May 21, 2011

Bishop's "One Art," Day Two

Okay, okay, here's the whole poem.
One Art- Poets.org - Poetry, Poems, Bios & More 

I wonder if the tone of banter in the first four or five stanzas serves to dramatize, by contrast, the more momentous losses late in the poem. Or does Bishop foil herself, leading us to take "losing you" less seriously than we might have because we've been led to respond to everything in casual, chatty terms?

Also, are the final line's parenthesis, italics, and curious logic effective, especially when "Write it" is such an abrupt, forceful imperative (compared to the softer, early imperatives)? And all this causes the repetition of "like"? Is that an emotional stutter in "like . . . like," or is it simply awkwardness? Can we paraphrase the line in a way that captures both its thought and its feeling?



Of course, some writers hate teachers' requesting students to paraphrase. If the lines could be paraphrased, they reason, why should poets bother putting them into verse in the first place, with all that metaphor and rhythm and tone business to attend to?  The whole reason for writing poetry is the inadequacy of paraphrase and other attempts at discursive commentary.


I'm in the wishy-washy middle on both of my questions. I usually think Bishop has been ingeniously powerful with the turn in the final stanza, and the command in the last line is at least a little scary. But sometimes the line itself and the poem's whole tonal change from coffee chat to an exectioner's directive (Write it; as in, "Kill him!). It can feel like a rhetorical trick, a gratituitous extreme, as much as an earned utterance and emotion.

As for paraphrase, I'm one of the sociopathic dullards who's asked students to do it--yes, suborned the young to Commit paraphrase.

On the other hand, I do agree with those poets who say one of the main purposes of poetry is to (try to) express the inexpressible, thus rendering the act of paraphrasing (turning poetry into prose) a felony of the intellect and soul.

On the third hand, I think my job is to guide students (persuade, badger, trick them) toward liking poetry and understanding it, on their own terms, in which case the argument against paraphrase can sound like highfalutin, "aren't I special," mystical frippery and fraud, which alienates a lot of students. They'll get comfortable with exotic frippery and foppery as they grow old; they'll even practice it plenty. But let's not push them there any faster than necessary. 

Of course, the real argument is that students who really, really, really get poetry already know, or suspect, or will know soon, that what makes any art special is beyond paraphrase. And they'll probably intuit that you can't kill art with paraphrase even if you try. It's bigger and fuzzier than that.




One Art- Poets.org - Poetry, Poems, Bios & More

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13 comments:

Jeff M said...

At the mention (or thought, I should say) of a perfect week, the monotone Mexican music popped open into the early air.

From somewhere the Mexican music came, but most definitely it was from a radio for it had that hot afternoon radio

on a car hood sound. Are Mexicans really invading this country like they say? It's 6:15 a.m. on Sunday and the Mexican music

arm wrestles the bird chirps, and wins. It won't stop until it does and it does without announcement and the birds have

the roller rink all to themselves again. Did I tell you that I flew in a B-17 bomber and that I was there with an 11-year-old boy

when he caught the first fish of his life?

--- Jeff Martin

Banjo52 said...

Jeff, there's a lot to like here. Is it yours? Merwin, Lorca, Harrison? I'm guessing Harrison, if not J.Martin.

Reader Wil said...

Poetry is something that makes me suspicious. Is a poem an honest piece of one's mind? Is it really poetry or just a couple of words that rhyme? Most modern poetry is without rhyme or reason. I remember the anecdote of one of our wellknown authors, who wrote a book when he was still a student at the secondary school. He put the book on his booklist under a pen-name. The examiners asked him about the book not knowing that he was the author. He explained the meaning of the book, but the examiners told him that he hadn't understood what the author of the book meant. Sometimes I think that poets take a couple of books, lay them on top of each other, read the titles from top to bottom and there's the beginning of a poem and the rest follows. Therefore it's difficult for an outsider to mark off the real poetry from the rubbish. I should read your previous posts. I really enjoy poems that are simple enough ,but as soon as I have to take a knife and have to cut the poem into pieces and have to explain each part separately, I feel like a Vandal destroying a beautiful piece of art. Change one word in a poem and you can either embellish it or make it vulgar.
Thank you for your visit Banjo52!

Jeff M said...

No, it's an original, written in about 20 minutes during the predawn hours, a time that Homer loved best.

Reader Wil,
When reading poetry, don't think so much.

Banjo52 said...

Homer--"rosy-fingered dawn."

The unexpectedness of your last 4 lines and the shifts there--that's what I like best, though they're a jolt.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

uh oh, I'm feeling the need to dig out my junior high poetry. Chock full of references to bugs and dead goldfish. Humored the teacher (before she called in the school psychologist).

Reader Wil; think de-construction/post modernism/Derrida. He's French. When all else fails, blame the French.

To Jeff...I don't know about "the country", but they've invaded the house next door (developer flip project). And they brought a radio.

Barbaro said...

Robert Pinsky on Lehrer NewsHour two nights ago: "I don't think poetry needs an advocate. It's too large and fundamental for that." I guess that means it doesn't need paraphrasing, but also that it wouldn't hurt to do so.

altadenahiker said...

I tend to agree with Wil, in that when you take something apart to see all the pieces and then put it back together, you may get it to work again, just never quite as well as before.

RuneE said...

I'm not much of a poet, so I can't comment on the poem's comment(ators)
:-)
However, I can appreciate the photos and the story told her: From the lonely girl on the stone stairs to the students enjoying the learning process.

PS Thank you for the nice comment :-)
As for the title - look in the upper right corner ...

Brenda's Arizona said...

Love Barbaro's paraphrase of Pinsky. Good one!
I love this poem of Bishop's! On a good day, you can nod with each loss, saying "yea, I have been there". Even the last loss, the disaster, you can nod with it.
But on a losing day, I argue with her. I tell her "Don't tell me how to get over this!" Arguing with a poem... I rarely argue with paraphrases!
Or do we?
Good one, Banjomyn. And great comments by your followers!

RuneE said...

Banjo 52: Thank you so much for the info about "my speaker". I seem to remember that this was what was said at the introduction.

Banjo52 said...

Brenda, good stuff. If you're not arguing, you're stone--whether it's poem or paraphrase. Well, maybe. At any rate I used to assign students to find part of a work they disagreed with or didn't like and tell the rest of us about it. Any lemming can worship canonical stuff, but can they tell us why? As you can see, I spend too much time arguing with myself.

RuneE, good. I'm a bit of a sucker about football and baseball. And who knew that "Esiason" was a Norwegian name!

Banjo52 said...

Barbaro, your important comment almost slipped by me. Sorry.

Don't you think Pinsky paints a rather rosy picture? Granted, poetry seems as embedded in the human psyche as painting is. It won't go away. But it also will never fetch a living wage for the poets--maybe for their readings, conferences, and teaching gigs, but not for the poems on the page. So maybe poetry does need advocates, though I don't think then thousand advocates will change certain facts of the matter.

Macbeth speaks of "mouth-honor," one of the GREAT labels of all time. Don't you think mouth-honor is what most cultures, including ours, offer to poets (and teachers!).

Lovers' Lane