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The 11 Best Elizabeth Bishop Poems

Elizabeth Bishop published only 100 poems in her lifetime and yet is still considered one of the most important and distinguished American poets of the 20th century. She served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 1949 to 1950, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1956 and a National Book Award in 1970.

Her poems are characterized by careful, detailed observation and the refusal to give in to the confessional impulse of her contemporaries, Plath, Sexton and Lowell.

At first, the poems can feel detached from experience, so cool and remote is the speaker’s voice, but this impersonality reveals strong emotion below the polished surface. These 11 poems depict Bishop as a traveler, both literally and metaphorically, as someone who moved restlessly between the domestic and the exotic, between the unknown and the familiar, elsewhere and “home.”

A map is of course oneexactly where I am geographically all the time on the map.” Bishop began this poem when was she was alone and sick—and clearly homesick—in New York on New Year’s Eve in 1934.

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