They say that when Elizabeth Bishop wrote her poems, she would place them on the floor and then pace from one to the other, as if attending patients. I like to picture her doing this as she wrote I caught a tremendous fish/ and held him beside the boat/half out of water, with my hook/fast in a corner of his mouth.
What a great word fast is: in speed, as a stay, as a refusal
And attending is so much more satisfying than visiting. One requires engagement, the other only your presence.
The world is a mist. And then the world is
/minute and vast and clear. The tide/ is higher or lower. He couldn’t tell you which/ His beak is focussed; he is preoccupied.
I love the leaps of scale. To the particulars and then the fuzzy immensity, as if out of focus. And then the busy beak,
the busy beak like an instrument/ compass.
When I think about her this way, I imagine it is like walking to the edge of a cliff and peering down to see what you might see there. (Who said this:
We may possess a mirror, but do we own our reflection.)
Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
– the frightening gills
fresh and crisp with blood.
that can cut so badly .
I love this trickle down in her survey of the fish. It practically trips down the page with its sound. If anything can be so pleasurable than the sound of hard consonants and vowels, then this passage has it.
I like to think of her walking to all the corners of the room. Maybe she twists her hair like me, the way that I like to think, my hair in little knots. Maybe she sits a bit and smokes and looks at the flat pieces of paper. So thin. Maybe she walks to one and bends down with a pen, maybe she holds it up to the light like a film. To see through it. and past it.
She was not a prolific poet. She published only 101 poems. She had women lovers. She had a steady and intimate correspondence with Robert Lowell.
Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
August 21, 1947
(You must be called that; I’m called Cal, but I won’t explain why. None of the prototypes are flattering: Calvin, Caligula, Caliban, Calvin Coolidge, Calligraphy—with merciless irony.)