138: A Word with You: Elizabeth Bishop

2011 National Poetry Month Poster

My wife threw the 2011 National Poetry Month poster at me today (she gets several, and puts extras in our youngest son’s room). I’m not impressed–the only one I truly like are the 2005 (Emily Dickinson) and 2009 (T.S. Eliot) themed posters–but it’s okay.

The poem is better.

You can view all of the posters at the Academy of American Poets website, or more specifically here. You can read the story behind this year’s poster here. You can also go to the Academy and sign up for their “poem a day” feed, as my wife does (she has several complaints about it, but continues; I have too much clutter in my life already).

As for Elizabeth Bishop, this year is the centennial celebration of her birth (Happy Birthday!). This poem can be found in a collection:

The poem is funny. It’s odd. I’m not going to give any advice about teaching this one, except that it’s funny and see how the kids react (some will hate it because it’s silly). Compare themselves to the ape. Go from there.

Oh, and lesson on perspective, setting and the like is also always appreciated.

A Word with You
Elizabeth Bishop

Look out! there’s that damned ape again
sit silently until he goes,
or else forgets the things he knows
(whatever they are) about us, then
we can begin to talk again.

Have you tried playing with your ring?
Sometimes that calms them down, I find.
(Bright objects hypnotize the mind.)
Get his attention on anything –
anything will do – there, try your ring.

The glitter pleases him. You see
he squints his eyes; his lip hangs loose.
You were saying? – Oh Lord, what’s the use,
for now the parrot’s after me
and the monkeys are awake. You see

how hard it is, you understand
this nervous strain in which we live –
Why just one luscious adjective
infuriates the whole damned band
and they’re squabbling for it. I understand

some people manage better. How?
They treat the creatures without feeling.
– Throw books to stop the monkeys’ squealing,
slap the ape and make him bow,
are firm, keep order, – but I don’t know how.

Quick! there’s the cockatoo! he heard!
(He can’t bear any form of wit.)
– Please watch out that you don’t get bit;
there’s not a thing escapes that bird.
Be silent, – now the ape has overheard.


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