Sometimes it’s time to start looking into Elizabeth Bishop! I want to read Helen Vendler’s essay but that’s cheating. Let’s start with a poem. Here’s the opening stanza and a half of “Varick Street,” a few lines at a time:
At night the factories
wretched uneasy buildings
veined with pipes
attempt their work.
Trying to breathe,
the elongated nostrils
haired with spikes
Yes. Nice. I’m in…
give off such stenches, too
The “too” is strange. Distance, complaint… later on there’s more of that.
And I shall sell you sell you
sell you of course, my dear, and you’ll sell me
Oh hi, what’s this thing, a song, a refrain? Apparently it’s songlike but not a song; Google’s first hit for “I shall sell you sell you of course” is “The Flaming Lips will sell you Ke$ha’s blood with their new CD.”
The second stanza begins:
On certain floors
I like this repetition of “certain.” It reminds me of how “other” is used in this poem of Adrienne Rich’s, from Fox:
A life thrashes/half unlived/its passions
don’t desist/displaced from their own habitat
like other life-forms take up other dwellings
Dear internet, what is it that’s so lovely about “certain floors” / “certain wonders”? Certain floors; not others. What are on those other floors? No wonders? Or other wonders, different in number or kind from the certain wonders of the certain floors?