I went to a celebration of Elizabeth Bishop that was very well-attended in Manchester Central Library yesterday lunchtime. There were readings by various people, a short talk by Micheal Schmidt - and the opportunity to hear the poet's own voice in a recording. That last was invaluable - it's funny how the poet's voice does make a difference to one's reading of the poem. But now, when I'm reading poems like "Crusoe in England", her marvelous reimagining of Defoe, I'll hear that New England drawl, and the way she doesn't pause at line-endings as you might expect her to.
There's something about Elizabeth Bishop's meticulousness that is universal - to count poets as diverse as Ron Silliman, James Schuyler and Sean O'Brien as fans is quite an acheivement. She wrote her poems sometimes over ridiculous lengths ot time, and there's nothing spontaneous about her work, yet the flow as smoothly as riverwater from sentence to sentence, image to image. I love the risk of a poem like "The Moose", where it takes ages to get to the ostensible subject, but nobody minds because the eye of the poet is observing everything with the same intensity, from the people on the bus to the landscape passing by.
The wonderful "Visits to St Elisabeth's" was read by Matt Welton - himself an intriguing poet, interested as such in the shape and sound of poetry as its subject. He didn't tell us it was about Pound, incarcerated in a mental hospital for his wartime broadcasts for the fascists in Italy. He drew attention to the poem itself - its use of repetition and its "The House that Jack Built" form.
The events at the library are often quietly terrific, and it's a shame I don't get along to more. Of course, when my book comes out, I want my launch there.
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