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Too Elizabeth Bishop Bulletin, edited by Thomas Travisano

is a semi-annual publication of the Elizabeth Bishop Society .
Advisory Board:
·Sandra Barry, Halifax, Nova Scotia <>
-Neil Besner, U. of Winnipeg <>
·Margaret Dickie, U.of Georgia <>
-Gary Fountain, Secretary-Treasurer, Ithaca College <gfountal@>
-BarbaraPage, Bulletin Editor-elect, Vassar College<page@v8xsar.
-Camille Roman, Washington State University
-Thomas Travisano, president, Hartwick College <travisanot@
-J acqueline Vaught Brogan, Notre Dame U. <.J acqueline.V.Brogan.>
Volume 6, Number 2 'All the untidy activity contlnues_' Winter 1997
Continuity &Change in Bishop Society 2. GaryFountain, IthacaColIge, "A
When co-founders BarbaraPage, MarilynMayLombardi andPost-Colonial Studies" ~
andmyself embarkedupontheadventureof formingthe-Eliza- 3.CamilleRoman, WashingtonState .
beth Bishop Society at the San Francisco MLA meeting in University, "RethinkingPolitical Resis-
December 1991,weknewthatBishopwasbeginningtoemerge tance: Bishop's Dialogue on theCold War"
as a "hot poet," but we little suspected that she would be so Panel II, "The Implications of Bishop Studies (II)"
rapidly and widely confirmed as amajor figure in American BarbaraPage, Vassar College, Chair
letters, or thattheBishop Society wouldgrowsovigorouslyand 1.Margaret Dickie, University of Georgia, "Elizabeth Bishop:
dramatically, or that Bishop studies-so longaquiet corner of The Other Woman"
thecritical trade-would emergesodecisivelyasoneofliterary 2. Richard Flynn, Georgia Southern University, '" Dazzling
scholarship's most impressive growth industries. Dialectics': Bishop's Poetics and the Dissolution of Critical
The Society now faces a moment of transition that in- Binaries"
volves both continuity and change. This is my last issue as 3. Thomas Travisano, Hartwick College, "Reading Across the
editor of theElizabeth BishopBulletin. EditingtheBulletinhas Matrix: Six Approaches to 'The Moose'"
brought me into touch with an engaging array of people: the Respondent: Celeste Goodridge, Bowdoin College
scholars, poets, publishers, friends, relatives andordinary citi- A business meetingof theSociety is also planned for theSan
zenswhoareBishop'sdevotedreadersallover theworld, I now Diego ALA
countmany of theseamong my most valuedfriends. Your next
issue of the Bulletin will emerge from the capable hands of Worcester EB Conference Wins Award
Societyco-founderandeditor-electBarbara Page. Gary Foun- The Worcester County Poetry Association received the
tain hasactively assumedthedutiesasasecretary-treasurer and Cultural Enrichment AwardfromtheWorcesterTelegram and
matters relating to membership anddues should henceforthbe Gazette for its sponsorship of thehighly successful Elizabeth
addressed toGary. Anexpanded advisory board nowincludes BishopConference&PoetryFestivalatsitesthroughoutWorces-
suchprevious membersasPage,Margaret Dickie, J acqueline ter Massachusetts and its vicinity during October 1997.The
Vaught Brogan, and myself as well as four new members: three organizers, Angela Dorenkamp, Carle J ohnson and
Fountain, Camille Roman, Sandra Barry, and Neil Besner. Laura Menides accepted a$2,500 cashaward for theWCPA
AsI assumemynewroleaspresident, I look forwardtohearing inJ anuary 1998.AccordingtotheTelegram, "Thecompetition .
your suggestions about future directions for the Elizabeth for this particular award was fierce this year.... The festival
Bishop Society. honored noted poet and Worcester native Bishop, while pro-
Bishop Studies in San Diego: ALA '98 mating poetry through readings to more than 2;000 partici-
Pending final approval by theAmericanLiteratureAsso-
ciation, theBishop Society will sponsor apair of panels at the
., ALA Conference in San Diego, May 28-31, 1998exploring
"TheImplications of BishopStudies." Thesepanels, featuring
leading Bishop scholars and organized by Society president
Thomas Travisano, aredesigned torecognize andexplorethe
I J significance for current literary criticism, cultural studies, and
critical theory of therecent emergence of Bishop as amajor
American poet andto look, more specifically, at thedramatic
emergence of Bishop studies as an innovative and successful
branch of critical discourse.
