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Elizabeth Bishop on Autobiographical Grounds

Elizabeth Bishop on Autobiographical Grounds

(p.45) Elizabeth Bishop on Autobiographical Grounds
One Kind of Everything
Dan Chiasson
University of Chicago Press

It has become a commonplace to describe Elizabeth Bishop not in terms of what she said but what she should have said. The placid surface of her poems conceals a severe and variegated subaqueous terrain; her famous “reticence” suggests an unwillingness to be candid. “Poem” is a important source for understanding Bishop's ideas about art's relationship to personal experience. When Bishop speaks, in “Poem,” of “life and the memory of it so compressed / they've turned into each other,” she is identifying one solution to a problem that concerns her throughout her career, namely, the problem of narrative. The question of what counts as autobiography in Bishop cannot be answered without considering her late narrative poem “Crusoe in England.” Bishop offers a model for lyric poetry that differs from Robert Lowell's in choosing the “insignificant,” even interchangeable, facts of domestic life over those of history; the perceptual over the intellectual, the displaced over the disclosed, the prismatic over the linear. Her poems therefore document the development and career of a sensibility within an autobiographical frame.

Keywords:   Elizabeth Bishop, lyric poetry, autobiography, Poem, Crusoe in England, personal experience, narrative

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