"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Two Arts -- EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 -- Part 3


EBSNS:  In your Artist Statement you mention how you encountered Bishop’s work and felt compelled to respond to “One Art” when you read it. After reading and responding to more Bishop poems, do you have a favourite poem? A favourite line?

NP: Yes, my absolute favourite is “Song for The Rainy Season” and its first lines: “Hidden, oh hidden in the high fog/ the house we live in,/ beneath the magnetic rock.” I love the rhythm of the poem which creates the mixture of statics and movement; all the alliterations, wonderful descriptions, and (in my opinion) rather rare (for Bishop) intensiveness of straight expression of strong feeling (in the very first line – in repetition, and in this “oh”).And my second favourite is her unpublished poem “I believe” – because it is a prayer in a form of a “wish list”; it is serious but at the same time it has famous Bishop’s irony in concentrated form, so to speak.

EBSNS: You have an “Elizabeth Bishop” in your drawings – what made you create this charming, cheerful character? Also, in some of your drawings there is an angel figure, why?

NP: I don’t remember how exactly the Bishop character was born, but I think that most important things in it are three: the hair (“unruly”), the dress (“polka-dot”) and the fact that the entire figure is definitely smaller than the real-life adult person. This, I think, expresses Elizabeth Bishop’s essence. But it’s really difficult to analyze – because I’m looking now at the result (the character) which lives its own life, but I can’t grip the process of its creation. 
I also can’t say why exactly I use a figure of an angel (not only in Bishop-related pictures, but in my drawing in general). I even don’t sure that it is really an angel. It is more like a representative of one of those many “other worlds” that overlap with our visible world. And I think that Elizabeth Bishop had this ability to reveal the presence of these “other worlds” in her poetry.

EBSNS: You clearly have a keen sense of humour. This quality is often overlooked in Bishop’s work. What is it about Bishop’s humour that resonates with you?

NP: Oh, that’s the subject for a good voluminous PhD thesis, I think! First of all, I’d say that Bishop’s humour is a rather rare type of intellectual humour (may be this is the reason – why it is often overlooked in her work). Her humour based on the constant observation, comparison, changing point of view. Even if she tells what one may call “an anecdote” (like the episode with photo session in Samambaia when Bishop got Pulitzer Prize and the only person who enjoyed the process was probably the cat), she made it not only “funny” but also a parable of something important – something essential to life. I also think that her humour is so powerful because it is based on a deep trauma. I think that for Bishop sense of humour was the only available weapon – to survive, to confront the life. The other weapon was, as we know, alcohol – but this weapon often betrays. 

EBSNS: What other poets have spoken to you? I think, for example, of Emily Dickinson.

NP: Yes, Emily Dickinson is my favourite number two after Elizabeth Bishop – but she’s the poet of absolutely different type; for instance, I can’t imagine myself creating a character of Emily Dickinson. She’s sort of “closed”, “sealed” person for me. Although, of course, I know her biography, etc. But I can’t say that I feel “like Emily Dickinson” – which is usual feeling about Elizabeth Bishop. What is great about Dickinson’s poems is absolutely incredible unity of surreal and exact, and – for me – every line of Dickinson’s poems is a motivation for drawing. I also love poetry of Ann Carson, her mixture of lyrical “feeling” and scientific analysis. And maybe I should name here British author Carol Ann Duffy, especially her postmodern sense of humour and intellectual deepness.

EBSNS: You are a translator. Have you translated any of Bishop’s poem (other than, of course, in your drawings)? If so, which ones? If not, why not? What are you translating these days?

NP: I made only one attempt to translate Bishop -- it was this poem about the hen, "Trouvee," but found it impossible to complete. Bishop's poetry seems to me untranslatable. It works only in English. You maybe know that there are very few professional tranlations of Bishop poetry into Russian -- and those are (in my opinion) not good. Maybe it's because the essence of her poetry lives not in the rhyme or rhythm, the sense of the words, the composition, the alliterations and rhetorical devices -- all these things could be translated, even if it is also difficult. But the essence of her poetry is in the unity of all that stuff, in the immediacy of the effect -- and this is exactly what I found impossible to translate.

Recently I am translating a lot from Swedish (poetry, prose, children’s books). Right now I’m translating a collection of essays by Sara Danius, who was the first woman to get the post of Permanent secretary of Swedish Academy. The collection called “The death of housewife and other texts” and is a very deep and at the same time funny, playful reflections about the classic and contemporary culture (literature, fashion, photography, etc.) I think that Elizabeth Bishop and Sara Danius would like each other.

EBSNS: How did you come across the EBSNS?

NP: When I started reading Elizabeth Bishop I searched all I can find on the Net about her – and this is how I came across the EBSNS.  

EBSNS: Elizabeth Bishop is known as a poet of geography and place. How does your own sense of place influence your response to Bishop’s work?

NP: This is one of the many aspects in Bishop’s poetry that resonate powerfully with me. I love travelling very much – and I fully understand Bishop’s keenness for changing places, along with the opposite keenness to have “a home”, a place where one belongs to. Travelling is a kind of treatment, a medicine, a way to become somebody else, to investigate, to observe, to find new motivations – but it’s always great to come home. So I see the point.

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