Panel I. "The Implications of Bishop Studies (I)"
Thomas Travisano, Chair, Hartwick College
1. BarbaraPage, Vassar College, "Canoninzing Bishop"
The Elizabeth Bishop Bulletin
awe, wethenre-boarded thebig yellowbuses (as thoughwe
concludingaschool picnic orfieldtrip)andheadedbacktothe
Lest it appear that I brought back only gravity from
Worcester, theimpression I would set beside this memorial
moment isof asmall, unassumingartgallery, tuckedintoaside
street (5Pratt Street'sFletcher/priest Gallery), which for the
festival week displayed more than a dozen of the playful,
colourful, delightful watercolors painted inher oddhours by
ElizabethBishop. UntutoredthoughI maybeinthecuratorial
arts, thisordinary house-cum-gallery seemed tome theideal
setting for Bishop's often tiny and fragile watercolours and
sketches. I went three times and still did not get enough of
Bishop's "vision." Inparticular, Bishop's curious"TheDream
Machine" captured my imagination, as it dideveryoneelseI
spokewith, causingmetopauseinthemidstmyscholarlyand
visual adventureandmuseaboutthemysteryof creativity. That
littledrawing, invitinganalysisbutalsodefyingit, seemstome
atangihlecommentbythepoetherself onall ouruntidy,dream-
likeactivity insearchof thealluring, ever-elusivepoet.
Anysuccessful gatheringbecomes acommunity, if only
for amoment intime. What strikesmeabout thegatheringin
Worcester isthatthesenseof community amongscholarsand
readers of Elizabeth Bishop's work has markedly intensified
sinceI firstencountereditintheearly 1990s,Indeed, thissense
of community persists, through correspondence, e-mail, and
theemergenceof aburgeoningcritical literature, evenwhenwe
scatter toour own, oftenquitedistant, homes. Onecanonly be
gladfor it andwonder at thepower of Elizabeth Bishop's life
andwork tospeaksoclearly tosomany disparateindividuals
andbringthemtogether,asifunder acompulsion, "Lookingfor
something, something, something," we find it, together and
apart, inthequartz grains andamethyst of Bishop's words.
HowgooditwastoseeduringthisWorcester festival that,
indeed, poetry canmatter, that itcan holdafocal position in
dailyandceremonial life. Beingof thepoet-tribemyself, I was
grateful to theorganizers for conceiving thisgathering on so
many levels: not just the scholarly, but the historic (cf. the
displayof Bishopfamilymemorabiliaatthe Worcester Histori-
cal Society), the artistic, the theatrical (a dramatization of
passages fromBishop's translation of The Diary of Helena
Morley) and, especially, thepoetic. Thanksarecertainlydueto
LauraMenides, CarleJ ohnsonandAngelaDorenkampfor their
sensitivity and imagination, their attention both toscopeand
detail, astheyprovidedall whotookpart.inthiscelebrationwith
amemorableweek inWorcester.
Halifax, Nova Scotia, 20October 1997
A Memorable Week inWorcester
by Sandra Barry, Independent Scholar
I re-open my conference folder-objects stimulating
memory, asElizabeth Bishopknewso well-while preparing
to write this requested account of my prodigious week in
Worcester,Massachusetts. ButI havenoreal needof brochures
maps,tickets, programmes, or eventheannotatednapkinor the
newspaperclippings, tosummonimpressionsof dayscrammed
with words and images by and about Bishop. My mind still
brimswithmemories of oneof themostimportantcelebrations
todateof her thelifeandwork. Buttheconferencememoribilia
helps to direct these random impressions towards specific,
highlychargedmoments. Oneunavoidablyimpressivefeature
of theElizabeth BishopConferenceandPoetryFestival wasits
multiplicity: dozens of scholarly papers touching on diverse
aspectsof Bishop'slifeandworkwerepresentedbyabewilder-
ingvarietyof academics, poets, andindependent scholarsfrom
all over theworld,demonstratingonceagainthatthe"Elizabeth
BishopPhenomenon" continuestoexpandandhasacquiredan
increasinglyglobal quality. Important asall thisscholarshipis,
I wasstill moreimpressed byhowmuchpoetry theorganizers
~ncludedintheevent. Weheardsomeof America's finestpoets,
including Mark Strand, Frank Bidart, Donald Hall, Sandra
McPherson, LloydSchwartz, J aneShore,andKathleenSpivak,
as well as Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, reading invenues
acrossthecity. Manyof thesepoetshadknownBishopherself,
hadbeen influencedby her, andtheysharedstoriesandpoetic
read yet another not-yet-published Bishop poemthat hehad
preserved with scrupulous care.
