Gillian White

Gillian White’s Lyric Shame, about the lyric subject in American poetry, will be published next year. She teaches English at Michigan.

Stand-Up Vampire: Louise Glück

Gillian White, 26 September 2013

The difference between ‘selected’ and ‘collected’ poems, Wallace Stevens wrote in a letter in 1954, is that ‘people read selected poems but don’t buy them’ and ‘buy collected poems but don’t read them’. The symbolism of a collected volume worried him: ‘A book that contains everything that one has done in a lifetime does not...

In 1940, after she’d gained the admiration of Marianne Moore and William Carlos Williams, and had had nearly thirty of her poems published in literary journals or book collections, Elizabeth Bishop, then 28, admitted in a letter to Moore: ‘I scarcely know why I persist at all. It is really fantastic to place so much on the fact that I have written a half-dozen phrases that I can still bear to reread without too much embarrassment.’ Bishop persisted with such dramatic self-doubt even after winning the Houghton Mifflin poetry award for her first collection, North & South (1946), and a Pulitzer Prize in 1956 for her second, A Cold Spring. Writing to Robert Lowell in 1958, she confesses to feeling ‘green with envy’ over Lowell’s ‘kind of assurance’ in the poems of Life Studies, and adds that ‘it is hell to realise one has wasted half one’s talent through timidity.’

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