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Quick Notes on Elizabeth Bishop

These are mostly notes and observations I am writing for myself as I prepare for the Contemporary Poetry section of my comps. I will try to do this with each poet I read. Maybe the notes will be useful to others, too. Again, they are notes and observations. They are not thesis-driven arguments.


Elizabeth Bishop (1911 – 1979) is an American poet and a poetic descendent of Marianne Moore, a contemporary and close friend with Robert Lowell, she was also in contact with Randall Jarrell and John Berryman, had admiration for Allen Ginsberg (which is surprising), and one of her poetic off springs is Frank Bidart. Her poems tend to written in iambic meters, often rhyme, and are very detailed. She also uses pathetic fallacy, which after the Modernist poets one would not think would be done again. With this in mind, I would not classify her as a Modernist poet. For me, a Modernist poets tends to eschew direct representation of the world and they tend to be in favor of free verse. In addition, the Modernists go in one of two ways in dealing with the present (according to my developing hypothesis): the Modernist poet either goes into the past to understand the present (all of the past is in the present, which includes Eliot and Pound) or the poet looks to the future to “make it new,” and these include Mina Loy, W. C. Williams, and Wallace Stevens. Elizabeth Bishop’s poems, however, live in the present.

This present, however, is fictive present, but she uses real details to explore a something. This something is usually set up in the first line, in an epigraph, or in the title. If Monty Python wrote poetry, their poetry would be like Bishop’s, in that both pose a premise and explore in a most unique way the limits of that premise. Unlike Monty Python whose comedic skits might not be able to find an end, Bishop is able to wrap up her poems. Many, and maybe even most, of her poems operate this way. An example of this is “The Man-Moth.” The premise is the misspelling of “mammoth” from a newspaper, but she uses it as a prompt to create a man-moth, but I don’t think this is a typical Bishop poem. Other examples are “The Monument,” which begins “Now you can see the monument? It is of wood,” and then she goes exploring the monument. About half-way through, she realizes she’s drifted so far from the topic, that she has to bring herself back: “ ‘Those clouds are full of glistening splinters! / What is that?’ / It is the monument.” A better example might be “A Cold Spring,” with the epigraph “Nothing is so beautiful as spring – Hopkins,” and the poem goes on to explore spring, or even the paragraph long epigraph to “The Riverman.”

I think her poetics can best be summarized with the title and beginning of “Over 2,000 Illustrations and a Complete Concordance”:

     Thus should have been our travels:
     serious, engravable.
     The Seven Wonders of the World are tired
     and a touch familiar, but the other scenes,
     innumerable, though equally sad and still,
     are foreign.

Bishop won’t go after the big things, like “The Seven Wonders of the World,” because they are too familiar. She is going to get into the details of the often overlooked, and a complete concordance would have plenty of details.

I want to note two more traits: pathetic fallacy (as mentioned above) and her use of “or.” The Modernists turned away from pathetic fallacy as part of their turning away from Romanticism and Edwardian poetries, but also because the Modernists (maybe as a result of the Realists and Naturalists) don’t think nature and the living things in nature have feelings, especially sympathetic feelings towards humans. But I think Bishop engages with pathetic fallacy because I think she is wholly engaged with the world and that she thinks the world is engaged with humans. I think she tells us this in “Manners,” where her grandfather gives her the following advice:

     “A fine bird,” my grandfather said,

     “and he’s well brought up. See, he answers
     nicely when he’s spoken to.
     Man or beast, that’s good manners.
     Be sure that you both always do.”

Her grandfather points out to her that creatures of nature do indeed have feelings, including manners, which one would think is a human invention. Despite these sympathies, not to mention her iambic rhythms, however, one wouldn’t classify Bishop as a Romantic or Edwardian, as she creates or recreates the world using the facts of the world. Her poetry is only mimetic in the details she draws from, assumes, supposes, or speculates.

The last stylistic device I notice is her use of “or,” which occurs in many poems. In the highly rational world of modernity, there is the divisive thinking of “either/or,” a binary thinking. Something is either this or it is that, but Bishop’s “or” subverts that binary thinking. Bishop’s “or” is not use to make clear distinctions or definitions, but rather it shows uncertainty in her epistemologies and phenomenologies. She’s not quite sure what something. Returning to “Over 2,000 Illustrations . . .,” we read:

     Always the silence, the gesture of specks of birds
     suspended on invisible threads above the Site,
     or the smoke of rising solemnly, pulled by threads.
     Granted a page alone or a page made up
     of several scenes arranged in cattycornered rectangles
     or circles set on stippled gray.

The “or” indicates uncertainty, not the certainty of “it’s either this or that.” It’s like she is saying, “maybe it’s this or perhaps it’s this other thing, or maybe even some other thing. I’m not quite sure but it is perhaps somewhere among those descriptions.” Sometimes the “or” comes in the shape of “nor” or “perhaps” as in “Manuelzinho” towards the end when the poem reads:

     You paint – heaven knows why –
     the outside of your crown
     and brim of your straw hat.
     Perhaps to reflect the sun?
     Or perhaps when you were small,
     your mother said, ‘Manuelzinho,
     one thing: be sure you always
     paint your straw hat.’”

Here the “or” and “perhaps” are more like speculations, and perhaps that is what all the “or”s are doing, and perhaps that is the best way to describe Bishop’s poetry – speculations based on a premise.

One last thing, for a writer of iambs, many of her lines begin with a stressed syllable.




