The has been much fuss recently over Helen Vendler's comments, in The New Republic, concerning Alice Quinn's Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke-Box (uncollected poems, drafts and fragments by the American poet Elizabeth Bishop). I like Helen Vendler. I like her uncompromising, New Critical perspective and the rigour of her reading, but she is wrong to see Alice Quinn's book as a "betrayal" of Bishop. Michael Schmidt, in his editorial for PN Review no.169, says:

Readers of Bishop’s poetry are interested in the poems, in how they work, in how they came about. It is an arrogation on Vendler’s part to speak for the poet who, in leaving her papers to an archive, spoke with sufficient, quiet eloquence, herself. To limit access to Bishop’s working, to reserve the progressive spectacle of her creative process to academic scrutiny, to preserve it from the poet’s common readers, is a very high-church thing to do.

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Readers Comments

  1. Pierre Joris Tuesday 02 May 2006

    Schmidt's piece is excellent — even though I don't think Bishop is half the poet Vendler, Quinn or he make her out to be. Vendler, as Mark suggests a good new critical reader of a certain kind of poetry, is, however, a nasty piece of literary politico all over — ideological police woman with a deadly conservative agenda & the clout via her position at Harvard to impose it; vide her anthology of what she takes to be the best of American poetry. The only thing about her I do admire is her phenomenal memory: she has half the canon (maybe more) of English poetry by heart and loves reciting it. A funny line Schmidt has about Billy Collins — I can't really tell how he can tell what is really bad in his own work as it has always been exactly the same: going through the archives of Sixpack magazine, which I edited from London in the early 70s I came across a ms. I had refused but forgotten to return. It consisted of 4 or 5 early poems of Billy Collins — & they sounded & felt exactly like anything else of his I've ever seen, back then or now.

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