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Apartment in Leme

Elizabeth Bishop, 26 January 2006

... 1. Off to the left, those islands, named and renamed so many times now everyone’s forgotten their names, are sleeping. Pale rods of light, the morning’s implements, lie in among them tarnishing already, just like our knives and forks. Because we live at your open mouth, oh Sea, with your cold breath blowing warm, your warm breath cold, like in the fairy tale ...

Good Manners

Craig Raine, 17 May 1984

The Collected Prose of Elizabeth Bishop 
edited by Robert Giroux.
Chatto, 278 pp., £12.95, March 1984, 0 7011 2809 7
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... Elizabeth Bishop was refined. Manners interested her, as The Collected Prose makes clear. She can remember learning ‘how to behave in school’ with more recall than most people: ‘this meant to sit up straight, not to scrape your feet on the floor, never to whisper, to raise your hand when you had to go out, and to stand up when you were asked a question ...

Sweet Home

Susannah Clapp, 19 May 1983

Elizabeth BishopThe Complete Poems 1927-1979 
Chatto/Hogarth, 287 pp., £10.95, April 1983, 0 7011 2694 9Show More
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... Elizabeth Bishop’s great gift was to perfect a way of writing about human procedures and concerns without talking chiefly about human behaviour. Her poems are intelligent, supple, grave and witty; often perplexed, but never presenting perplexity as their main source of interest. Her verse is among the least neurotic written in the 20th century ...

The South

Colm Tóibín, 4 August 1994

One Art: The Selected Letters of Elizabeth Bishop 
Chatto, 668 pp., £25, April 1994, 0 7011 6195 7Show More
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... Flamingo Park and went out some days to swim at Copacabana. It was that time between the death of Elizabeth Bishop and the appearance of the first biography and this volume of letters, when the ordinary reader on this side of the Atlantic knew very little about her. I did not know that for 15 years she stayed in an apartment overlooking the beach. ‘It ...

The Numinous Moose

Helen Vendler, 11 March 1993

Elizabeth BishopLife and the Memory of It 
by Brett Millier.
California, 602 pp., £18.50, April 1993, 0 520 07978 7
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... thoughts against thoughts in groans grind. For too long, Bishop had lived these moral choices of life/death, right/wrong, male/female: but at last, the early happy years with Lota had made them seem irrelevant, and Bishop, longing for Paradise since her blighted childhood, felt she had found it at Santarém: That golden evening I really wanted to go no farther; more than anything else I wanted to stay awhile in that conflux of two great rivers ...

Lying doggo

Christopher Reid, 14 June 1990

Becoming a poet 
by David Kalstone, edited by Robert Hemenway.
Hogarth, 299 pp., £20, May 1990, 0 7012 0900 3
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... Among her admirers, who tend to be wholehearted and fervent, the feeling is that Elizabeth Bishop has not yet received anything like her critical due. Things are improving – in the United States more rapidly than over here, where admission to the Pantheon seems as slow and grudging a process, and as prone to archaic shibboleths and mysterious blackballings, as election to a Pall Mall club ...

Awful but Cheerful

Gillian White: The Tentativeness of Elizabeth Bishop, 25 May 2006

Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts and Fragments 
by Elizabeth Bishop, edited by Alice Quinn.
Farrar, Straus, 367 pp., £22.50, March 2006, 0 374 14645 4
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... and had had nearly thirty of her poems published in literary journals or book collections, Elizabeth Bishop, then 28, admitted in a letter to Moore: ‘I scarcely know why I persist at all. It is really fantastic to place so much on the fact that I have written a half-dozen phrases that I can still bear to reread without too much ...

Follow-the-Leader

Colm Tóibín: Bishop v. Lowell, 14 May 2009

Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell 
edited by Thomas Travisano and Saskia Hamilton.
Faber, 875 pp., £40, November 2008, 978 0 571 24308 2
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... Lowell wrote the poem ‘Water’ about being on the coast of Maine in the summer of 1948 with Elizabeth Bishop; he put it first in his collection For the Union Dead, which he published in 1964. He sent Bishop a draft of the poem in March 1962, explaining that it was ‘more romantic and grey than the whole ...

