Thursday, September 1, 2011

Poets as vending machines

Michael Hofmann on Elizabeth Bishop in the LRB:
Other poets are predictably and more or less unvaryingly themselves, like cellophane packs of cigarettes from a vending machine; with Bishop you get the surprise gift in a plastic ball – sometimes purposeless and perplexing, more often flat-out exhilarating, the toy of your dreams, like ‘An acre of cold white spray … Dancing happily by itself’. Bad Lowell is just bad Lowell; it has something parodic and clanking about it, as the epigrams sail bafflingly past their targets. Lesser Bishop may be disappointing, but it isn’t demoralising, somehow doesn’t affect the whole. You stand in front of the machine, the dispenser of miniature planets, and throw in more quarters; surely you will be luckier next time; you have the obscure but possibly correct feeling that it is your fault for not understanding the toy you have been given.
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