Elizabeth Bishop and Visual Art
Elizabeth Bishop, who constructed poems of crystalline visual accuracy, is often regarded as the most painterly of twentieth-century American poets. In Deep Skin, Peggy Samuels explores Bishop's attraction to painters who experimented with dynamic interactions between surface and depth. She tells the story of the development of Bishop's poetics in relation to her engagement with mid-century art, particularly the work of Paul Klee, Kurt Schwitters, and Alexander Calder.
Contemporary conversations about the visual arts circulating among art historians and reviewers shaped Bishop's experience and illuminated aesthetic problems for which she needed to find solutions. The book explores in particular the closest intellectual context for Bishop, her friend Margaret Miller, who worked as a research associate and later associate curator at the Museum of Modern Art. Samuels traces a complex and rich four-way metaphor in her portrait of Bishop's methods: surface of verse, surface of painting, skin, and interface between mind and world.
The visual arts helped Bishop to develop a new model for lyric: the surface of verse becomes a threshold that opens in two directions—to nature and to the interior of the poet. Bishop's poetics is very much about the touch of the materials of the mind and world inside the materiality of verse. Translating and revising some of the concepts from the visual arts in her own linguistic medium, she begins to experiment with modulation, absorption, and incorporation across multiple registers of experience.