Sunday, November 02, 2008

I Write Entirely for You, Constant Reader


Because I already have One Art: The Letters of Elizabeth Bishop (Noonday Press, 1994) and The Letters of Robert Lowell (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005) I am an unlikely customer for Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, edited by Thomas Travisano and Saskia Hamilton (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008); at least, at its hardcover price of $45. I did, however, read the review by William Logan in this morning's New York Times Book Review. * Logan generally admires the work of both Bishop and Lowell, and we are therefore spared his usual insults and cutting remarks about the dead.

Of more interest to me were a couple of the reviewer's whackier sentences. He writes (as nearly as I can tell) of Lowell's use of metrics and the influence of Alan Tate upon Robert Lowell:

"If Lowell's early poems seem stultified now, they were boiled in brine and preserved in a carload of salt."

With my trusty dictionary, I attempted to figure out what Logan might be saying:

"If Lowell's early poems seem [to be of unsound mind, stupid, foolish or absurdly illogical] now, they were boiled in brine and preserved in a carload of salt."

Say what?

And what to make of this:

"Their admiration even made them light fingered––[Lowell and Bishop] borrowed ideas or images the way a neighbor might steal a cup of sugar."

How might that happen, exactly? And would it be a high court misdemeanor or felonious breaking and entering? In Flyover Country, far from the Dream Coasts, one would knock on the neighbor's door and simply ask to borrow a cup of sugar if one wanted to borrow a cup of sugar. **

Perhaps Bill lives in a rough neighborhood. Gainesville, I'm told, can be that way.


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* 'I Write Entirely for You' by William Logan, a review of Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, edited by Thomas Travisano and Saskia Hamilton (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008), The New York Times Book Review, November 2, 2008.

** Yes, of course. Bill was only alluding to this, you silly Midwesterner:

"One of the surest of tests is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion."

-T.S. Eliot, The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (1922).

Among the literary cognoscenti, borrowing is equivalent to stealing--even with regard to household sweeteners. Perhaps Logan will write in and set me straight. See, for example, his pointless, self-aggrandizing letter in the November issue of Poetry.

3 Comments:

Blogger Suzanne said...

Greg, your opening on this post hilarious. Thanks for that!

5:24 PM  
Blogger Cindy Hunter Morgan said...

"...in his late 40's, Lowell had to look up the words gesso, echolalia and roadstead." So did I, but I am only 40.

1:42 PM  
Blogger greg rappleye said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2:20 PM  

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