But difficult as it seems to choose amongst the more
indelible impression, I will settleontwo of thelast. Thefirst
involvesabrilliant sunshiningthroughautumnleavesthatfall
in silence over Bishop's gravestone, a substantial carved-
granitemarker aroundwhosearchedshapedozensof Bishop's
mostdevoted readers, andseveral survivingrelatives, including
her cousin Elizabeth Ross Naudin, who made the trip from
Florida for the event, have gathered, most for thefirst time.
Though we all carry her words-the lasting legacy-in our
activememory, theability tomaketangiblethatfinal connec-
tionbetweenlifeanddeath, of seeinghowthefiniteandinfinite
intersect, emerges as this moment's central task. We have
riddenthroughthestreetsofWorcesterin bright yellowschool
buses, revisiting fragments of Elizabeth Bishop's-Stanley
Kunitz's andCharlesOlson's=childhoods. (A brief stopatthe
Kunitzfamily homewheregracioushostsallowedusaglimpse
of their connection withandaffection for theelderlypoet, to
whomtheyannually sendfruitfromapear treeKunitzplanted
asaboy, wasatruegift.) ReachingHopeCemetery, welistened
to "The Bight" read gently and respectfully by Angela
Dorenkamp, whowasinstrumental inhavingthegravestoneof
Bishop'sparents, WillamThomasandGertrudeBulmerBishop,
inscribed, asBishopwished, withthepoet'sownnameanddates
and-as epitaph-c-vl'he Bight's" concluding lines, "All the
untidyactivity continues/ Awful but cheerful." I thought how
Winter 1997 Volume 6, Number 2 The Elizabeth Bishop Bulletin
On Lloyd Schwartz and Frank Bidart
by Thomas Travisano
Worcester's magnetpulledinyetanother withagiftfor words
andtutelageinpoet andteacher KathleenSpivack,
Spivack's poetic education began in earnest when she
moved to Boston to study with Robert Lowell. She credits
Lowell withteachingher toreadtheclassics. Her introduction
toBishopcamelater, but well beforethepoet's present notori-
ety. AccordingtoSpivack, "shewassimplyaverygentlesoul
and weboth hadalove of racket sports." Eventually Bishop
asked Spivack todinner so that they could play pingpong, a
gameBishoploved, andwhichofferedmarvelous exercisefor
Bishop's arthritichands. Soon, Bishop cametoshowSpivack
some of her poems in working drafts and, as thefriendship
grew, sodidher multitudeof revisions.
Out thesenumerous Brazilian meals andping pong matches
cameSpivack's tribute: "PingPongSestinaforE.B." Spivack
laughedasshereIatedthat, of courseit was"terrible towrite,
youknow, sixlinesina chainthatareeventuallyall usedinthe
last threelines," but it was very like B.B to undertake such
At her reading, Spivack thepoet was asinspiring as she
wasapproachable. Dayslater, sheevidenced thepower of the
teacher when shecalledabuddingpoet friendof mineathome
tolet her knowhowmuchsheenjoyedapoemthat friend had
givenher. Spivack saidat her reading that shebegan writing
predominately for her friends, andshemadeher audiencefeel
that wecouldeachcount ourselves amongst that warmcircle.
~ ~~ ~
On Kathleen Spivak
by Ann Marie Lucci, Worcester County Poetry Assoc.
With her bright, expressively wide eyes glittering, this
former student of Elizabeth Bishopopenedherreadingat the
Shrewsbury Public Library withasimplestatement connect-
ingBishopandherself tothiscity, sayingthat"Worcester has
themagneticcenter forpoetry." Onthissecondnightof aweek
long celebration of the life and work of Elizabeth Bishop,
On J ane Shore and Sandra McPherson
by G. D. Hawksley, Worcester County Poetry Assoc.
OnOctober 6, SandraMcPhersonandJ aneShorereadat
Worcester StateCollege. After welcomes tothecity, thecol-
lege, andtheBlizabethBishopFestival, anunannouncedreader,
J aneShore, who had been bothastudent and acolleagueof
Bishop's atRadcliffeandHarvard, sharedafewanecdotesand
read threepoems, which included thetitlepoemof her latest
book, Music Minus One. Shoreistheauthor of threebooksof
dividingher timebetweenVermont andtheDistrictof Colum-
bia. Shebeganbyreading"TheLunar Moth" andfinishedwith
anewpoemabout thegame, mahjongg.
