"Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box :
Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments."

Published by: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 0-374-14645-4

Reviewed by: Lys Anzia

Genre: Poetry

Like a Jeweled Box Waiting at the Bottom of the Sea
- Quinn Offers a New View of Elizabeth Bishop

She said, she hated the way he made his blank verse "moo".

That was Elizabeth Bishop's voice in a confidential letter to her good friend and fellow poet, Marianne Moore, talking about the painful and predictable writing style of that other poet, Wallace Stevens. Moore and Bishop were 24 years apart, with Moore as the senior, wiser one of the two. Even though at times they lived on different continents, their correspondence lasted a lifetime.


Just released by Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, Alice Quinn's new version of Elizabeth Bishop's hidden poems, Elizabeth Bishop - Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box, takes a fresh new look at the now-lauded E.B. canon. By choosing and annotating Bishop's previously unpublished work, Quinn has made us a promise. She's kept it, too, giving us now a much better view of Bishop's reclusive turn-key process.

There's no doubt today, as a poet with obvious talent, Elizabeth Bishop knew just how far to work her work. She understood the need to leap past all those 1930's/40's rules for making poems extra "good." As Bishop wrote on the days, she reinvented the American poem using her haphazard anything-goes style. She worked herself into a poet's perfectionist. It was this combination of precision and ambiguity that has endeared her to so many critics today who describe what Elizabeth did as Bishop's "art." As John Ashbury, too, called Bishop, "a writer's writer's writer."

Working from fragments of conversations, bits of letters, diary entries, and crumpled notes found here and there, Elizabeth formed her word puzzles in ways that magically came together. Her "art" as a poet stands out as much today as it did in Bishop's heyday in the 1950's and 60's when Bishop had finally gained some bit of public acclaim. From her fragments she told stories charted as life poems, lucid and tight without apology.

By including many photo facsimilies of original Bishop documents, Quinn offers us this unflinching look at the words as they were, including handwritten, unfinished pieces typed quickly on a manual typewriter. The pages brim full of crossed-out words and corrections, letters, and sequence numbers. In Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box, Alice Quinn makes an intimacy appear between us and the creative process. She shows us a writing that helps us better understand what exactly makes poets do what they do.

Here we see up close the scribbles, ripped pages, ink spots, writer's smudges, and even large tear drops blurring Bishop's pages. Some tell of the sad moments of Bishop's life after she lost her good friend Lota de Macedo Soares to suicide. Soares was her best companion and confidant for many years while they both lived together in a beautiful house designed by Soares on the coast of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was there Bishop lived and worked her word magic, keeping diaries and notebooks closeby at all times.

There is no way to separate the history of life from Bishop's poems. There were many other deaths in her life before Bishop herself died at the age of 68. After Brazil she became a traveler, living in Europe, New England, and also Florida. Even in the poems' rudimentary stages, Bishop manages to say perfectly all that needs to be said.

On a tear-smeared page on what looks like erasable typing paper titled "Florida Revisited," Bishop writes:

...At night the "giant dews" drip on the roof
	and the grass grows wet and the hibiscus drops blossom
	folded, sad & wet, in the morning -
	[And it] still goes on and on, more or less the same.
	It has, now apparently, for over half my life-time —:
	Gone on after, or over, how many deaths,                 many deaths by cancer,
	how many deaths by now, [and] love lost, lost forever.               & suicides–
	                  friendship & love
							lost, lost forever–

Those quiet moments, those diary poems, in Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box, might've only been meant for Elizabeth and her God. No one knows for sure. By exposing the Bishop vaults from the Vassar library collection, Alice Quinn has stretched through the veil of privacy that Bishop might have demanded had she still been living. This has brought a sheet of controversy to the publishing of this work. Some have agreed or disagreed with the exposure of Bishop's private words.

Elizabeth herself might not have been too ruffled, though, on all the hullaballoo over the scribbles that were part of her back files, ongoing ideas, and projects. Even though she sometimes worked and reworked a single poem for over a decade, she knew the power of the public. As she was private she still yearned very much for a public world audience.

Now Quinn has brought her life to the surface again for all to see.

Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box is a treasure trove like a jeweled box waiting at the bottom of the sea for its own discovery. The words themselves actually shout to form now the greatest autobiography of Bishop's life to date.

Lys Anzia is assistant book reviews editor for Moondance magazine. Currently, as an American historical dramatist, Lys, is completing her second script, "Good-night, Darling", which covers a true story of the secret flying lesson Amelia Earhart gave Eleanor Roosevelt in April 1933. Lys is, also, now working as a broadcast radio producer for international radio syndicate, WINGS. A collection of Lys' poetry, on the tortured life of Russian poet, Anna Akhmatova, is due out in publication in late 2006.

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