Three Poems

Lavinia Greenlaw, 1 January 2009

... Saturday Night Out of the impenetrable wood Elizabeth Bishop And young girls shall gather to dance on the highways under petals of light that float from their shoulders and dip into lotioned shadows. They shall coil their salty hair and tug at their lapsed muslins as they fall like cushions, and spill. Do they dance for those creatures whose unmade selves come unbuttoning out of the dark? All strop and tang, they crave whatever will settle their erupted frames, their chemical blunders, their overgrown sentences ...

The lighthouse stares back

Matthew Bevis: Tóibín on Bishop, 7 January 2016

On Elizabeth Bishop 
by Colm Tóibín.
Princeton, 209 pp., £13.95, March 2015, 978 0 691 15411 4
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... Nobody knows​ … nobody knows.’ Elizabeth Bishop said her grandmother’s remark was the chorus of her childhood. ‘I often wondered what my grandmother knew that none of the rest of us knew and if she alone knew it, or if it was a total mystery that really nobody knew except perhaps God.’ She ventured to ask: ‘What do you know, Gammie, that we don’t know? Why don’t you tell us? Tell me!’ Gammie wouldn’t say whether she was keeping a secret or confessing bewilderment; she just laughed and replied: ‘Go on with you! Scat!’ This image of a person obscurely in the know, at once self-collected and reticent, is also an image of the person Bishop became – or the one many took her to be ...

A Hammer in His Hands

Frank Kermode: Lowell’s Letters, 22 September 2005

The Letters of Robert Lowell 
edited by Saskia Hamilton.
Faber, 852 pp., £30, July 2005, 0 571 20204 7
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... these annotations are puzzling: on Palm Sunday, 10 April 1949, Lowell wrote a brief note to Elizabeth Bishop, a sympathetic message to his first wife, Jean Stafford, a weird word or two to a former lover, Gertrude Buckman, a sentence to George Santayana and two sentences to William Carlos Williams. Of these communications, those to ...

First Pitch

Frank Kermode: Marianne Moore, 16 April 1998

The Selected Letters of Marianne Moore 
edited by Bonnie Costello and Celeste Goodridge et al.
Faber, 597 pp., £30, April 1998, 0 571 19354 4
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... novelist Bryher (Winifred Ellerman) and sixty to Hilda Doolittle (H.D.), who was Bryher’s lover. Elizabeth Bishop, a favourite in later years, received more than two hundred, over a period of almost forty years. Faced with such abundance the editors have had to make severe choices, and have occasionally and understandably made cuts in letters they did ...

Mostly Middle

Michael Hofmann: Elizabeth Bishop, 8 September 2011

Poems 
by Elizabeth Bishop.
Chatto, 352 pp., £14.99, February 2011, 978 0 7011 8628 9
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... the triple-decker cake with the solitary little sugar bride on top – for his description of Elizabeth Bishop: she is ‘the poets’ poets’ poet’. It sounds farcical, but it’s strictly true, and there’s as little getting round it as there is improving on it. As I begin, therefore, I feel stirrings of a wholly impersonal desire maybe to pan ...

From under the Duvet

Anna Vaux, 4 September 1997

Out Of Me: The Story of a Postnatal Breakdown 
by Fiona Shaw.
Viking, 224 pp., £15.99, April 1997, 0 670 87104 4
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... will see that language like that would not appeal to Shaw. A graduate student with a thesis on Elizabeth Bishop, married to an academic who was her tutor before he was her husband, Shaw prefers a slightly archaic, sometimes Elizabethan diction. She talks about ‘the burden’ in her ‘belly’, and ‘giving suck’ to her baby; and comes up with ...

Subjects

Craig Raine, 6 October 1983

Peter Porter: Collected Poems 
Oxford, 335 pp., £12.50, March 1983, 0 19 211948 6Show More
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... snob in us and, for some, that will be a greater appeal. Most readers, though, will react like Elizabeth Bishop: And here I must confess (and I imagine most of your contemporaries would confess the same thing) that I am green with envy of your kind of assurance. I feel I could write in as much detail about my Uncle Artie, say, – but what would be ...

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