Cognitive poetic readings in Elizabeth Bishop

Cognitive poetic readings in Elizabeth Bishop: Portrait of a mind thinking. By Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese. (Applications of cognitive linguistics 15.) Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2010. Pp. viii, 317. ISBN  9783110186109. $140 (Hb).

Reviewed by Taras Shmiher, Ivan Franko National University

This book contributes to the hermeneutical study of Elizabeth Bishop’s poetics. The author applies a theoretical framework grounded in cognitive linguistics, which focuses on individual poetic thought and expression. How the poet and the reader conceptualize the cognitive constructs of the human mind in a text is the crucial question explored.

Part 1 consists of an introduction (3–17) and two chapters. Cognitive poetics allows the researcher to trace the course of the mind in the language of Bishop’s poetry, incorporating such basic analytical categories as embodiment, the cognitive unconscious, metaphorical thought, prototypes, and conceptualist semantics. Ch. 1 (18–56) covers six dimensions of imaginative apprehension: the researcher chooses one cognitive process (e.g. categorization, image schemas, metaphors, conceptual integration, metonymies, narrative structure) and scrutinizes its applicability, which should be linguistically visible in Bishop’s text. This procedure makes possible the discovery of the poet’s mental processes that formed her linguistic expression. Ch. 2 (57–75) contains the readings of Bishop’s three licensing stories while investigating the two most salient cognitive domains of her conceptual universe: vision and travel. The analyst’s objective is to understand the relation between the mappings of these stories, the language of the poems, and the conceptual metaphors of her poetry. A survey of such mappings by critics of Bishop’s writings accompanies the main line of investigation.

Part 2 contains its own introduction (79–92) and eight case studies of cognitive readings of Elizabeth Bishop (93–262). Genetic criticism as the study of textual invention lies at the center of a discussion that presents new insights into the movement of the poet’s mind. Detailed analyses of Bishop’s poems include their drafts, manuscripts, transcripts along with the author’s notes, sketches, journal entries, and letters—everything that can be called her avant-texts. Cognitive poetics contributes to genetic criticism by depicting the mind thinking during the writing process, and the genetic assessment of compositional processes will be beneficial for cognitive research on the construction of meaning. The readings aim to incorporate both large compositional features and microscopic details into a cognitive analysis, unveiling in the framework of conceptualist semantics how a subject’s conceptualization contributes to the construction of meaning. The choice of poems for analysis was grounded on three principles: the availability of multiple versions, representativeness, and the thoroughness of the existing readings.

The epilogue (265–72) draws conclusions about mind reading on the part of the poet, Bishop’s conceptual and linguistic unities, and the movement of her imaginative apprehension. The introspective analysis here offers new prospects for linguistic analysts and literary critics. Three appendices include a chronology of Bishop’s life and activities, the ‘mind-as-body’ conceptual system (after George Lakoff and Mark Johnson), and ‘thinker-as-mover/manipulator’ mapping (after Mark Turner). The bibliography is divided into two parts—the primary sources (three topical groups) and works consulted (six groups)—and the book concludes with an index of names and subjects.