Nextcamethefeaturedpoet, SandraMcPherson, whohad
studiedunder Bishop, andspokeof her, asdidShore, asakind
of mother figuretoher ownearlywork. McPherson, whoisthe
author of twelve books of poetry and was featured on Bill
Moyers' series onPBS, The Language of Life, teaches at the
University of California in Davis. Sheread ten poem, some
shortquotesof herdaughter' sspeakingasachild,andtwoshort
passages of aletter fromBishop. Thefirst of thosewasapost
script inwhichBishophadwritten, "".when I wasachildand
left alone, I hadafunnywayof usingmyeyes,"and theother
wasfromaletter inwhichBishopwasofferingtheadvicethat,
"One thingI feel I should warnyouagainst" inMcPherson's
poetry, was "the female element Itis fineupto apoint, but
shouldn't bestressed." (Quotesaretakenfromnotesof reading,
andmay not beexactly aswrittenby Bishop.)
InkeepingwithhermentionofBishop asamaternal figure
toher, McPherson's choiceofpoemscarriedageneral themeof
motherhoodwhichranfromher ownbeingadoptedtoseveral
poems from her book, The Spaces Between Birds, which. Following afinal conference dinner at AssumptionCol-
concerned itself with functioning autism. Sheread thepoem lege, Lloyd Schwartz andFrank Bidart, two notedBoston-
"For ElizabethBishop" andsolicitedthreeaudiencevolunteers area poets, answered questions on their relationships with
to assist with deep inhaling sounds while she read "Easter Bishopinher final, Bostonyears, thengaveajoint reading.
1979." Beforefinishingwith"TheSpacesBetweenBirds" and Schwartz, oneof Bishop's most devoted students during
"One Way She Spoke to Me," McPherson issued what her heryearsatHarvardUniversity, wroteoneof theearlydoctoral
husbandrefers toasthe"two poemwarning". dissertationsonBishopandco-edited theindispensiblecollec-
Bothpoetswerewell receivedandstayedtovisitandsign tionElizabeth Bishop and her Art. Schwartz beganhisreading
books at a small reception after the reading, which was an with a haunting, still-unpublished love poem by Elizabeth
excellent start to what would be an exciting week of fine Bishop that he discovered in manuscript and carefully pre-
readings. served. Schwartz'sreadingof hisownpoetrywasmarkedbyits
of both Bishop and her dose friend Robert Lowell while a
graduatestudent atHarvard, spokevividlyof theirrelationship
question-and-answer session. Later, Bidart explored the
Dionysiansideof humanexperienceinhisimpassionedread-
ing, fromhis newly published bookDesire, of "TheSecond
Hourof theNight,"anextraordinarylongpoem, basedonOvid's
treatment of themythof Myrrha. Bothpoets exhibitedatalent
andacarefor thesurprisingandcogent useof words that their
mentor Bishophadhonoredthroughout her ownpoetic life.
Worcester Readings byBishop's Students and Proteges
Winter 1997 Volume 6, Number 2 The Elizabeth Bishop Bulletin
Benson Available on Bishop as Painter
Poet and art critic William Benton, editor of Elizabeth
Bishop'sExchanging Hats: Paintings, is offering alecture,
based on his recent Worcester presentation, on "Elizabeth
Bishop as aPainter: Amateur, Primative, Faux Naif!" This
survey withslides "examines traditions, currents, and sensi-
this uniqueAmericanpoet and painter." For informationon
this lectures and others of related interest contact William
Benton, 327Central ParkWest, NewYork, NY 10025, (212)
864-4645. Benton'slatestbook of poemsisMarmalade, with
drawingsby J amesMcGarrell.
Bishop Conference in Brazil, May '99
Prof. GeorgeLensing of theU. of NorthCarolina, Chapel
Hill alerts us to plans for an International Conference on
ElizabethBishopinOuro Preto, Brazil, May 19-21, 1999.The
conference, sponsored J ointly by Chapel Hill and the
Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Bela Horizonte,
Brazil, will take placeat the Universidade Federal de Ouro
Preto. Itwill bring togetherscholarsfromtheU.S., Brazil, and
other parts of the world. The conference will focus on the
Braziliancontextsof Bishop'swork, but twentyminutepapers
onany aspect of Bishop'swork areinvited. Addressinquiries
and proposals toProfessor ConnieEble, Department of En-
glish, CB#3520, U. of NC, Chapel HIll, NC 27599-3520.
