Celebrating American Women Poets (3): Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art”

Elizabeth Bishop, 1934 Vassar Yearbook, Public Domain Photograph

Elizabeth Bishop, 1934 Vassar Yearbook, Public Domain Photograph

Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), a poet and short-story writer, was U.S. Poet Laureate from 1949-1950.  She won a Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1958, the National Book Award in 1970 and she received the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1976. One of her most loved – world renown – poems was One Art.

When people are good at their work, they seem to do their jobs effortlessly. We never see the hours of practice behind the dancer’s bravura performance or the pianist’s breathtaking delivery nor the years of experience behind the actor’s overnight success, the accountant’s instant analysis or the cook’s fabulously original meal pulled together with left-overs and kitchen odds-and-ends. And so it is with the practiced precision of poetry …

EB Collected PoemsElizabeth Bishop’s One Art  seems effortless but over the course of years she rewrote it seventeen times.

 In the short video that follows Professor M. Mark at Vassar College (Bishop’s alma mater) discusses Elizabeth Bishop, her work, and her only villanelle,* One Art, which is included in The Complete Poems 1926-1978 (recommended reading). .

One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

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.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

– Elizabeth Bishop

Video uploaded by Vassar College.

* Vinanelle ~ a nineteen-line poem with two rhymes throughout, consisting of five tercets and a quatrain, with the first and third lines of the opening tercet recurring alternately at the end of the other tercets and with both repeated at the close of the concluding quatrain. New Oxford American Dictionary

© 2016, words, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

with heart to spare

with heart to spare,
i’m still here, writing and reading ~
though time has had its say on my face,
a bit of graffiti etched around eyes and lips
and more than a hitch or two in my get-along,
a fair amount of pain

but I am still here
with heart to spare
and time for reading and writing ~
nothing else given, nothing else required,
which is the long way round to saying:
I’m still in love with life
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© 2014, poem and photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved