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Posts Tagged ‘Elizabeth Bishop’

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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Snows of Paper, and Other News

April 17, 2015 | by


From Paul Cocksedge’s Bourrasque. Via My Modern Met

  • Though thousands of tweeting bibliophiles would have you believe there’s no such thing as too many books, there may be, in fact, a book surfeit: “It’s hard not to feel that we are in an era of massive overproduction. Just when we were already overwhelmed with paper books, often setting them aside after only a few pages in anxious search of something more satisfying, along came the Internet and the e-book … The idea is hardly new. In the Dunciad, 1742, responding to what he already saw as a deafening chorus of incompetent poets, Alexander Pope spoke of ‘snows of paper’ providing space for the ever more widespread publication of the ‘uncreating word.’ ”
  • Elizabeth Bishop and Thom Gunn were fast friends—“I’ve met some of the poets—and the only one I still really like is Thom Gunn,” she wrote in a letter to Robert Lowell—but their first meeting was inauspicious. “I answered the phone one day and there was a very nice man I didn’t know … who asked me to come and have drinks with him and Elizabeth Bishop,” Gunn wrote. “Elizabeth had just moved to San Francisco. So I went over and … Elizabeth was drunk out of her mind. We made polite conversation all evening while Elizabeth occasionally grunted out a monosyllable.”
  • On “the syntax and scansion of insanity” in King Lear: “This horrible, tragic figure is built up from a series of syllables set on the page … his rage and sorrow change dramatically from the first act to the last. The character is the language, and what we see over the course of the play is the utter destruction of that character.”
  • On the poet Nathaniel Mackey’s pursuit of “the long song,” an antidote to the age of brevity: “Mackey seeks moments that defy ordinary time. He admires jazz improvisers who stretch a song’s boundaries as they perform … He happily remembers a John Coltrane show that consisted of one long song … ‘The long song, whether in music or in poetry, increasingly appeals to me … it creates what I call fugitive time—time that really is a flight away from the ordinary, from quotidian time, profane time.’ ”
  • Ariana Reines talks to a beautiful old woman. Ariana Reines goes through a Charles Bowden phase. Ariana Reines is afraid: “For a week I’ve been wondering, how will I write for The Poetry Foundation, I said I would write for The Poetry Foundation, & with all that I do write the thought of putting anything on the internet ever again still fills my mouth with ash.  I’ve lost all desire to publish & even more, all desire to perform.”

“The House We Live In”: Elizabeth Bishop on the Big Screen

November 7, 2013 | by


When I first traveled to Rio de Janeiro to research all things Elizabeth Bishop, in 2002, I did not understand how or why everyone—from university professors to taxi drivers, artisans, artists, and entrepreneurs—had something to say about a poeta norteamericana. I quickly learned that I had to spend less time explaining why I was in Brazil and more time listening to stories and parsing through advice on how to find the things I might be looking for, new clues to understanding Bishop’s creative period in the country with “too many waterfalls.” And when I went to Petrópolis to look for the house, a Fazenda Samambaia, that Bishop shared with her Brazilian lover Lota de Macedo Soares, the architect of aristocratic means who envisioned and built Rio de Janeiro’s Parque do Flamengo after New York’s Central Park, I am proud to say I made it as far as the front gate. I knocked and the housekeeper cracked it open and said that the lady of the house was not at home, she was traveling abroad and there was no way to allow me inside, not even for a quick look at the garden. 

It turns out that Bruno Barreto has a story, too, of what led him to make Reaching for the Moon (2013), a film about Bishop and Lota inspired by a bestselling book that was first published in Brazil in 1995. Bruno’s mother, Lucy Barreto, one of the film’s producers, has long loved Bishop’s poetry and once met Bishop and Lota at a lunch in Samambaia, years ago; she, Barreto’s mother, was the one who bought the rights to Carmen L. Oliveira’s bestseller Flores raras e banalíssimas: A história de Lota de Macedo Soares e Elizabeth Bishop, a novelistic account composed with details from personal interviews and much archival research. At first, Bruno Barreto was not interested in telling Bishop and Lota’s love story, and then something clicked. He wanted to make a film about loss. Read More »


Precious Cargo

June 28, 2013 | by

Handbag, Hermès, French, 1998 Alligator skin and metal Accessi

I practiced, practiced, practiced my versions of Rio de Janeiro’s local customs throughout July 2003, from ordering an açai with granola at the corner juice bar to people-watching, while being watched, on the beach. One internationally accepted custom that varies in local execution is looking put-together while not attracting the attention of pickpockets or scammers. I studied the poses and gestures of Carioca women–esse jeitinho, that little way of doing it–so that I might communicate, without over-communicating, that my sporty red fabric cross-body bag and my canvas tote held nothing worth pinching.

The usual contents of my two bags: a notebook, a cell phone with a prepaid SIM card, some cash, a bottle of water, and a book or two if I was headed to PUC, Rio’s Catholic University nestled at the edge of the lush Tijuca Forest, or to the Botafogo neighborhood to visit the Rui Barbosa Foundation’s special archives, which include the literary papers of Vinícius de Moraes, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Manuel Bandeira, João Cabral de Melo Neto, and Clarice Lispector, all translated into English by Elizabeth Bishop during her years in Brazil.

One afternoon I decided to walk from PUC, in Rio’s Gávea neighborhood, to my apartment in Ipanema. July is the coldest month in Rio, with an average temperature of 18°C (64°F), and this particular day was cloudy, so almost no one was on the beach. As I entered Ipanema by way of the bustling foot traffic on Rua Visconde de Pirajá, I noticed that the street vendors, who usually displayed their wares on large pieces of dark fabric that could be made quickly into knapsacks if the police arrived, held the day’s items tightly to their chests. A cluster of women, and a few men, jostled each other with arms outstretched to buy.

I stopped and stared at what was being sold: dark brown handbags stamped in a gold monogram pattern and decorated with pink smiling flowers arranged in whimsical irregularity. The flowers beckoned me with their red mouths, which I then noticed were open, midlaughter. The prospective buyers’ tensed expressions, and the fact that others on the sidewalk were studying the scene, made me ask myself, Do I want one too?

I had witnessed, and wanted, an extravaganza of counterfeit Louis Vuitton handbags in the cherry blossom motif created by Takashi Murakami and commissioned by Marc Jacobs. Some say these are among the most counterfeited handbags ever. Read More »