Monday, February 8, 2010

The art of losing isn't hard to master...

Though the art of writing a good villanelle or sestina is.

2/8 is Elizabeth Bishop's birthday.

One Art is a villanelle by Bishop that I remember first reading in high school with the sense of holding my breath a little throughout, thinking about what the poet was going to lose next, and how she wrote about (Write it!) these painful and important losses with an attempt at nonchalance:

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

and then there's her Sestina, with these lines:

But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.

There's a lot in that quiet poem on grief, love, strength and the passage of time; a domestic scene where emotions simmer beneath everything and the household objects are not inanimate.

6 comments:

John Hayes said...

Both wonderful poems. Thanks for remembering E Bishop!

naida said...

great poems. I really like the second one best.
thanks for posting it!
http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/

HKatz said...

You're welcome, I'm glad you both enjoyed; she's a wonderful poet.

Plutarch said...

The E B sestina is one of my favourite poems. Despite being an E B fan, I discovered it only recently when investigating the sestina form. I was glad to see it recalled here.

Gigi said...

It's great to see these poems here. I teach both of them often to creative writing students and to lit students, and "One Art" is one of my favorite villanelles. Bishop understood so deeply that one of the most important aspects of writing a villanelle is making those repetitions feel fresh every time. One of the best ways to do it is to write on an obsessive subject (as in DT's "Do Not Go Gentle"). She just gets it so perfectly, and the poem builds from the inconsequential to the deeply consequential in her masterful hands. Bishop influences my own writing as much as any poet I've ever read. There's always so much to learn from her.

Thanks for posting this! I always love thinking about her work. xo

HKatz said...

Bishop understood so deeply that one of the most important aspects of writing a villanelle is making those repetitions feel fresh every time.

That's a great point and one of the reasons why her villanelle works so well.