The Poetry Appreciation Chat: One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

Today we are starting a new series here at the blog. We are not great poetry readers, so we thought to remedy that by turning poetry reading into a conversation, quite literally. How does that work? Each week, we'll pick a poem, read it and then discuss it live on chat. [enter remark about how chat and poetry are really very similar, given that they both rely on a succession of short lines and reveal more about you than you intended them to.] We'll post the poem and the resulting conversation here, and you're welcome to join our discussion in the comments. Hopefully, this will motivate us to read more poetry and get the hang of it in the end.

As fans of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy will have noticed, the title of this series was inspired by a torture device in that book, called the Poetry Appreciation Chair. So do we think poetry is a form of torture? Well, we very much hope it won't be! Here's our very first poem, selected by Alexis, who's read it before (Claudia had not heard of it). You can read it and our thoughts below:

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.

The Poetry Appreciation Chat

[This was edited format-wise (uniting lines, adding proper punctuation, fixing typos, deleting bunch of smileys, that sort of stuff). Our goal was to keep the conversation as close to the original as possible, while making it easier for people to follow, so we tried not to edit it content-wise.]

Alexis: Okay, so let's discuss One Art by Elizabeth Bishop
Claudia: Alright. It was your choice and it's one of your favorite poems, so you should go first.
Alexis: Oh thanks, put me on the spot. :-P Okay, so I just love this poem-- it's deceptively simple and the rhyming contributes to that, as well. I love the construction and I think some of the lines are great and well paced, like:
      Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
      I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
Claudia: Well, I have to say – I don't usually enjoy poems that are declarative like that. I don’t know if I would have continued to read after the first line if it wasn't for your recommendation –
Alexis: I know, you go for the crazy-subtle stuff :-)
Claudia: – but I’m glad that I have. I quite liked the images in the second part of it. 
Alexis: It’s a good poem and Elizabeth Bishop I really like. She’s one of the few poets I’ve read a fair amount of. I always found her poems accessible.
Claudia: This is deceptively accessible, I think.
Alexis: I agree. The rhyming and sing-song pattern contribute to that.
Claudia: Yes, and you get this first layer that seems to say “look, maybe you should let go of things.” And you think that’s what it means. But then by the end, you wonder whether that was all it meant, and it wasn’t.
Alexis: Yes.
Claudia: So it goes:
        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!) a disaster.
This reads like bravado and suppressing feelings and whatnot. All things I love :-P
Alexis: Of course you do :-P Yes, it's a clever twist. And I think it's interesting b/c it leaves so much unsaid, between the lines of the poem. Who's this person who was lost? What happened? The poem is about something else--until the very end. Or it obscures what it's about and speaks around it, I should say.
Claudia: Yes, it's strange how it unfolds. It starts as a very general pronouncement, the sort that would make me roll my eyes and flip the page. “Yeah, sure, do tell some more about this art of losing.” But then it gets personal and I think I got it - look, it's about someone like me who loses stuff, who moved and misses their old home etc. But then at the end, maybe it's just a person pretending to be okay after a breakup.
Alexis: ...I was about to say that then it moves into the abstract.  B/c no one loses continents for real :-P
Claudia: Hmm. If the cities were on different continents, it would still make literal sense. Although, yes, I get the feeling that they’re not just physical places.
Alexis: True. Also, you know what's funny about this poem? It was in a Cameron Diaz movie.
Claudia: And she’s telling me now... I definitely would have turned the page.
Alexis: Haha. Well, we can get a youtube clip. :-P
Claudia: Oh dear. *moving ooon* Should we pick our favorites quotes first?
Alexis: Sure.
Claudia: So I think I like the 3rd stanza the best.
Alexis: That’s probably my favorite too. I love the line “Then practice losing farther, losing faster”. I love the 5th stanza too.
Claudia: Yes, the 5th is my second favorite as well. B/c I think these are the two stanzas that tread the line between personal & general. Oh, you know what bugs me about this, though. The repetition of “no disaster” in various forms. I feel that that space could be put to better use, i.e. filled with pretty words instead of this. I got the message, but I’m just not very fond of repetition.
Alexis: Oh, I totally disagree. I think you need the repetition for the cadence here.
Claudia: Well, you obviously do. But I feel that it robs some of the phrase’s strength, if that makes sense.
Alexis:  It's also a mantra--sort of like, she keeps telling herself it's not a disaster, like everyone does when they are in the midst of a breakup. “It'll be okay.... It'll be okay....” I think it’s a clever use of that idea.
Claudia: It is. I’m just not fond of this technique in general. Though, I agree, putting it in a context where you feel there's mental unraveling just around the corner and one needs to repeat things like that is a very clever use of it.
Alexis: Okay, so wrapping this up: you know what’s cool. I’m reading the poem on and I love what they do. They have in the sidebar 'other poems about divorce and breakups' with hyperlinks. We don’t have to do that, obviously.
Claudia: Oh. That would be a weird way to go about this series. Claudia & Alexis read all the poems about divorce ever written!
Alexis: Maybe we can link to them? So people can check it out if they want.
Claudia: Sure. [done, the title of the poem links to that page]
Alexis: That was a nice discussion, wasn’t it? :-)
Claudia: It was! It went better than I expected. At least on our end. Now to see if people are actually able to follow this format…

So, what do you think? Of the format, of the poem itself, of the idea of us reading all the divorce poems ever written? Would it help to announce the poems beforehand?


  1. I am reawakening my senses when it comes to poetry. I used to read it often and write quite a bit, but have done neither in a very long time. I am now finding that some of the same poems have entirely different meanings to me now and I have a liking for things that I did not before.
    This is a great way to share a poem. I enjoy the discussion. It allows me to see things that I might of not seen on my own.
    Thank you for sharing this post.

    1. Hey, only caught this now! Thanks for your comment. Finding that we like things we didn't use to is exactly how we feel as well :)