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Posts Tagged ‘Elizabeth Bishop’

Homesickness

February 8, 2016 | by

“Homesickness,” ca. 1948. This page is from the Vassar College Library, Department of Archives and Special Collections, where Bishop’s papers are stored. Click to enlarge.

Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “Homesickness” appeared in our Summer 2005 issue as part of a portfolio of her notebooks. Alice Quinn wrote of the poem,

Bishop began “Homesickness” in 1948, and the handwriting suggests that this draft may date from that time. In 1964, in a letter to Anne Stevenson, Bishop writes, “My mother went off to teach school at 16 (the way most of the enterprising young people did) and her first school was in lower Cape Breton somewhere—and the pupils spoke nothing much but Gaelic ... she was so homesick she was taken the family dog to cheer her up. I have written both a story and a poem about this episode but neither satisfy me yet.”

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Lesbian Whale: An Interview with Barbara Hammer

December 14, 2015 | by

Installation view of Lesbian Whale. Courtesy Barbara Hammer and Company Gallery.

Barbara Hammer is something of a legend in queer feminist and experimental filmmaking circles. In the seventies, she was the first lesbian feminist to make open, celebratory films about her sexuality. In the eighties, her films took their inspiration from structuralism, using paint, animation, and optical printing to explore notions of embodied spectatorship. By the nineties, she’d helped to pioneer “essay films,” an attempt to produce “a genealogy of survival” amid the thrust of identity politics. Her work foregrounded important queer figures in history—Willa Cather, Alice Austen, and Hannah Höch among them—and their historical erasure.

Hammer’s forays into suppressed queer history have evolved into feature-length documentaries. Tellingly, the subjects of these films are early twentieth-century lesbians—artists and writers whose official biographies often elide their sexuality. Lover Other: The Story of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore (2006), for example, is a moving portrait of the couple’s lifelong collaboration and love affair. Hammer’s latest work, Welcome to This House, a Film on Elizabeth Bishop (2015) follows the poet’s life from her bleak New England childhood to her ten-year romance with the architect Maria Carlota Costallat de Macedo Soares. Elliptical and poignant, it runs counter to mainstream accounts of Bishop’s life, many of which—right down to her Wikipedia entry—still omit these relationships and their impact on Bishop’s work.

On the occasion of her recent exhibition, “Lesbian Whale: Early Drawings and Paintings,” I spoke with Hammer about the radical changes she made in the sixties and about her approach to film.

Most of the historical women artists you’ve made films about—Claude Cahun, Willa Cather, Elizabeth Bishop—predate you. Is there a drive, perhaps, to create a sort of record for future generations, a record that you were deprived of? Your generation was denied open lesbian role models, with a few potential exceptions.

My role models were male artists, who I learned about by reading their biographies. It’s a unique way to go to “art school,” reading the life choices of Vincent van Gogh and Emile Gauguin. I was redefining myself between the ages of twenty-seven and thirty, and I noted that these artists I admired had taken great social risks. Gauguin, in particular, had left his family and a bourgeois job. I could do it, too, I thought, just in a different way. I left my husband in April of 1970 and came out in August of that year. I had no idea before then that I desired women. Isn’t it Wittgenstein who says one needs the language before one can think of the concept? I hadn’t even heard the L word until the middle of that summer. Read More »

The Art of Losing

December 2, 2015 | by

Elizabeth Bishop would have some words for the New York Knicks.

Kristaps Porziņģis. Photo: Keith Allison

This past Sunday night, as the particular perfume of Thanksgiving faded from our house, I nibbled on Chinese food while watching the New York Knicks lose to the Houston Rockets. It was a game they had no business losing, even if they were without their best player, Carmelo Anthony, against a Rockets team that last season fell just two wins short of the NBA Finals. In theory, the Rockets are one of the strongest teams in the league this season; in practice, they’ve settled into an unsightly mediocrity that strangely seems to suit them. You might just as easily say that the Knicks lost a game that the Rockets had no business winning.

Up by fourteen points in the fourth quarter, the Knicks, with their subs on the floor, squandered their lead in the blink of an eye, giving up a game-tying three-pointer in the dying seconds. They proceeded to lose in overtime, allowing sixteen points in extra frame—a feat that, if you’re actively attempting to prevent the other team from scoring, is difficult to accomplish.

It felt all too familiar. Read More »

The Lonely Art

October 5, 2015 | by

Robert Seydel’s visionary, genre-defying art and writing.

