A new book called Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast explores the 45-year career of Elizabeth Bishop, hailed as one of America’s best poets despite (or maybe because of?) having only published about 100 poems. Written by one of Bishop’s former students, the biography promises to show a more complete picture of the shy and reclusive Bishop, capitalizing on a trove of recently-discovered letters Bishop wrote to her psychiatrist and lovers.
What a good reminder to explore the works of Bishop herself! A fascinating look at the “text and subtext” of her work is available for free download here.
“ELIZABETH BISHOP IS SPECTACULAR in being unspectacular,” Marianne Moore claims in her review of North and South (Complete Prose 406) where she notes Bishop’s “mechanics of presentation,” not just the rhymes, but the accuracy and modesty of the poetry. Yet Bishop could also be spectacular in being spectacular, relinquishing her art’s modesty to elaborate, even archaic form, in poems, strangely enough, of current social and political concern. It may not be an entirely unknown combination for a poet (one thinks of Auden, for example); but, for Bishop, who did indeed perfect the minimalist style for which Moore praises her, it is especially puzzling. Still she did write a sestina on the Depression, a double sonnet on alcoholism, a poem in triple rhymed tercets on social conditions in contemporary Brazil, and a ballad on the social and political dislocations of Brazil’s poor.
The essay brims with thoughtful observation on poetry’s role in our modern world. (And your book group will be super impressed when you bring the PDF to your discussion of the new biography!)