Session 459: Monday, December 29, 8:30-9:45am  ||  Hilton Hotel, Golden Gate 6



"The little that we get for free":  Gifts, Commodities, & the Economics of Loss in Elizabeth Bishop's "Poem" 
Ann Keniston 

 The chief value of the miniature painting described in Elizabeth Bishop's "Poem" is, it seems, nonmonetary:  the painting "has never earned any money in its life," but instead has been passed "collaterally" from family member to family member; its value lies in its capacity to allow the poem's speaker to gain access to a subsequently "dismantled" remembered place.  Bishop's title implies that the painting offers a model for the poem, which is similarly given spontaneously and freely to the reader.   In this way, "Poem" seems to embody several elements of gift theory, although the poem has not previously been read in relation to these ideas:  it asserts the value of the personal, idiosyncratic, nonmonetary gift over the impersonal, capitalist-inflected commodity, and it suggests that poetry itself is a gift, passed to its reader with the hope not of recompense but of its own continued circulation. 

 My paper argues that "Poem" engages directly with these issues, but it does so in ways that draw attention to problems within gift theory itself.  "Poem" evokes, from its first line, economic exchange:  the painting is "about the size of an old-style dollar bill"; the reference to "collateral" evokes particularly financial modes of valuation.  Even as she excludes the painting from capitalist exchange, the speaker insists on the necessity of tallying up, measuring, and assessing its value.  But Bishop also presents the limitations both of models of gift and economic exchange in relation to the poem's lost landscape in ways that draw attention to their common features, which gift theory often ignores:  both gifts and commodities, after all, have value, and both must circulate.  By advocating an alternative model of "compress[ion]" and reciprocity, in which life and memory "turn...into each other"  (my italics), Bishop ultimately undermines the poem's dynamics of exchange and restoration. The painting is "free," Bishop claims at the opening, but it also reveals "the little that we get for free" (my italics).  To write a poem, Bishop implies, is to enter this paradoxical economy, whose antithetical, contingent mathematics of loss hinges on the ambiguous position of the reader.  "Poem" in this way defies, even as it requires, the logic both of commodities and of gifts.


Circulating Value in Pound’s Pisan Cantos
Helen Littman  

 My paper will begin with Ezra Pound's economic theory, which uses the model of the artist as independent producer to launch a strong attack on emerging twentieth century models of finance and speculation.  Though Pound addresses real problems concerning credit and monetary flow, particularly during the Depression years, his analysis is in the end internally incoherent, leading him to anti-Semitism and support for Mussolini during World War Two.  I am however very interested in how his fixation on distribution and circulation carries over from his economic theory to his poetic practice, and provides an entry point into reading the notoriously difficult Pisan Cantos.  Basic problems of exegesis were the main problem for the first generation of Pound critics.  The publication of Carroll F. Terrell's Companion to the Cantos in 1988 solved most exegetical problems, but  questions about the structure of the poem remain open and debated, in part because, as I argue, the Cantos attempt to generate a kind of ongoing present tense through a continual shuffling of items. 


 How Painted Rice Cakes Satisfy Hunger: Gary Snyder and the Commerce of Gifts 
Christopher Sindt

 This paper makes use of Lewis Hyde's The Gift in order to query the way in which Gary Snyder's work negotiates what Hyde calls "the commerce of gifts."  In The Gift, Hyde differentiates the market economy from the gift economy, aligning the latter with "eros, relationship, bonding." This paper reads closely four poems from Snyder's career—"A Berry Feast", "Axe Handles", Endless Streams and Mountains", and "Pearly Everlasting"—exploring the way in which tradition, myth, death and rebirth, and Zen Buddhism all contribute to Snyder's sense of gift exchange, commerce, economic theory, and creativity.  I argue that Snyder's body of work makes an elegant and unified statement in favor of gift commerce as well as the poetic and cultural conditions that support it.




Melissa Fabros

UC Berkeley


Ann Keniston

U of Nevada, Reno


Helene Littman

U College of the Fraser Valley


Christopher Sindt

St. Mary’s College



Jeffrey Gray

Seton Hall University

Money is a Form of Poetry:

20th Century American Poetry and Finance

2008 Convention