PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
Mark FordLetters And So It Goes
Letters from Young Mr Grace
(aka John Ashbery)

(PN Review 239)
Henry Kingon Toby Martinez de las Rivas
(PN Review 244)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Tim Parksin conversation with Natalia Ginzburg
(PN Review 49)
Next Issue Subha Mukherji Dying and Living with De la Mare Carl Phillips Fall Colors and other poems Alex Wylie The Bureaucratic Sublime: on the secret joys of contemporary poetry Marilyn Hacker Montpeyroux Sonnets David Herman Memories of Raymond Williams
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
PNR 250 Poetry Archive Banner
PN Review New Issue

This article is taken from PN Review 114, Volume 23 Number 4, March - April 1997.

Mont d'Espoir or Mount Despair: Early Bishop, Early Ashbery, and the French Mark Ford

I
'I'd time enough to play with names,' observes Bishop's Crusoe of his years on his 'still/un-rediscovered, un-renam-able' island. Back in England - 'another island,/that doesn't seem like one, but who decides?' - the gap between names and things, d'espoir and despair, uses and meanings, island and mainland, dwindles to nothing:


                      I'm old.
I'm bored too, drinking my real tea,
surrounded by uninteresting lumber.
The knife there on the shelf-
it reeked of meaning, like a crucifix.
It lived. How many years did I
beg it, implore it, not to break?
I knew each nick and scratch by heart,
the bluish blade, the broken tip,
the lines of wood-grain on the handle…
Now it won't look at me at all.
The living soul has dribbled away.
My eyes rest on it and pass on.
                                                   (CP, 166)1


The 'island-dweller' of John Ashbery's 'The Skaters' suffers a similar awakening from his boy's-own fantasy of life as a cast-away. Like Crusoe he climbs to the island's highest point 'to scan the distances', watches waterspouts that are 'beautiful, but terrifying' - an echo, surely, of Bishop's 'awful but cheerful' (CP, 61) - and forgets much of what he thought he knew. Fortunately he has a weathered child's alphabet on which some of the island's flora and fauna are pictured - 'the albatross, for instance - that's a name I never would ...


Searching, please wait... animated waiting image