“The King” by Robert Seydel, n.d. © the Estate of Robert Seydel

Untitled by Robert Seydel, n.d. © the Estate of Robert Seydel

How are we to regard the artist who writes or the writer who makes art? There’s a venerable lineage of creative figures working both sides of the street: think of the poems of Marsden Hartley, the photographs of Eudora Welty, the collages of John Ashbery, among others. In almost all such cases, a hierarchy effortlessly falls into place; what’s primary and what’s ancillary are self-evident. Would we be much drawn to look at the watercolors of Elizabeth Bishop if we did not know her first as the poet who wrote “Roosters” and “One Art”? True aesthetic ambidexterity seems vanishingly rare, particularly among top-tier figures: a great artist’s side projects invariably seem secondary and marginal.

The work of the genuinely hybrid artist Robert Seydel (1960–2011) chips away at our biases about one art form always taking precedence over another. Read More »

Bring Home a Little Piece of Obscenity, and Other News

October 2, 2015 | by

Detail from Robert Mapplethorpe’s Self Portrait, 1983.

  • If you’ve got an extra $250k–$350k lying around, you could own a part of obscenity history—a print of Robert Mapplethorpe’s electrifying photograph Man in Polyester Suit is up for auction. That’s the one, you’ll recall, that features “a tightly cropped picture of the torso of a black man wearing a three-piece suit, with his large penis hanging out, like a Montgomery Ward catalog hacked by Tom of Finland, with an assist from Duchamp and Groucho Marx.” Twenty-five years ago, Mapplethorpe’s photography unleashed a righteous fury; Jesse Helms and other congressional fuddy-duddies called it obscene and wrote a bunch of angry letters to people. To own Man in Polyester Suit is to give the middle finger to such types, always and forever. I’m sorry I can’t afford it myself. But if someone were to wish to buy it for me as a gift …
  • Elizabeth Bishop met Clarice Lispector in 1962, and immediately set about trying to help the Brazilian writer to break out in America. But there was some kind of a hiccup, and things between them cooled: “It is notably odd that Lispector was not more interested in Bishop’s offer to foster relationships with American publishers; she had struggled to get the elite presses of Brazil to take on her books and would struggle to make money after separating from her husband … Bishop personally negotiated the relationships and letters of interests with these editors, but it seems that she never realized or acknowledged that the power she wielded, often with an air of superiority, was precisely what was offensive … The last time Bishop writes about Lispector to Lowell, she says, ‘She’s hopeless, really.’ ”
  • Whither e-reading? A few years ago, e-books were poised to take over the world—but reading on a screen has failed to live up to its promise, and e-books are just … kind of boring, especially on the much-vaunted Kindle. “Amazon has built seamless, efficient plumbing for digital books. But after a book has made its way through the plumbing and onto the devices, the once-fresh experience now feels neglected … I’ve found that it’s much more effortless to dip back into my physical library—for inspiration or reference—than my digital library. The books are there. They’re obvious. They welcome me back.”
  • If Nietzsche gave a commencement speech—I know, thank God he’s dead, and won’t—he might draw from a part of his Untimely Meditations, devoted to Schopenhauer as an educator, but littered with weird nuggets of quasi-self-help: “There is no drearier, sorrier creature in nature than the man who has evaded his own genius and who squints now towards the right, now towards the left, now backwards, now in any direction whatever … No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life. There may be countless trails and bridges and demigods who would gladly carry you across; but only at the price of pawning and forgoing yourself. There is one path in the world that none can walk but you. Where does it lead? Don’t ask, walk!”
  • In John Keene’s collection Counternarratives, “every available form of literary irony—every possible way of forcing stubborn words to mean more than they pretend—­seems to be working at once.” Keene (“black, gay, raised in St. Louis, enamored with language, tormented by it”) is intent on using silence and absence in his fiction; his stories are full of missing texts. “This time, they are the reader’s assumptions and expectations, the dominant narratives—historical and political as well as strictly literary—with which we conjure the world and reproduce it, exclusions and erasures intact.”

The “Romance” of Travel

August 25, 2015 | by

Joseph Roth’s hotel years.

The Grand Hotel des Bains, where Thomas Mann wrote Death in Venice.

“I am a hotel citizen,” Joseph Roth declared in one of the newspaper dispatches anthologized in The Hotel Years: Wanderings in Europe Between the Wars, “a hotel patriot.” It’s easy to see why: Red Joseph was nothing if not a cosmopolitan humanist, and the hotel was his natural habitat. “The guests come from all over the world,” he explains:

Continents and seas, islands, peninsulas and ships, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims and even atheists are all represented in this hotel. The cashier adds, subtracts, counts and cheats in many languages, and changes every currency. Freed from the constriction of patriotism, from the blinkers of national feeling, slightly on holiday from the rigidity of love of land, people seem to come together here and at least appear to be what they should always be: children of the world.

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