Essay Bishop

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The below essay is a final draft, and not a final copy; therefore, it does not have page numbers and cannot be quoted in future publications. The published version of the essay is in the following book available in print and online versions in the Seneca library: Elizabeth Bishop in the 21st Century: Reading the New Editions. Eds. Cleghorn, Hicok, Travisano. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, June 2012.

Part II (of the 4 part book with 17 essays by different people)

Crossing Continents: Self, Politics, Place
Bishop's "wiring fused": Bone Key and "Pleasure Seas"

Angus Cleghorn

Elizabeth Bishop's Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke-Box and the Library of America edition of Bishop's poetry and prose provide readers with additional context enabling a richer understanding of her poetic project. Alice Quinn's compelling tour of previously unpublished archival material and her strong interpretive directions in the heavily-annotated notes let us color in, highlight and extend lines drawn in The Complete Poems. Some of those poetic lines include wires and cables, which are visible in Bishop's paintings, as published in William Benton's Exchanging Hats. If we consider the extensive presence of wires in the artwork alongside the copious, recently published poetic images of wires, we can observe vibrant innovation, especially in the material Bishop had planned for a Florida volume entitled Bone Key. The wires conduct electricity, as does The Juke-Box, both heating up her place. Florida warms Bishop after Europe: in this geographical shift, we can see Bishop relinquish stiff European statuary forms and begin to radiate in hotbeds of electric light. Also existing in this erotic awakening is a new approach to nature in the modern world. Instead of wires representing something anti-natural (modernity is often this sort of presence in her Nova Scotian poems, for example, when "The Moose" stares down the bus), the wires conduct energy into a future charged with potential where "It is marvellous to wake up together" after an "Electrical Storm." This current brings Bishop into alien territory where lesbian eroticism is illuminated by green light, vines, wires and music. "Pleasure Seas," an uncollected poem that stood alone in The Complete Poems, is amplified by the previously unpublished Florida draft-poems, many of which include the words Bone Key in the margins or under poem titles; this planned volume is visible in the recent editions and is prominent in Bishop's developing sexual-geographic poetics. In The Complete Poems, "Pleasure Seas" is first of the "Uncollected Poems" section. As written in the "Publisher's Note," Harper's Bazaar accepted the poem but did not print it as promised in 1939. This editorial decision cut "Pleasure Seas" out of Bishop's public oeuvre until 1983 when Robert Giroux resuscitated it in the uncollected section. Thus it is read as a marginal poem, which has received relatively little critical attention. Far less than "It is marvellous to wake up together," a previously unpublished poem found by Lorrie Goldensohn in Brazil that has been considered integral to understanding Bishop's hidden potential as an erotic poet since Goldensohn discussed it in her 1992 book, Elizabeth Bishop: The Biography of a Poetry. Perhaps because "Pleasure Seas" has been widely available since 1983 in The Complete Poems, this poem does not appear to critics as a found gem like "It is marvellous . . . ." Now, however, we can read these previously disparate poems together in the Library of America Bishop: Poems, Prose and Letters volume, in which "Pleasure Seas" was placed accurately by editors Lloyd Schwartz and Robert Giroux in the "Unpublished Poems" section. As such, it accompanies numerous unpublished poems, many of them first published by Quinn in Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke-Box. "Pleasure Seas" is a tour de force, and its rejection in 1939 likely indicated to Bishop that the public world was not...
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