Manual God and Elizabeth Bishop: Meditations on Religion and Poetry

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Peter Nickowitz. Palgrave Macmillan. Carmen L. Robert Dale Parker. University of Illinois Press. Sarah Riggs. Camille Roman.

Palgrave MacMillan. Guy Rotella. Vanderbilt University Press. Northeastern University Press. Lloyd Schwartz.


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Elizabeth Bishop and Her Art. University of Michigan Press. Sally Bishop Shigley. Peter Lang. Anne Stevenson. Elizabeth Bishop. New York: Twayne Publishers. Thomas J. Elizabeth Bishop: Her Artistic Development. University of Virginia Press. Cheryl Walker. Kirstin Hotelling Zona.

Most of the sources listed are encyclopedic in nature but might be limited to a specific field, such as musicians or film directors. A lack of listings here does not indicate unimportance -- we are nowhere near finished with this portion of the project -- though if many are shown it does indicate a wide recognition of this individual. It was meeting my wife that first made me—made us—want to acknowledge the love that our own seemed to imply and include.

It was the threat of death that made me want to give my inchoate feelings of faith some definite form. In My Bright Abyss , I set out to try to answer that question. Why did you do that, and what has it been like, living a private narrative so openly? CW: Courage, I think, inheres in the ability to realize that there is nothing singular in your own sufferings, that if they have value it is in the bedrock truth they enable you to fitfully glimpse and hopefully convey. This is as true for the truck driver or lawyer as it is for the poet.

How many people throughout history have actually managed to pray these words when their life was at stake, which is the only time they acquire their ultimate meaning? I originally planned to write My Bright Abyss without mentioning my own illness at all. I wanted to avoid any appearance of special pleading, and then too one just gets sick of sickness. The first chapter adheres to this circumspection, but I pretty quickly realized that to try to write an honest book about faith while your own life and faith were being constantly interrupted and periodically obliterated by illness was an absurd aim.

So I let my own life into the book more, though I do hope it is a lens for a much larger subject and not the subject itself. Image: My Bright Abyss repeatedly grapples with the problem of how to talk about your experience of God and your awareness of transcendence.

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It asks, what language on earth is adequate? Will you talk about your struggle to find words and syntax that can bear such pressure? CW: As has always been the case in my life, poetry has led to the discoveries, and prose has been a means of understanding and integrating those discoveries into my life. Whole theologies are crammed into quatrains, not all of which I can claim to fully understand. Prose is the clean-up crew, so to speak, creeping into the cave my unconscious has blasted open to mine and map its dimensions. That said, Christianity inheres in communication between people.

And not simply on the page either, and not from a podium. I have found that for all of my artistic and intellectual forays into faith, the only real progress is made when I have an honest communication with another person. There is a famished way of reading that only cuts our hungers deeper into us. How many intellectuals in search of authentic spiritual lives read every book with a kind of unconscious plea coming out of them at every instant: say something that will save me, say something that will save me.

Well, it never happens. And how does she mark her sincerity? The priest laughs heartily. But do you believe that worn old language can ever be rejuvenated?

The unbeliever : the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop in SearchWorks catalog

Can we ever learn to hear it with fresh ears? Those who use religious language have a lot to learn from this: the indispensability of metaphor, first of all; the mix of memory and imagination tradition and innovation ; the way the abstraction derives its meaning from the concrete, a meaning which it then exponentially enlarges.

Can we ever learn to hear such language— sin, redemption, grace —with fresh ears? I think so, but it may require an extended period of what looks like destruction, which is what liberal Protestantism in the West seems to be undergoing. Image: Do you think of the subject of the new book as—at least in part—the limitations of language? But the capacities of language are also very much a subject. The limitations and capacities of language are implicit in this poem. My God my bright abyss into which all my longing will not go once more I come to the edge of all I know and believing nothing believe in this:.

What kind of nothing are you writing about? Poets and their maniacally tiny obsessions! I think the first time I quote that stanza I mean nothing as in nothing, an absence that has no usable energy to it, an abyss that draws me but cannot deliver me. By the end of the book the word has taken on some of the ambiguity and ramifications that you suggest.

Thus the period. The energy of apophasis, like the energy of poetry, emerges only at the limits of our conscious abilities. That said, I think hope! Will you talk about the role of silence in your experience? CW: My experience of silence is like just about all of my experience: mixed, conflicted, fraught, fulfilling.

Silence is the only sound God ever makes, and it is the often crushing condition of his absence. Every once in a while you encounter a work of art that silence has truly and permanently entered, like fallen autumn leaves that, riddled with holes, are on their way to being entirely light. Emily Dickinson.

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Paul Celan. Lorine Niedecker. I treasure them. Image: You grew up in a conservative church, which you eventually left. The book argues for the value of love and community. Given the problems of finding language that connects us to one another as Christians, how can we establish religious community?

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CW: I have no answer to this question, which is a real torment in my life. For a few years my wife and I did discover and join a genuine religious community that was diverse, intense, intellectually engaged, emotionally demanding and rewarding. But then the minister went on to bigger things, and the church quickly withered. I have friends and family members who attend very conservative Protestant churches and enjoy a strong sense of community there. I have Catholic friends who decry the whole reactionary and patriarchal hierarchy of the church but swear by their parishes.

It seems a bit schizophrenic to me, but I can certainly see how hard it would be to give up on something so ingrained and ritualized and beautiful. Maybe so. In any event, I think all of Christianity is being remade right now. Geographically, the center is shifting rapidly southward to Africa and South America. American fundamentalism and the shocking attrition of liberal Protestantism are obvious symptoms of this. Maybe, for some, that is the only authentic church.

24. Elizabeth Bishop

Image: Someone told me that at one stage of your life, you were a fantastic tennis player. The vulnerable old, the animals, the suffering and the gifted and lost -- all of us and our selves as represented in art -- are considered here with enormous empathy and Wordsworthian glory. A ledger is a record book of accounts, credits and debits, a book about money.

What she does with her multilayered take on the Getting and Spending Society is remarkable. Auden, in his elegy for W.