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  • Poetry:The 1940s to the Present
  • Frank J. Kearful

This is a good year for Elizabeth Bishop, as have been all the ten years that I have written this annual chapter. What Thomas Travisano referred to in 1994 as “The Elizabeth Bishop Phenomenon” was but a prelude to the avalanche of books and articles—over 25 of the latter this year—that makes “keeping up” with Bishop scholarship a Herculean task. Recent editions of her poetry, prose, and correspondence have added over 1,000 pages to her published writing, and a volume of watercolor drawings is now part of her oeuvre. A new essay collection, Elizabeth Bishop in the 21st Century, assesses the editions’ impact on our sense of Bishop’s poetic achievement, which now encompasses twice as many poems as in the Complete Poems (1979). It has also been a good, if not so spectacular, decade for Robert Lowell. A new wave of critical interest in his poetry has followed the publication of a monumental Collected Poems (2003); a 425-page Selected Poems spinoff; a reprint of the original Notebook 1967–68; an edition of The Letters of Robert Lowell; and Words for the Wind: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. Kathleen Spivack’s With Robert Lowell and His Circle attests to Lowell’s preeminence during what Irvin Ehrenpreis in 1965 called “The Age of Lowell.” Thomas Simmons’s Poets’ First and Last Books in Dialogue leads with Lowell, whose last book, Day by Day, prompted Simmons’s study. Further evidence that rumors of Lowell’s critical demise have been greatly exaggerated comes unexpectedly via The New American Poetry of Engagement, an innovatory anthology of 21st-century poetry. Quoted in full as an epigraph, Lowell’s poem “Epilogue,” the finale to Day by [End Page 349] Day, serves as a cornerstone of the editors’ introduction. Robert Duncan, a leading light of the generation following Lowell and Bishop, has also become a key figure in narratives of poetry since the 1940s. Reading Duncan Reading, a new essay collection, celebrates his “derivative” poetics and formative influence on younger poets. Another collection, The Contemporary Narrative Poem, highlights the form’s vitality and diversity. Gerald L. Bruns’s What Are Poets For? keeps several avant-garde balls rolling, while Joseph Jonghyun Jeon’s Racial Form, Racial Things sustains the burgeoning critical interest in avant-garde Asian American poetry. Recent studies of African American poetry have also tended to favor the contemporary avant-garde, leaving scant room for important poets such as Etheridge Knight, whose poetry is given the attention it deserves in Michael S. Collins’s Understanding Etheridge Knight. Speaking of attention deserved: I have enjoyed my decade as the only begetter of this chapter, but I now need more time to write a book of my own.

i Elizabeth Bishop in the 21st Century

Elizabeth Bishop in the 21st Century: Reading the New Editions, ed. Angus Cleghorn et al. (Virginia), centers on four topics, each given a section, starting with “Textual Politics: Looking into the New Elizabeth Bishop,” which features four appraisals of Alice Quinn’s edition Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke-Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments (2006). In “Alice in Wonderland: The Authoring and Editing of Elizabeth Bishop’s Uncollected Poems” (pp. 11–25) Jonathan Ellis claims that Bishop “would have been annoyed and dismayed by the book, not at its existence, but by the suggestion that she was its sole author.” Ironically, Quinn’s characterization of the texts she chose for publication as “unfinished things” comes perilously close to Helen Vendler’s excoriation of them as “repudiated poems … maimed and stunted siblings” of her “real poems” (see AmLS 2006, pp. 391–92). Quinn’s sprawling notes, which take up about one-third of the book, reflect her “clear anxiety” about the artistic merits of the unfinished texts, which she profusely connects to published work, “thus preventing the ‘imperfect work’ from being hung out to dry.” Ellis takes Quinn’s notes to task on both ethical and aesthetic grounds, but giving credit where credit is due, he also acclaims poems whose publication we owe to Quinn. In “Postcards and Sunsets: Bishop’s Revisions and the Problems of...


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