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

Thursday, December 11, 2014

“perfect! But—impossible.” Lifting Yesterday’s infelicities

Elizabeth Bishop was known to work on a poem for years until it reached her high standard of completion, before she would allow it to be published. Once a poem was published, she tended to leave it alone. The large body of unfinished and unpublished poems left when she died attests to many things (not enough time, for example – the big issue for most of us these days), including the rigours of composition, her (to adapt one of her phrases) “Efforts of Perfection.” As perfect as the craft of Bishop’s poems tend to be, often what Bishop wrote about were imperfect things – she understood the foibles of humanity, the flaws in our intentions, and just the downright messiness of life: all that “untidy activity.”

As a freelance editor, I have high standards for the technicalities of text; but I also know how difficult it is to proofread manuscript text – and especially one’s own text. Often, you can’t see the forest for the trees. As hard as I tried to proofread Lifting Yesterday, I have heard from my most careful reader that some typos exist in Chapter 1 (and I am sure elsewhere). I am not surprised. I am a little embarrassed. But there you have it – imperfection. If the errors run to only typos, I will be happy. I have tried to minimize factual errors, but likely there are some of those, too (unintentional – if I am not sure, I do try to say I am not sure). Interpretation is another highly subjective matter. We all are entitled to our opinions. I hope it is clear that what I have done in Lifting Yesterday (right or wrong as it may be) has been done respectfully.

I thank my forbearing readers as they navigate through this text and come across what I hope is only the occasional typo. I like to think of these infelicities as the Navajo flaws (the tiny imperfections deliberately woven into the beautiful blankets, because nothing in life is absolutely perfect).

 "All the untidy activity continues, / awful but cheerful."
Arthur Bulmer's service station (first a "Red Indian," later a "Texaco") under construction in Great Village, circa 1920s.
P.S. I wrote about Elizabeth Bishop and imperfection some years ago, an essay entitled: “‘The Price of Fame’: Elizabeth Bishop seen through which lens?” which was requested by someone but, in the end, the piece did not serve the purpose. It has remained in a virtual drawer ever since. If anyone is interested in reading this essay, just send me an email and I’ll send it to you, gratis. If you are interested in Lifting Yesterday, read the terms of my offer on that page of this blog. I would love to hear from you.

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