Phone: (919) 962.0469; email:
Lensing recalls that "I was aPeace Corps volunteer in
Brazil inthe1960sand visitedOuroPretotwice. It'salovely,
small, remote18th-centuryminingtown; whenyouseeityou'll
know at oncewhy Bishopfell inlovewithit,"
closely examinesmetric variations, breaksandsoundpatterns
aswell asearly draftsandwordchanges, and sheleadsreaders
toanewappreciationof thepoem's powerful ambiguities. It
body givesscantattentiontofeminist and.gender studiesor to
such theorists about the body as J ulia Kristeva or Helene
Cixous.Anticipatingthisreaction,Colwell writesthat"Bishop's
poems tend toresist thelanguageof suchinterrogation." In-
stead, Colwell focusesonthepoems themselves, stressing the
uniqueness of each and theattempt of each to embody this
elusivethingcaUedlife. Assheconcludes, Bishop"nevershied
did not and could never have answers." Colwell's book is a
welcomeadditiontoBishop."",,'v..u., ........
Colwell's Inscrutable Houses: A Review
by Laura Menides, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Inscrutable Houses: Metaphors of the Body in the Poems of
Elizabeth Bishop by AnneColwell (Tuscaloosa: Univ, of Ala-
bamaPress, 1997).
Colwell's many-layeredanalysis followsBishop's poetry
andpoeticsfromonevolumetoanother, examiningtheworks
intermsof conceptsof thebody. Thebook treatsnotonly the
actual bodyand howitknows theworld, butalsometaphorsof
thebody-houses, for example, andpoems.
Embodiment" isatermused repeatedly inthebook, and
definedvariously. At themostliteral level, Colwell examines
how Bishop's speakers use thebody to perceive reality, to
mediatebetweentheself and reality, toaccept, deny or distort
reality. Poemssuchas"TheImaginary Iceberg" and"TheEnd
of March," according toColwell, reveal Bishop's ambiguous
and often contradictory attitudes about physical connection
withtheuniverse. Colwell states thatintheiceberg poem, for
example, thespeakerasks"why shouldobservationcontinueif
meaningful lookingisinaccurateandaccuratelookingismean-
ingless?" Colwell findsinthisandinother Bishoppoemsboth
lucidity and inscrutability, both marvelous observation and
mystery astothemeaning of what isobserved.
On another level of "embodiment," Colwell deals with
poemsinwhichideasorobjectsareembodied-poems, thatis,
of personification. According to Colwell, in such works as
"The Colder theAir," "From Country to City" and "Cirque
d'Hiver," Bishopdemonstrates"that personificationisnotjust
interestingbutinescapable; we... canconceiveof nothingwith-
outa body." Yet, Colwell insists, Bishop's poemsof personi-
ficationturnonthemselvesandreveal thatthetechniqueisless
thansatisfactory because "conceived of in human terms, the
only termsavailable, reality eludes us."
Ultimately, Colwell expandsontheterm"embodiment" to
speak notonly of theself initsbodilyform, or of ideasthatare
personified, butalsoof poemsasthemselvesembodiments-as
visible containers of invisible thoughts. Here too, Colwell
insists, ambiguity and contradictionthrive. Thestrict formof
"Sestina," for example, suggests anorderly, domestic world,
but thepoem's evasions and loose meters also reveal deep
disorder and confusion. Similarly, according to Colwell,
Bishop's manypoemsthatincludeparenthetical asidesdemon-
strateintheirverystructurestheneedtosayandunsay, toreveal
and conceal.
In Colwell's view, these very tensions are what make
Bishop's poems soalive, soappealing, truthful andvaluableto
readers. Bishop's ownambivalenceabout theway theperson
views(ordistorts) theworldandconnects(ordisconnects) with
itaremirroredinthepoems. ThusColwell findsinBishop"the
paradox of embodiment, bothinbodily and poetic form."
Colwell's thesisabout embodiment, thoughperhapsbela-
boredat times, workswell inthebook inthatit enablesher to
offermeticulousandsubtlereadingsof Bishop's works. Sheis
ather best indemonstrating howapoem's structurerevealsits
attempt tofindmeaning, evenif thatattemptisthwarted. Inher
masterful treatment of "The Armadillo," for example, she
Winter 1997 Volume 6, Number 2 The Elizabeth Bishop Bulletin