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Deep Skin: Elizabeth Bishop and Visual Art Hardcover – February 25, 2010


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"A groundbreaking work about the relationship between poetry and art, Deep Skin illustrates how Bishop, one of our most 'visual' poets, took inspiration from artists ranging from painter Paul Klee to scultpor Alexander Calder to the great Kurt Schwitters. Samuels never has to stretch to compare a Bishop poem to an artwork; she shows how we can all be inspired by art and incorporate it into our lives. In Bishop's case, it lead to great poetry. Grade: A"―Entertainment Weekly, 16 April 2010



"A probing examination of the way painters such as Klee and Calder helped shape the form and substance of Elizabeth Bishop's poetry."―David Friend, Vanity Fair's "VF Daily," 22 February 2010



"We know what happened to postwar poets who benefited directly from the exemplars of literary modernism: echoes of T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, W. C. Williams, Wallace Stevens, and Gertrude Stein are clearly audible. But Peggy Samuels shows that Elizabeth Bishop fashioned her poetic style on the basis of two surprising advocates of modernist painting: Paul Klee and Kurt Schwitters. Samuels argues convincingly that Bishop’s traditional but flexible prosody is just what let her track not just the literary modernists (Marianne Moore, of course) but also―imagine!―the European modernists of the German-speaking countries. In order to reveal the lessons Bishop took from these artists, the critic must bravely penetrate a substrate of stylistic conventions that can be rendered only by means of impressions and analogies between the sister arts. Samuels shows that these artists taught this great poet how to hold thematic elements in uncertain, unstable, but proximate relation to one another. We have now, from this new context, a poet not of crisp definite objects but of ambiguities held in suspension."―Robert von Hallberg, University of Chicago

"Deep Skin features Elizabeth Bishop's imagination of space, her sense of the relation of objects and textures in space and time, and her negotiation of surface and depth. This is a novel angle on Bishop's perceptual thought, a description of her particular phenomenology as it informs her landscapes, her love poems, and her social insights. Peggy Samuels shows how the visual imagination is fundamental to Bishop's way of experiencing and responding to the world. Meaning, for Bishop, inheres in the arrangement of texture and pattern, in modulations of color and form, the play of real and represented things; these are not matters of decoration only but embodiments of a philosophy. This book will be of interest not only to Bishop readers but also to anyone interested in interart relations or the visual imagination in poetry."―Bonnie Costello, Boston University



"This is a lovely book, very much in tune with contemporary musings in art theory on the surface and materiality of painting and collage. It is a wonderful surprise that Bishop thought of the page of poetry as being like the surface of a painting. In Samuels's interpretation both are boundaries: just as the painting's surface divides our world from fictive space, so the poem's surface divides self from world. Her book is sustained with beautiful spatial readings of such poems as 'Conversation' and 'Rain towards Morning.' Deep Skin is an eloquent meditation on a crucial moment in modernism, expressed in poetry, art theory, and phenomenology."―James Elkins, author of The Domain of Images and The Poetics of Perspective

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