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."
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.
* '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.