these fragments, unfinished poems, and small pieces stand up as complete poems on their own?—but Quinn handled the material lovingly, annotating all of the poems with bits of Bishop’s letters and journals, as well as testimony from friends. And there are many complete pieces, or major poems that simply weren’t finished. For me, the most important thing is to suddenly have access to more Bishop. Here is a bit of a poem that breaks my heart:

Today I love you so
how can I bear to go
(as soon I must, I know)
to bed with ugly death
in that cold, filthy place,
to sleep there without you

You’ll see what I mean when you’ve got the whole poem. The book also offers a glimpse at how Bishop composed—we see her alternate lines and stanzas alongside the working versions. We see her slinking her way into free verse. We see the surprising sophistication of her early work. It’s going to be a major event, and I just hope the power and wonder of the book doesn’t get drowned out in petty complaints.

On another note, Netflix, that wonder of Internet innovation, has entered the poetic cannon in a forthcoming book by John Koethe:

…I walk to what I try to
Tell myself is work, entering at the end of the day
The same room, like the man in Dead of Night—
The dinner, the DVD from Netflix,
The drink before I go to sleep and wake alone


What does this say about where we’re at? Something in me resists the inclusion of utterly contemporary elements in new poetry, or at least elements that are unlikely to stand any test of time. In a hundred years, will anyone remember Netflix? More worrisome is whether anyone will remember the poems we are pouring into the eternal ether at this moment. Yet, how else can one get across that sentiment. I certainly come home to my lonesome DVDs on many a night, and perhaps the imagine of the lonesome book is getting a bit tiresome.

What else? The Joan Didion book, THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING, is heartbreaking, and something of a trial to read, not because it’s not a lovely piece of literature, but because it’s a tough ride through hospitals and thwarted, desperate hope. But it’s an important book on the subject of grief, and anyone with a need for writing on that subject should read it.

Also, look at Joshua Corey’s post about Michael Coffey’s book. And look at this link to a complete facsimile of every issue of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=U=E.

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