Elizabeth Bishop photo from Louise Crane Papers, Beinecke Library.

As readers of this blog know, 2011 marks the centenary of Elizabeth Bishop’s birth. I’ve been trying to celebrate it in as many ways as possible and get to some of the events throughout the year, as well as visiting her grave in Worcester, MA, and promoting her work on this blog and on Twitter by using #EB100.

Last week I attended Visions Coinciding: An Elizabeth Bishop Centennial Conference, organized by NYU’s Gallatin School and the Poetry Society of America.

The conference featured interdisciplinary responses to Bishop and her work, including a slide show and talk by Eric Karpeles exploring rarely seen images of Elizabeth Bishop and a screening of footage from Helena Blaker’s forthcoming documentary on Bishop’s years in Brazil.

The screening was followed by a discussion moderated by Alice Quinn, editor of Bishop’s posthumous collection Edgar Allen Poe & The Juke-Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments, along with Blaker and Bishop scholars Brett Millier, Barbara Page, and Lloyd Schwartz.

Day two featured two lectures on Bishop’s relationship with Art. Peggy Samuels gave a fascinating exegesis of Bishop’s interest in and influence by the work of Kurt Schwitters and William Benton displayed slides of Bishop’s own paintings, sharing his insights on their context in modern art.

Jonathan Galassi moderated a lively discussion with the editors of recent collections of Bishop’s poetry, prose and correspondence, including Joelle Biele (Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker correspondence), Saskia Hamilton (Words In Air, the Lowell-Bishop correspondence, and new edition of POEMS), Lloyd Schwartz (new edition of PROSE, as well as the Library of America edition of Bishop: Poems, Prose, Letters), and Thomas Travisano (Lowell-Bishop correspondence).

All this was followed by a reading by NYU Gallatin students who each read a Bishop poem and one of their own by way of response and, finally, a star-studded lineup of contemporary American poets, including John Koethe, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Mark Strand reading poems by Bishop.

Poet Jean Valentine read Bishop’s translation of Octavio Paz’s “Objects & Apparitions” with the original read by Patrick Rosal.  Maureen McLane read from her creative work-in-progress “My Elizabeth Bishop; My Gertrude Stein.”

This week is the opening of Elizabeth Bishop: Objects & Apparitions at the Tibor De Nagy Gallery in New York. The show comprises rarely exhibited original works by Bishop, including watercolors and gouaches, as well as two box assemblages inspired by the work of Joseph Cornell.

The exhibition also includes the landscape painting Miss Bishop inherited and that she wrote about in “Poem,” which begins

About the size of an old-style dollar bill,
American or Canadian,
mostly the same whites, gray greens, and steel grays
-this little painting (a sketch for a larger one?)
has never earned any money in its life.

Unfortunately, I’m going to miss the exhibit of her papers at the Vassar College Main Library, From the Archive: Discovering Elizabeth Bishop, which is on view until December 15th.

But there’s still time to celebrate Bishop’s centenary — until her 101st on February 8, 2012.

Kurt Cobain (front) and Krist Novoselic (left)...

Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic by P.B. Rage

I like to listen to music when I’m making pizza. Loud music, usually cranked up as high as my computer’s external speakers will allow.

Last night, it was Nirvana’sNevermind,” which recently celebrated 20 years in the collective listening consciousness.

My 15-year-old son wandered into the kitchen while the last song (the hidden track), “Endless, Nameless,” filled the kitchen with sonic noise.

“What the heck is that?” he asked.

“Nirvana,” I answered, although I always thought that track sounded more like my old band Active Driveway than the rest of Nevermind.

“What’s so great about them?” he asked. I switched to the opening track, their breakthrough song “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

“Yeah, that is good,” he admitted. Then we talked about how Kurt Cobain committed suicide.


He wanted to know why he did it.  “Sometimes geniuses are so troubled they can’t cope with the pressures of life.”

Then I told him that a friend of mine, Peter Boyle, also killed himself with a shotgun five years before Cobain. Peter was an artist, too, deeply troubled — tortured even — and, like Cobain, addicted to heroin. Peter shot himself in the barn at his family’s farm; he was 37 years old. Cobain was 27. I won’t go into the significance of those ages, but you can read more here.

Peter was an amazing artist who worked in a very unusual medium: sugar. In fact, he wrote the book on blown and pulled sugar sculpting techniques, which came out the year before he died. His work had just been featured in a show, ”The Confectioner’s Art,” at the old American Craft Museum (November 1988-January 1989) in New York.

Peter tried to kill himself at least once before, that I knew about, while trying to quit heroin cold turkey. I intervened that time and suffered with him through a long night of his own personal Hell.

