Thursday, February 10, 2011

Elizabeth Bishop birthday love in Iowa City

It’s been a snowy, frigid Midwest winter, and February 8th was one of its coldest days. As I walked down Dubuque Street toward Prairie Lights Bookstore, I had a revelation: the phrase “bitter cold” is literal, not metaphoric. The shards of ice on my breath left a tangible, stinging taste in the back of my throat: bitter!

For once, my appointment coincided with one of the excellent Prairie Lights events, so I was on my way back to the store for a reading “in tribute to Elizabeth Bishop on her 100th Birthday.” A dozen poets and readers were each to present a favorite Bishop poem. It sounded lovely. And it also sounded like the sort of event that could use a warm body to help fill the chairs.

It was lovely. And I needn’t have worried about attendance. I got there ten minutes early and nearly every seat was taken. By the time Jan Weissmiller welcomed everyone at 7:00, even floor space was at a premium. Granted, some of the attendees had that unmistakable look of some English class being assigned to come. But halfway into the recitations, even these reluctant young poets- and I may very well have misread the whole scene, since Iowa City is such a creative writing epicenter and perhaps every one of them is keen on Bishop- even they were locked in a kind of quiet trance.

As reader was succeeded by reader, the stately minimalist tribute took on a kind of intimate solemnity. A wonderful, moving, unexpected surprise on a frigid Iowa Tuesday night!

And, as if it needs repeating- though apparently it does- a tribute as well to the essential, irreplaceable cultural contribution that clever independent booksellers make to our communities, day in day out, season upon season.

One Art

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three beloved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

-- Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) a disaster.

Elizabeth Bishop

from Poems

1 comment:

  1. The Filling Station! Best Bishop poem ever. I laugh out loud every time I get to the part about the hirsute begonia and then ultimately feel reassured by her last line. Loves it.