Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Literary Life



In 1940, Elizabeth Bishop very quietly declared her intellectual and poetic independence from Marianne Moore. Their relationship fractured over Moore's criticism of Bishop's poem "The Rooster." Bishop had sent the poem to Moore in a letter dated February 19, 1940. Moore and her mother disapproved of some of the language Bishop had used in the poem (among them, her use of the term "water closet") and they took it upon themselves to rewrite Bishop's poem and to radically change its structure. After receiving the proposed revisions, Bishop wrote to Moore from the Murray Hill Hotel in New York on October 17, 1940, adopting a few minor changes suggested by Moore and her mother, but rejecting the bulk of the revisions, including the suggestion that the title of the poem be changed to "The Cock." *

Brett C. Millier writes in Elizabeth Bishop: Life and the Memory of It (University of California Press, 1993) at pp. 159-160:

"Elizabeth went on to defend her use of 'glass-headed pins' (to suggest the charting of war projects on a map) and of quotation marks around 'to see the end,' a phrase from the Bible...She defended the aspects that showed ['Rooster'] to be her first politically relevant poem and the only one that addressed World War II at all directly. But Elizabeth broke her self-defense off here, saying she felt it sounded 'decidedly cranky,' She eventually mailed the letter, but carefully distanced her poem from Moore's version: 'May I keep your poem? It is so interesting, what you have done.' From this point on, she no longer routinely sent Moore poems in draft for comment and enclosed in her letters only relatively finished work, which she announced as such. In her memoir of Moore, Elizabeth mentions the incident and remarks about having 'grown obstinate' against Moore's fastidiousness. But this was a painful transition. Elizabeth sent her own version of 'Roosters' to Edmund Wilson at the New Republic, where it was published in a special literary supplement in March, 1941."

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*In her letter to Moore, Elizabeth Bishop wrote that after reading Moore's revisions, she (Bishop) felt like the figure in Paul Klee's Man of Confusion (1939), which was then on display at a show in Manhattan. Bishop invited Moore to return with her for another look at the painting. Moore did not accept the offer. The painting, currently in the collection of the St. Louis Museum of Art, is shown above.

3 Comments:

Blogger Lee said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3:37 PM  
Blogger Lee said...

I do like that Klee comparison - how familiar it feels!

3:38 PM  
Blogger Suzanne said...

Thank you for this, Greg. And the opening of the Hoffman book, too.

5:12 AM  

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