Saturday, February 19, 2011

Deal with the Devil

William Logan on some centenary-inspired Elizabeth Bishop books. A few fun moments in the piece:

The magazine had a somewhat strait-laced view of grammatical rules (and other things — for years the two women addressed each other as Miss Bishop and Mrs. White). Her forbearing editors, however, dismissed many in-house queries, often allowing Bishop to decide just how far toward sanity she was willing to go. All this is amusing; but the book’s editor, Joelle Biele, has crammed in footnotes that record every comma the editors introduced, or failed to introduce, or asked the gods of punctuation for permission to introduce. These footnotes are possibly the dullest ever written.


The New Yorker has suffocated at times beneath a mask of wry gentility. For all its glossy reputation, the magazine still turns up its nose at stories and poems that make too many demands on the reader. It’s a middlebrow journal for people who would like to be highbrows — and perhaps for highbrows who love a little slumming. The cartoons, as Biele notes, provide an antiphonal chorus to the reckless consumerism of the ads. Just as the literature is for those who want to think themselves literary, the ads are for those who want to think themselves rich. (If you were old money, you’d already own Tiffany by the trunkload.) Bishop’s close association with the magazine, almost all her best poems appearing there after 1945, probably contributed to her struggle to be taken seriously. To be a New Yorker poet was sometimes a deal with the devil.


And my favourite:

This poet of travel and dream, of lost childhood, of angular moral vision (and a gloomy soul) lived in a 20th century still at times lost in the 19th — indeed, the untouched jungle of the Brazilian poems sometimes harks back to the Americas newly discovered. Though American as apple pie, this three-quarters Canadian, sometime Brazilian could easily be considered the national poet of Canada or Brazil. 

Hey FSG, ya hear that? Jerks. The best thing about this is the 3/4 Canadian formulation ain't Logan's. Bishop said it.

1 comment:

Brian Palmu said...

"[The New Yorker is] a middlebrow journal for people who would like to be highbrows."

Perfect! More damning, it's also a journal for dilettantes who would like to be highbrows. I know, because I've met them.