Of course, the Bishop books is the talk of poetry town. It was bound to be controversial, so it’s only fulfilling its destiny by causing a stir. Anyone who hasn’t already should read, first, the book itself, then Vendler’s review from the New Republic, then today’s NY Times article, then Josh Corey’s thoughts on the matter, then whatever comes next.
I think Vendler’s article is pathetic. As if she was afraid many of her shots would miss, she aims at every possible target in the book, including its lack of an index, which has little to do with the matter at hand. I do appreciate her readings of several of the poems as poems, rathar than examples of poems Bishop “repudiated.” Vendler is a reader with an unusually broad view of poetry, historically speaking. Her analises of a few of the poems as poems is valuable. But, the fact is, it no longer matters what Bishop would have wished any more than it matters that King Tut would have preferred his tomb remain unraided. That comparrison perhaps seems unfair and exadurated, but the point is that Bishop is no longer here to express her preferences. What she left were art objects—things, which can only be judged on the basis of the impressions, the intrusions, they make in the world. There is no point in protecting Bishop now, especially from herself. It’s as if Vendler wants to argue against the very existeance of Bishop’s drafts. Alice Quinn has accomplished the very important task of bring those objects—which exist by virtue of Bishop’s having made them—into view. To encourage her or anyone do otherwise would have been to lie to ourselves. Bishop’s unparalled poems can take care of themselves.
I appreciate that Josh points out a couple of outsize remarks in Vendler and Orr’s reviews of the book. Bishop is not “the best artist of the second half of the 20th century” or whatever Orr said. She is a very great artist—one of the closest to my heart—but she is not the best. And Josh’s point about the reference to “the insular poetry world” in today’s Times—perhaps turning this into a catfight between two powerful women in poetry is the only way they can think of to make this issue palatable to their readership.
This is a scattered post full of incompete thoughts, but this is what I can come up with tonight. Edgar Allen Poe and The Juke Box is an important addition to the Bishop cannon, and to the body of poetry that we have. I’m glad to have it.