I wrote a poem about Peter and his suicide a some time later called “The Cartographer’s Gambit.” I changed the subject from a sugar sculptor to a cartographer; I’m not sure why, but it seemed to work.

Here is my poem, “The Cartographer’s Gambit”:


In the spindrift,

he outlines an island

for which there are no visas—

whose mapping is all too delectable,

whose charting is measured intensity.


Along these shores,

he conjures ochre bluffs, which resemble

well–turned ankles, the cleft of breast in a covescape,

and hillsides of amber light.

These are things he brought to life on paper, restless for rescue.


The uncharted territory

still gleaming in his eye—

a coastal mystery.

He lumbers, cools with the injection.

The seaboard nearly finished, dry land

his last frontier.


He reads Celine as open waters dry,

the cold spring chills him, he smokes a cigarette.

Deep within his blood, a fine line beckons—

with perfect geography.

Outside, the air is perfumed,

with a scent of powder.


Starlings prattle above him,

black, iridescent, oxymoronic:

a thousand triangles

of gun metal

fusing a jade sky.


Their opacity blinds him to reason.

Unable to move latitudinal or long,

he measures the scale of possibility,

sights his compass on true north and,

as the needle riddles the vein,

he dashes the coast with blue.


(In memoriam: Peter T. Boyle, 1952-1989)

–Scott Edward Anderson

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I recently discovered the work of photographer and filmmaker Alastair Cook through Anon Magazine (we both appear in Anon7).  He wrote about a project he calls FilmPoem, which are short films he’s made based upon contemporary poems.

“The combination of film and poetry is an attractive one,” writes Alastair. “For the poet, perhaps a hope that the filmmaker will bring something to the poem: a new audience, a visual attraction, the laying of way markers; for the filmmaker, a fixed parameter to respond to, the power of a text sparking the imagination with visual connections and metaphor.”

His project reminds me (in spirit if not in style) of some films I made in Super 8 back in the mid-1980s — I called them “cinepoems” — two of which were shown at an independent film show at Cleveland State University in 1985. One was based upon Kenneth Patchen‘s “I Went to the City” and the other was called “Through the Glimmerglass (And What We Saw There).”   (I really should digitize those films and make them available.)

I have always been fascinated by the combination of film and poetry and it’s great to discover Alastair’s work.  Here is his film “Adrift,” based upon a poem by the fabulous Juliet Wilson (whose work also appears in Anon7):

Adrift from Alastair Cook on Vimeo.

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A few years ago, my friend the designer Jan Almquist, who was teaching a course at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, asked if one of his students could use a poem of mine for a video project.

Jeremy Collinson chose “Indwelling,” a poem that is part of my ecopoem sequence called “Dwelling.” The poem originally appeared in the University of Pennsylvania’s literary journal, CrossConnect. Here is the animated video, a filmpoem, if you will of my poem “Indwelling”:

A number of the poems from my Dwelling sequence have been published. You can find a sampling here.

And here is the text of the poem:





Shooting stars cross a city night sky.  In the moment

before they fall, think about dwellings,


houses made of brick, stone, and wood—dwelling and indwelling—

miracle keeping matter together, from imploding or inverting.


How dwellings become a city, interdependent.

How stars become a night sky, suspended.


(Late fall, nearly winter, fog-caul warms night air through inversion.  

The meteor version of life heads straight to the matter of our bed.)


What holds up the sky holds each one of us, too—

as we move against one another in this taut, elastic field,


warming with each movement, causing little inversions

all around us, and shooting stars—

                                    there goes another.


–Scott Edward Anderson

How to read poetry

May 26, 2009

Want to know how to read poetry? Treat it like you’re sampling perfume, says my friend Molly Cantrell-Kraig:

“It’s like an expensive fragrance: the high notes are what registers first, but as the fragrance adapts to the person’s chemistry and with time, the fragrance develops dimension and a fuller sense of itself.”

In other words, try first letting the poem envelope you with its sounds and its images. Sit with it. Come back to the poem and read it again, this time paying attention to how the poem makes you feel. Pay attention to the nuances in your reading, the patterns that emerge, the sense that emerges. And, finally, how does the poem change the way you look at the world?

In How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry, Edward Hirsch writes, “We activate the poem inside us by engaging it as deeply as possible, by bringing our lives to it, our associational memories, our past histories, our vocabularies, by letting its verbal music infiltrate our bodies, its ideas seep into our minds, by discovering its pattern emerging, by entering the echo chamber which is the history of poetry, and most of all, by listening and paying attention. Attentiveness is the natural prayer of the soul.”

C.S. Lewis suggested that “the true reader reads every work seriously, in the sense that he reads it wholeheartedly, makes himself as receptive as he can.”

A poet dreams of such readers.

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