Saturday, January 24, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 22 (Elizabeth Bishop)

Bishop, Elizabeth
The Complete Poems 1927-1979


I have almost no recollection of acquiring this book, though I am certain I purchased it some time in the last five years. I read a poem of EB's that I liked and decided to buy this book. I don't think I've ever read it through, though I do like some of her poems. A couple of weeks ago Lori and I watched a surprisingly good "chick flick" called "In Her Shoes," directed by Curtis Hanson (the Hal Ashby of our time), starring Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette.

Diaz plays a beautiful blonde (what else could she play?) who happens also to be dyslexic. In one part of the film she takes a job at a nursing home in Florida, where she befriends an old English professor who is both blind and dying. He asks her to read to him, but she refuses, ashamed that she is not a good reader. He persists and after a few denials he asks if she's dyslexic, to which she replies in the affirmative. He then insists that she read to him and she finally relents.

He asks her to read a poem by Elizabeth Bishop ("One Art") and patiently walks her through the reading of it, then asks her a series of questions about the meaning to help show her that she is more intelligent than she thinks. It's actually a very affecting moment, as is a later one where she reads a poem by ee cummings aloud before an audience.

Here's a randomly chosen poem from this volume:

Insomnia

The moon in the bureau mirror
looks out a million miles
(and perhaps with pride, at herself
but she never, never smiles)
far and away beyond sleep, or
perhaps she's a daytime sleeper.

By the Universe deserted,
she'd tell it to go to hell,
and she'd find a body of water
or a mirror, on which to dwell.
So wrap up care in a cobweb
and drop it down the well

into that world inverted
where left is always right,
where the shadows are really the body,
where we stay awake all night,
where the heavens are shallow as the sea
is now deep, and you love me.

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