Beautiful sentences from Elizabeth Bishop's "In the Village," sent to me by new media writer J.R. Carpenter.
"The dressmaker was crawling around and around on her knees eating pins as Nebuchadnezzar had crawled eating grass." Bishop, Elizabeth, "In the Village," The Collected Prose, NY: FSG, 1984, p. 252.
"Her house is littered with scraps of cloth and tissue-paper patterns, yellow, pinked, with holes in the shapes of A, B, C, and D in them, and numbers; and threads everywhere like a fine vegetation. She has a bosom full of needles with threads ready to pull out and make nests with. She sleeps in her thimble." Bishop, Elizabeth, "In the Village," The Collected Prose, NY: FSG, 1984, p. 258.
Reminds me of a talk I heard by the marvelous poet/singer/activist Julie Ezelle Patton in November at Pratt Institute (thanks to Rachel Levitzky and Ira Livingston) in which she spoke of her engagement with poetry rising from her love of paper; her mother, an artist, taught her to sew her own clothes at an early age, and she would indeed be crawling around on the floor surrounded by the thin, filmy paper of patternmaking. "Pinked" in "In the Village" means not the color pink but zigzag-edged, as in "pinking shears."
Need I even mention the "holes in the shapes of A,B,C and D"? Stencils, like lace, or like photography, and art-form of negativity, just as women are considered "negative space." Holes in the shape of letters...to be filled by the spirit of letters. Reminding me that I must post Adeena Karasick's commentary framing her video "Lingual Ladies."
The connection to madness and the animal abjection of crawling around eating grass, pins, etc. is a haunting one related to the madness of Bishop's mother, who was permanently institutionalized when EB was very young. Indeed, as I recall, that is the (muted) theme of "In the Village." I think also of the bestiality of descriptions of the "madwoman" in Jane Eyre, who is compared to an animal in the only scene in which she is fully revealed...
Something about "looking ridiculous" (a phrase that arises in pornography and Harlequin romances: "O knew she must look ridiculous...etc.") in the process of losing oneself in the creative act, be it sewing, writing, dancing, or sex. But cross-stitchers and knitters don't look ridiculous; it's such a contained, serene "habit." Maybe that's why we do it in public.
Thank you, JR, for these haunting, violent images.