It is something of a shock to move from Harold Rosenberg’s polemical voice in his discussion of Thomas Mann to the poem by Elizabeth Bishop, who we have looked at before in her life as a Vassar Girl and a short fiction writer, and as a poet. I have been immersed in the atmospherics of 1938-39,  when it seems as if everything written the adumbrates the “ancestral voices prophesying WAR.”  And the terrain of Bishop’s “Florida” resonates with that year as well.  I came across a blog that seems to have run aground late in 2015, but the post I read there about “Florida” is a fine example of how the anxieties of the past can pale in the company of our own terrible landscape of the Trumpocracy and the Refusal of the reality of the Anthropecene’s damages to the worlds we live in,  The author, Joyelle McSweeney, names the genre into which Bishop’s poem fits as the ‘necro-pastoral.”
 She writes:

“I first wrote about  the Necropastoral in January of 2011. The Necropastoral is a political-aesthetic zone in which the fact of mankind’s depredations cannot be separated from an experience of “nature” which is poisoned, mutated, aberrant, spectacular, full of ill effects and affects. The Necropastoral is a non-rational zone, anachronistic, it often looks backwards and does not subscribe to Cartesian coordinates or Enlightenment notions of rationality and linearity, cause and effect.  It does not subscribe to humanism but is interested in non-human modalities, like those of bugs, viruses, weeds and mold. Marosa di Giorgio: “Esa loca azucena nos va a asesinar.” The definitive processes of the Necropastoral are decay, vagueness, interembodiment, fluidity, seepage,  inflammation, supersaturation.  The Necropastoral is literally subterannean, Hadean, Arcadian in the sense that Death lives there. The Necropastoral  is not an “alternative” version of reality but it is a place where the farcical and outrageous horrors of Anthopocenic are made visible as Death.”

Of “Florida” she writes: “Florida is also, according to  Elizabeth Bishop, the state with the prettiest name. While prettiness is associated with weakness, it is also a weapon: this is the ambivalence of the necropastoral. For Bishop, the prettiness of Florida is completely toxic, undead, ex-terminus, grown through with mangrove roots like corpse fingernails, flown over by condors and other flesh eaters. Debt, death and extermination flourish in this flowery state, exposing its necropastoral force”

“Florida” – Poem by Elizabeth Bishop

The state with the prettiest name,
the state that floats in brackish water,
held together by mangrave roots
that bear while living oysters in clusters,
and when dead strew white swamps with skeletons,
dotted as if bombarded, with green hummocks
like ancient cannon-balls sprouting grass.
The state full of long S-shaped birds, blue and white,
and unseen hysterical birds who rush up the scale
every time in a tantrum.
Tanagers embarrassed by their flashiness,
and pelicans whose delight it is to clown;
who coast for fun on the strong tidal currents
in and out among the mangrove islands
and stand on the sand-bars drying their damp gold wings
on sun-lit evenings.
Enormous turtles, helpless and mild,
die and leave their barnacled shells on the beaches,
and their large white skulls with round eye-sockets
twice the size of a man’s.
The palm trees clatter in the stiff breeze
like the bills of the pelicans. The tropical rain comes down
to freshen the tide-looped strings of fading shells:
Job’s Tear, the Chinese Alphabet, the scarce Junonia,
parti-colored pectins and Ladies’ Ears,
arranged as on a gray rag of rotted calico,
the buried Indian Princess’s skirt;
with these the monotonous, endless, sagging coast-line
is delicately ornamented.

Thirty or more buzzards are drifting down, down, down,
over something they have spotted in the swamp,
in circles like stirred-up flakes of sediment
sinking through water.
Smoke from woods-fires filters fine blue solvents.
On stumps and dead trees the charring is like black velvet.
The mosquitoes
go hunting to the tune of their ferocious obbligatos.
After dark, the fireflies map the heavens in the marsh
until the moon rises.
Cold white, not bright, the moonlight is coarse-meshed,
and the careless, corrupt state is all black specks
too far apart, and ugly whites; the poorest
post-card of itself.
After dark, the pools seem to have slipped away.
The alligator, who has five distinct calls:
friendliness, love, mating, war, and a warning–
whimpers and speaks in the throat of the Indian Princess.rats

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