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The Body and the Song: Elizabeth Bishop's Poetics.

Marilyn May Lombardi opens up a view of Elizabeth Bishop that the poet craftily concealed in her poetry and in her public persona. She justifies her intense probing with the idea that the poet knew this would happen as she wrote her inner self in letters, notebooks, and journals, now available in libraries. Indeed, the unpublished notebooks and huge correspondence are a rich source for a psychobiography. Lombardi's jargon-free commentary on poems and stories is documented, insightful, often fascinating.

Soma and psyche intertwine with language and image into a series of ladders: asthma, the hypodermic needle, St. Sebastian; alcohol addiction, the need for punishment, the poete maudit; her mother's madness, female hysteria, "male modernism"; Brazil, translation, Lispector and Andrade. Each chapter builds on a well-known physical fact of the poet's life, embroidering the circumstances with medieval to modern literary connections.

I was sorry that Lombardi felt it necessary to give dictionary definitions of words like asthma and eczema and to exhort her colleagues to appreciate the covert elements in Bishop's work. The admittedly morbid focus of The Body and the Song bothered me more, and would, I think, bother Bishop, who was a very tough and funny lady. Alas, not much feeling for comedy and its victories here.

Doris Earnshaw University of California, Davis
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Author:Earnshaw, Doris
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1996
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