The contemporary poet of my choice, Scott Edward Anderson,
once wrote in his essay "Making Poems Better: The Process of Revision": "…writing poems is a lot like cooking. We bring
everything we know about cooking and about what foods go well together to preparing a meal, just as we bring all we've learned
or read or practiced to writing a poem. Sometimes, it's just luck that we get the right combination of ingredients, but much
of the time a fine meal is made from good ingredients being put together by a well-practiced chef." All three poets in my
assignment - Scott Edward Anderson, Donald Hall and Elizabeth Bishop - are superb chefs, preparing their poems with great craft and precision.
In my assignment I will analyze the poetry of Scott Edward Anderson, and show in it the influences of careful observation,
detailed description, and constant revision, which he found in the work of Donald Hall and Elizabeth Bishop.
I chose Scott Edward Anderson because of the simplicity
of his words and the wisdom in his thoughts. The main subject in Anderson’s poetry is nature, its beauty and inhabitants,
which he takes great pleasure in describing. For example, in the poems "The Glimmerglass" and "Hoarfrost and Rime," he goes into great detail describing nature at sunset. He seems to
focus on the countryside of New England, where he grew up, and also on Alaska, where he lived for some time. Sometimes he
observes the cycle of life, or the order of nature, and he has a sense of belonging within this cycle, as in "Deserted Sheep."
Most of his poems have a spiritual note – he seems
to be wondering about the lack of purpose in human civilization. I think he is saddened by the way we treat our world, as
seen in the poem "Day of the Earth, Night of the Locusts." He perceives us as materialistic and focused on our own advances at
the expense of the planet. The poem "Two Views," as Anderson suggests, is about two viewpoints. One is the viewpoint
of a "Logger," someone who takes advantage of nature in the name of progress, The other viewpoint is that of a "Tree-Hugger,"
someone who is trying to protect nature from destruction by society. This poem leaves it to the reader to decide which viewpoint
is correct. In some of his poems we see the influence of the Christian Bible. In the poem "Bread" we find many references
to bread in its symbolism as the body of Christ. In the poem "Shepherd" we find the poet’s interpretation of Psalm 23. Other Anderson
poems celebrate childhood, relationships and the ordinary things in everyday life
He writes in free verse, using the plain language of
everyday life to describe ordinary life, but he uses more abstract, figurative language in poems that illustrate his thoughts
and feelings. Anderson divides his poems into stanzas, but each poem has a different number of lines in its stanzas. With
each new stanza he either introduces a new thought, or takes a previous thought along a different angle
Some of his poems have a happy, festive tone –
when he is writing about the beauty of nature or of everyday life. But the poems, in which he is wondering about the lack
of purpose, or emptiness of our lives, are more melancholic. One of the poems, called "Creptsedge", has a sad and depressive tone because he is picturing the end of a
relationship, which is indeed a sad and depressing event.
Anderson's poems are easy to read, but contain a deeper
meaning and wisdom within, that the reader must discover to understand them. He carefully observes the world around us and
chooses the words to describe it with great care. His poetry is rich in detail. In the poem "Bread" he pictures the smell of freshly baked bread:
Absorbing the gluteny scent through crusty skin
—The color of a child’s arm
After a long hike on a summer’s day
These details place the reader in the poet’s experience
- he can visualize, and almost feel the subjects for himself, which makes reading the poems exciting.
Anderson's poetry is well crafted because of his continuous
revision. In his essay "Making Poems Better: The Process of Revision" Anderson writes: "Revision is, to me, the real work
of writing poetry… An open mind, receptivity and just plain paying attention is important at the start, but it's also
important as we're working on our poems, through our writing and re-writing. Revision is the daily work of moving a poem forward,
finding the means to help a poem get where it's going."
Anderson's correspondent and an influence on his later
work is Donald Hall. Hall has a "remarkable appreciation for natural beauty, for the joy of enduring love and for the ordinary
pleasures of a working life" (Ratiner). Many of his poems celebrate the cycle of endless regeneration and renewal, as is the
poem, "Ox Cart Man," where man's existence is viewed as the seasonal cycle of labor (Ratiner).
Most of his work was influenced by his childhood and present life on the family farm called Eagle Pond and the countryside
around it. In one interview Hall said: "When I lived here (Eagle Pond) less than a year, I realized suddenly that I was living
in the present for the first time of my life.... That I got up in the morning and I sniffed the wind and I saw where the sun
was and I looked at things and I got to work — and I lived in that moment" (quoted in Ratiner). This sudden realization
and careful observation of the world around him resulted in writing "Kicking the Leaves: Poems." This collection of poetry
was published at the same time Scott Edward Anderson had discovered the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop, and the precise and detailed
work of both Hall and Bishop influenced his poetry greatly.
Revision is also very important for Hall. In one interview,
Hall said that he goes through tens, even hundreds of drafts, until the poem feels right. As he says: "Poems are ongoing improvisations
toward goals we identify when we arrive at them" (Lammon). Anderson, in his essay "Making Poems Better: The Process of Revision"
explains Hall's revision of the poem "Ox Cart Man" and his own revision of the poem "Black Angus, Winter." We can see that both poets go through a similar process of writing
and re-writing poetry. They first write down their ideas and then keep rewriting the poem, altering the language and looking
for the best structure, tone, rhyme or no rhyme until the poem feels ready.
Elizabeth Bishop influenced both Anderson and Hall.
Her influence comes from her mastery of description, careful observation and extraordinary detail. As Scott Edward Anderson
said in his essay "Elizabeth Bishop Under the Microscope": "Bishop's personal vision and precise expression touch her readers
in ways that her contemporaries could not…the finesse and control with which Bishop observed her world is unmatched
in our century. This is what makes her such an important poet to her expanding readership and to our age…She wrote slowly
and with much deliberation and would not publish anything she felt was not absolutely ready." I had the opportunity to directly
ask Scott Edward Anderson about the influence of Bishop on his poetry, and this is what he had to say: "Until I found her
work, I had been trying to get as much of everything into my work and not really considering what the poem had to say or how
it should be said. Bishop gave me an example to follow that represented a poetry that was extremely well-crafted and observational,
that put craft ahead of expression and accurate description before bombast…her influence was chiefly in that she caused
me to pay more attention to the craft of the poetry and to getting the world around me into my poems."
In my assignment I focused on showing the influences
of Donald Hall and Elizabeth Bishop on contemporary poet Scott Edward Anderson. It was a very valuable experience for me,
not only because I had the chance to read great poetry, but also because it gave me a glimpse of the creative process. While
researching this assignment I took a chance and made e-mail contact with the poet who was very gracious in sharing with me
his views about writing poetry and his influences. Through this correspondence I not only learned about the process of writing
poetry, but also learned to appreciate poetry even more.
-- Veronika Morley, EWRT 1B, November 29, 2001
Anderson, Scott Edward. "Making Poems Better: The Process
of Revision." University of Alaska, Anchorage. 26 April 1998.
Anderson, Scott Edward. Elizabeth Bishop Under the
Microscope. June 2000. Thermopylae (originally published in The Bloomsbury Review, November/December 1996). Nov.
Anderson, Scott Edward. "Re: Bishop & Two Views."
e-mail to the author. 28 Nov. 2001.