"The Mystery of the World": On the Criticism of Fairfield Porter



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In a 1955 letter to Tom Hess, the editor of ArtNews, the artist and critic Fairfield Porter has this to say in praise of the "transparency" of Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry:

I think my admiration for Elizabeth Bishop’s poems, aside from the fact that she has a descriptive visual mind, and aside from the fact that she has humor and is not sentimental, comes from an admiration of her relaxed line which allows each word enough space to be savored properly for what it is; and this comes from knowing when to change as well as when to repeat, how to keep such a distance that you pay attention and can go on, as you might go over the surface of a canvas, and not get stuck by boring repetitions or boring variation.

The letter itself is Porter’s attempt to explain his theory of the relationship between writing and painting, and this particular passage points to a recurring theme in Porter’s reflections about art.