Inscrutable houses: metaphors of the body in the poems of Elizabeth Bishop

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University of Alabama Press, 1997 - Literary Collections - 245 pages
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Examining the poet's view of the human body and issues of embodiment, Colwell provides an accessible, close reading of Bishop's poetry.

Inscrutable Houses examines Elizabeth Bishop's paradoxical relationship to the concept of embodiment as it evolves in the poems of her four published books. Anne Colwell looks at how Bishop uses metaphors of the body to express her powerful ambivalence about human form, at how Bishop moves between pessimism, expressing the idea that the body is the reason for all human loss and misunderstanding, and optimism, seeing the body as the medium for all human connection, for love and knowledge.

A combined focus on metaphors of the body in her published work and Bishop's means of arriving at these metaphors through her compositional process therefore highlights important connections between the poet's work and her life, particularly her childhood losses, the influence of contemporary poets, and her personal relationships.

Bishop published four collections of poetry, numerous short stories, autobiographical sketches, and several prose pieces on travel. Her double collection titled Poems: North and South -- A Cold Spring, published in 1955, won the Pulitzer Prize, and the later collection Complete Poems (1969) earned her the National Book Award.

Colwell's innovative reading not only is valuable in itself but also gives deeper insight into a great and influential poet and contributes to the arguments of more overtly theoretical readings of Bishop's work.

"Colwell's work, with its steady focus on Bishop's poems, leads us back to the texts in important and innovative ways, revealing in a new light Bishop's abundant, stunning accomplishments". -- JoanneFeit Diehl Bowdoin College

"Anne Colwell's accessible and engaging study offers a striking, coherent analysis and summary of Bishop's poetic development and impressively forthright and helpful readings of her poems -- both major and minor. Her intelligence and enthusiasm support an entirely convincing thesis". -- Brett C. Millier Middlebury College

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