Betsy Erkkila: On "In the Waiting Room"

On the broadest level, "In the Waiting Room," like other Bishop poems, inscribes the terrifying instability of the "I" and individual identity as the traditional bounds between inside and outside, self and world collapse into mere boundlessness and flux: "Why should I be my aunt, / or me, or anyone?," the child asks, as the waiting room begins "sliding / beneath a big black, wave, / another and another." But the poem also registers the girlchild’s terror and resistance as she experiences her identification with other women as a fall into the oppression and constraints of gender – signified by her "foolish aunt" and "those awful hanging breasts" she sees in the National Geographic as she reads and waits in the dentist’s office. In words that adumbrate Bishop’s later refusal to be categorized and anthologized as a woman poet and her lifelong friendship and struggle with Marianne Moore, the child’s terror registers Bishop’s own desire for distinction and difference and her simultaneous fear of having her historically specific "I" lost and absorbed in the sexual identity she shared with other women – including Marianne Moore.

 

from Betsy Erkkila, "Differences that Kill: Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore," Chapter 4 in The Wicked Sisters: Women Poets, Literary History and Discord (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 150.

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Criticism Overview
Title Betsy Erkkila: On "In the Waiting Room" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Betsy Erkkila Criticism Target Elizabeth Bishop
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 04 Jan 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication The Wicked Sisters: Women Poets, Literary History and Discord
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