26 July 2006

Thinking twice

In the Contemporary Poetry Review, Daniel Bosch expresses his ambivalence about the now-infamous collection of Elizabeth Bishop's leavings:
I am determined, shamefacedly, to overcome my own reticence in writing reviews and comments. The opening paragraphs here—whatever their other faults—now seem to me gutless throat-clearing. How delighted I was, in March, to present my own muddling through of the incorrigible situation created by the publication of Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke Box. There I go, pottering about, careful to acknowledge, on the one hand, the potential usefulness of some of the writing in this volume, and yet careful to deplore the commodification of Bishop’s unpublished works and the contravention of so many years of her artistic practice.

I read Helen Vendler’s review of Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke Box in The New Republic of April 3 with self-recognition and a bit of horror. I am not Helen Vendler, nor was meant to be. Vendler writes from power:
Students eagerly wanting to buy ‘the new book by Elizabeth Bishop’ should be told to go back and buy the old one, where the poet represents herself as she wished to be known....In the long run, these newly published materials will be relegated to what Robert Lowell called ‘the back stacks,’ and this imperfect volume will be forgotten, except by scholars. The real poems will outlast these, their maimed and stunted siblings.
Unlike [Meghan] O’Rourke, or [Peter] Campion, or even [Charles] Simic, she need not make nice with an Alice Quinn or a Farrar Straus & Giroux. Vendler’s lack of reticence, her ability to step up and to stake her claim, clearly and vigorously, exposed for me the vapidity of my own earnestness. What exactly was my interest in presenting a persona who would promise not to follow through on the moral objections he was just about to raise? What else but the creation of some slack space in which to enjoy the prospect of a guilty pleasure. Not every reticence is powerful.

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