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Poetry Project

A poem of loss for the economy

Marketplace Staff May 11, 2009
Poetry Project

A poem of loss for the economy

Marketplace Staff May 11, 2009


Tess Vigeland: We’ve been asking our listeners to send in their favorite poems about money, work, business, really anything about the economy. An e-mail from Elizabeth Dodge in Culver City, Calif., caught our eye. She wanted to hear Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “One Art.” It’s not really about the economy; it’s about loss. But Dodge says the poem has helped her put the economic collapse in context.

ELIZABETH DODGE: Like many people I’ve had economic losses recently. And I think I was focusing a lot on those. Mostly things like the loss of a value on a 401K. But recently that kind of loss was put into perspective for me. Basically, our four-week-old son became ill a few weeks ago and was taken to the emergency room and diagnosed with meningitis. For several hours we weren’t sure how he was going to do. And for those hours there was a potential of a very great loss that really put everything else into perspective for me and for my husband. And it made me think of this poem:

“One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

VIGELAND: Elizabeth Dodge is a physician here in Los Angeles, Calif. She wrote in to nominate Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “One Art” for our poetry series. The poem is from “The Complete Poems 1927-1979” by Elizabeth Bishop.

(“One Art” from THE COMPLETE POEMS 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.)

Jane Shore on “One Art”:

George Washington University professor and poet Jane Shore discusses Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “One Art.” Not only has Shore been teaching the poem for the last 25 years or so, but she also had a close connection with Bishop. She was one of Bishop’s students in the 70s, and later became her colleague at Harvard University. Jane Shore’s latest book is titled “A Yes-or-No Answer,” a title Shore is sure Bishop would have liked.

Jane Shore: What’s so interesting about this poem, both reading it on the page and reading it out loud is in the beginning, Bishop is like a school marm, instructing us how to lose, and then as the poem proceeds and the things she loses, which start out with really quite small things. They get larger and larger and larger. First it’s losing some time, then it’s the watch, then it’s years, and then it’s door keys, then a house, then it ends up being a whole continent. So it starts from small to large. But the largest loss of all, which you cannot master, is the loss of this other person, whom she loves. So by the end of the poem, she’s really telling herself, I’m going to try to comfort myself and live with this. She’s instructing us at the begnning of the poem and she’s really instructing herself at the end of the poem, and of course, her way to deal with it is to write it. Maybe that will be the art that will help her with her loss.

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