Elizabeth Bishop. I’ve written about her and her poetry many times before on this blog. But her effect on my interior landscape is like frost heaves, pushing up vertically through the thickest pavement and foundation stone.
It is not just her final poetic product that captivates me, but also the way in which she went about creating her work. As described by Dan Chiasson, “the placid surface of her poems conceals a severe and variegated subaqueous terrain…the facts about Bishop’s life, though well known, are by and large absent from her work, which set beside Lowell’s or Anne Sexton’s or John Berryman’s, seems reserved and cryptic, even self protective…hers is an art of relation, of perceptual nuance, of points of view, rather than an art of factual substantiation.” Chiasson goes on to describe how Bishop’s approach of “seeing things freshly depends on seeing them rigorously, as the events that make up the activity called ‘sight’ are slowed down, isolated and identified.”
Visual artists talk a lot about the difference between looking and seeing, of how malleable sight actually is. Part of my attraction to aboriginal art is the ability to view—and portray–a landscape from so many dimensions at once. Seeing in that manner is not part of our cultural inheritance; the Western bias leans towards that which can be analyzed and measured. Like Bishop’s approach to poetry, my art making has been my way of acquiring a compound eye.
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