What is RomComPom? It is a new journal for romantic comedy poetry that will be edited by Susan Elliott Brown and me.

RomComPom header screen cap

Here’s a definition from the journal’s website:

RomComPom – poetry that inhabits the same emotional space as romantic comedy. Its symptoms include, but are not limited to, laughter, delight, crying (or at the minimum, a lump in the throat), self-doubt replaced by selfless confidence, the realization of love in an unexpected person, and the overwhelming urge to want to fall in love or eat chocolate.

It may also be a poem about, inspired by, or that references a romantic comedy. However, it doesn’t need to be about or reference any romantic comedy, but it should aim to generate the same feelings as a romantic comedy. Snarky poems are also encouraged.

Be sure to check it out:

The first issue will appear in early 2015 sometime.//



BLAST-pieces (1): Vortex as Storm Cone

In interesting look at the Vorticist symbol that appears in BLAST. Be sure to read the illuminating comments at the end, too.

Richard Warren

Picking through the two issues of Blast (1914 and 1915), it’s easy to ignore the little head or tail-piece designs that occasionally punctuate the pages. But they are certainly worth a closer look. Someone may already have analysed them thoroughly, but if so I’m not aware of it.

The most recognisable is perhaps the simple Vortex symbol that appears first on the unnumbered page 9 of Blast 1, the title page of the group “Manifesto”, and is repeated on pages 12, 20 and 158. It seems obvious to me that this was not an original design, but an opportunistic use of an existing printer’s block showing a storm cone – the black canvas funnel then in standard use at coast guard shore stations to warn shipping of impending storms. (I can’t quite believe that no one has previously pointed this out. If they have, please leave a comment  and let…

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Journals That Accept Long Poems

Here is yet another list for poets, since it’s so difficult to find journals that accept long poems (three pages or longer). I will update this as I can. Each journal name is also a link to the submission page.

If you know of journals that accept long poems, please leave a note in the comments section, and I’ll add it. Thanks. //

Journal Journal Medium Submission Type Simultaneous Submission: Yes/No
The Adroit Journal Online Electronic Yes
Alaska Quarterly Review Print Mail Yes
The American Journal of Poetry Online Mail Yes
Angle Journal of Poetry in English Online Electronic Yes
Artful Dodge Print Mail Yes
At Length Online Electronic Yes (Not verified)
Bear Review Online Electronic Yes
Beloit Poetry Journal Print Mail and Electronic Yes
Birmingham Poetry Review Print Mail Yes
Blackbird: an online journal of literature and the arts Online Mail or Electronic Yes
Bloodstone Review Online Electronic Yes
Blue Lyra Review Online Electronic Yes
The California Journal of Poetics Online?? See below comments Electronic Yes
Cahoodaloodaling Online Electronic Yes
The Cincinnati Review Print Electronic and mail. Yes
Diode Online Electronic Yes
Georgia Review Print Mail or Electronic plus fee No
Gettysburg Review Print Mail Yes
Hawai’i Review Print Electronic Yes
Heavy Feather Review Print Electronic Yes
Long Poem Magazine (England) Print Electronic No
Los Angeles Review Online Mail and Electronic Yes
Matador Review Online Electronic Yes
Michigan Quarterly Review Print Mail Yes
Missouri Review Print Electronic Yes
Mush/Mum Online Electronic Yes
New England Review Print Electronic plus fee No
Nimrod Print Mail Yes (Not verified)
Pedestal Magazine Print Electronic Yes
Permafrost Print Electronic Yes
PN Review Print Mail. Electronic if a subscriber. No
Prime Number Magazine Online Electronic Yes
Rattle Print Mail and Electronic Yes
Redivider (according to comment below) Print Electronic Yes
Rhino Print Mail and Electronic Yes
Seattle Review Print Mail and Electronic No
Southern Indiana Review Print Mail and Electronic Yes
Southern Humanities Review Print Mail and Electronic Yes
storySouth Online Electronic Yes
Sugar House Review Print Electronic Yes
Tahoma Review Print and e-reader Electronic Yes
Tusculum Review Print Mail Yes
Up the Staircase Quarterly Online Electronic Yes
Virginia Quarterly Review Print Electronic Yes
Wherewithal Online Electronic Yes

Last updated 4-27-22. 45 journals.

Also check out Axis of Abraxas.//


Reading for the Powder Horn Prize

This is a contest for a first book of poems. It is run by my friend who makes beautiful books. He’s also the editor of Rock & Sling out of Whitworth University. You can also read my interview with him here:

Powder Horn III will be judged by Kevin Goodan, author of Upper Level Disturbances (Center for Literary Publishing, 2012), Winter Tenor (Alice James, 2009), and In the Ghost-House Acquainted (Alice James, 2004). He teaches at Lewis & Clark College in Lewiston, Idaho.

To submit your manuscript, please use our online submissions manager. Click here for access.

The Powder Horn Prize is a first book award for poetry. Manuscripts should be 48+ pages in length. The author should not have previously published a full-length collection, though she may have published chapbooks.

The reading fee is $25. Entry deadline is June 1, 2014.

For questions, email

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The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

The Cave

Material Matters

Poems for an Empty Church

Poems for an Empty Church

The Oldest Stone in the World

The Oldest Stone in the Wolrd

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Pre-Dew Poems

Pre-Dew Poems

Negative Time

Negative Time

After Malagueña

After Malagueña

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