Re: Draft of the Week, #11.

I’ve read various poems by both Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, and I have a copy of Lowell’s Complete Prose that, although I haven’t finished it, I’ve read a fair amount of. (I got it for $1 in 2008, what a steal!) But somehow I never realized what true friends they were to each other until last year, when I read all the brouhaha that accompanied the publication of Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell.

I at last borrowed a copy from the library last week and am slowly making my way through it, but first and foremost I am moved by the great affection they have for each other on display in every letter.  For example, I’ve read up to 1961, and Lowell is about to publish Imitations, his book of translations.  He sent the MS to Bishop for her opinion, as he did many of his poems. However, Bishop was more than a little ambivalent about this book:

I’ve at last made up my mind to attempt something very difficult. You said “Let me know things you question,” and I’m going to and I pray you will please not be proud and sensitive. I am very much worried by the French translations, particularly the Rimbaud ones. Your English, your force and meter, are very over-riding and of course the meter of the Racine is a tour de force, I think….But once in a while I think you have made changes that sound like mistakes, and are open to misinterpretation. … I don’t want to sound scared, over-cautious, afraid of criticism, but I do want you to keep your reputation for solid, severe, painstaking workmanship. Your star is so very high right now.

Bishop is so manifestly worried for her friend, she writes two letters in this vein, detailing her concerns.  I found it very moving, the care with which she clearly chose her words, how much she seemed to agonize over it all.

I’m about halfway done, and absolutely need to read much more: I requested a biography of Bishop, and of course the poems of each, from the library, with Lowell’s biography next on the list. Does anyone have a recommendation for a good one? It looks like the two to choose from are the Paul Mariani and the Ian Hamilton, and I’m leaning towards the Hamilton at the moment.

It would be lovely to begin the New Year with a brand new draft, but the poem I’m working on right now is, wonder of wonders, a bit long, for me, a poem in four parts, and not yet finished. I could post part one, but the sections really are integral to each other, so I’ve decided that you’ll have to take my word for it: I am indeed writing & being ever so industrious. Thanks for visiting me here and keeping me honest. Thank you for reading, whether you comment or not, and thanks to the legion of other writers in the blogosphere who have immeasurably enriched my life through their posts and friendship. Here’s to another poetry-filled year!

Letters to Poets.

Just found this in my University Press of New England fall 2008 catalog, and it looks very promising: from Saturnalia Books, Letters to Poets: Conversations about Poetics, Politics, and Community, edited by Jennifer Firestone and Dana Teen Lomax. Catalog copy:

Letters to Poets honors and commemorates the hundredth anniversary of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet by partnering a selection of 14 of the country’s leading contemporary poets with 14 emerging poets and documenting their correspondences. These poets challenge the hierarchies and pitfalls endemic to the mentoring process, and ask some of the day’s toughest, most vital questions concerning race, class, and gender. Spanning a range of not only generations but cultural, aesthetic, and economic backgrounds, these diverse pairings both challenge and support each other artistically and politically. The result is in turns dramatic, enlightening, and comic.

According to Saturnalia’s website, poets contributing include:

Anselm Berrigan
John Yau
Wanda Coleman
Eileen Myles
Paul Hoover
Brenda Coultas
Victor Hernandez Cruz
Anne Waldman
Leslie Scalapino
Kathleen Fraser.

Alas, it goes without saying that I am not included amongst the emerging poets.  Due in October.