Elizabeth Bishop's Photographic Poetics: The Peripheral Vision

Citation data:

Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers

Publication Year:
2011
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Repository URL:
https://scholarworks.umt.edu/etd/369; https://scholarworks.umt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1388&context=etd
Author(s):
Lalonde, Lise
Publisher(s):
University of Montana
Tags:
camera obscura; defamiliarization; description; descriptive detail; Elizabeth Bishop; emotional restraint; homelessness; hyperreality; image; image of loss; marginal poet; optical poetics; photographic techniques; photography; places of the mind; poetics
thesis / dissertation description
Elizabeth Bishop‘s poetics of description has been the object of numerous critical studies. These most often focus on questions of observation, positioning, framing, and refer to Bishop‘s aesthetics as ―optical poetics.‖ Instead of simply using optical vocabulary to talk about her work, I found that comparing her practice and the aesthetics of photography would help to illuminate our understanding of the restraint and yet strength of her work. This interdisciplinary approach allows me to answer very important questions: how does one make images with words? How does one palliate the inadequacies of the written word in the field of description? Bishop's descriptive powers question the limitations of the written word's ability to evoke and the boundary between reading and seeing. The advent of photography brought new challenges and pushed writers and poets to sharpen their creative tools. Bishop writes poems that are, at first sight, very simple in their language: they aim at being so close to reality that they might well be a replacement for that reality, or reality itself. Looking at photography and the motives for taking pictures allows a deeper understanding of the important role observation and powerful imagery play in Bishop's poetry. As an art of careful observation, photography allows one to reveal the uncanny of everyday life, the familiar in the unfamiliar, because it can capture details that might have remained invisible had the camera not caught them. Primarily, Bishop‘s poetry is an art of precise observation that seeks out the strange dimension of the ordinary. Comparing both arts illuminates the way Bishop's precision works at revealing the oneiric in the empirical. Photographs are also a way to freeze and retain a moment, a piece of reality that can never be again. As such, photography is an art of nostalgia. Behind the compulsion to take pictures is a desire to control the chaos of life, to cope with grief, loss, and death. Bishop's poetry expresses nostalgia for places that cannot be anymore because they were places of the mind or places she can never return to. Her poems are an attempt to recreate and preserve a past of loss and grief through the taking of images that can encapsulate the pain, as well as shed light on the present. As an art of careful observation, photography allows one to reveal the uncanny of everyday life, the familiar in the unfamiliar, because it can captures details that might have remained invisible had the camera not caught them. Primarily, Bishop’s poetry is an art of precise observation that seeks out the strange dimension of the ordinary. Comparing both arts illuminates the way Bishop's precision works at revealing the oneiric in the empirical. Photographs are also a way to freeze and retain a moment, a piece of reality that can never be again. As such, photography is an art of nostalgia. Behind the compulsion to take pictures is a desire to control the chaos of life, to cope with grief, loss, and death. Bishop's poetry expresses nostalgia for places that cannot be anymore because they were places of the mind or places she can never return to. Her poems are an attempt to recreate and preserve a past of loss and grief through the taking of images that can encapsulate the pain, as well as shed light on the present.