"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Monday, September 14, 2020

Anne Stevenson (1933-2020)

 A short time ago, I learned from U.K. Bishop scholar Jonathan Ellis that the poet, biographer and literary critic Anne Stevenson died today (14 September). Stevenson was a “pioneer” in Bishop studies, publishing a book about EB’s poems in 1966. She subsequently published two collections of essays about Bishop’s work. Her final book of poems came out recently with Bloodaxe Books and the publisher has posted a moving tribute to her, complete with a video of her reading some of her poems.

I first met Anne Stevenson in 1995 – September I think – when she and her lovely husband Peter Lucas visited Nova Scotia (it was her first visit to the province). I remember the year because the second Quebec Referendum was happening and she was quite interested in this event. She and Peter stayed at the Lord Nelson Hotel in Halifax and I remember walking around town with her. I can’t remember if I went to Great Village with her, but I might have. Even though I was a total stranger to her, in a most generous gesture, before she left, she handed me a folder containing copies of the correspondence between her and EB in the 1960s. I was stunned and profoundly grateful. This correspondence, some of which is finally published in the Library of America's Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose, and Letters, has been mined by many scholars over the past decades, including myself. Bishop was remarkably forthcoming with Stevenson in this correspondence and revealed all manner of things both personal and poetic.

Anne Stevenson and Peter Lucas, September 1998, 

Acadia University, Wolfville, N.S. (Photo by Laura Menides)

Then I spent a bit of time with Anne and Peter in 1998. Anne kindly agreed to be the keynote speaker at “Divisions of the Heart,” a Bishop symposium at Acadia University (the repository of the Bulmer family archive) in September of that year. I remember an afternoon sitting in the Blomidon Inn interviewing Stevenson about Bishop. I wished we had recorded her keynote talk, which was lively, even feisty, and especially the Q&A afterwards. Subsequently, I had my own exchange of letters with Anne, until the beginning of the new millennium, when our communication dwindled and ceased. I would hear about her now and then from U.K. friends, but our contact became just a pleasant memory. Curiously, this past week, I had been writing about Stevenson to Walter Smart, a friend in Michigan who has become quite interested in Bishop. In the course of our lively correspondence, he mentioned Stevenson (he’s been delving deeply into all that has been written about Bishop in the past 40 years – and Stevenson is important). I wrote him some of my memories and even observed that she was still living but would be elderly by now (Stevenson was 87 – she was born the same year as my mother). And then to hear of her death earlier today – well, I wondered about this interesting convergence. I am grateful for the brief contact I had with her and immensely grateful for her sharing of such vital correspondence. My deepest sympathy goes out to her family and friends. Her passing is a loss to the world of poetry and scholarship. 

Monday, September 7, 2020

New journal to be published

Jonathan Ellis, our correspondent in the UK, has just alerted me to a new development out of Penn State University – the publication of a new journal, Bishop-Lowell Studies. It was only a matter of time before such a project manifested and with its stellar editorial board, this journal will attract the top Bishop/Lowell scholars writing today. As was observed to me from our correspondent, Bishop has become “iconic” – and then some, and not only in the academy. My hope is that there will be a wide definition for contributions, so that not only the hard-core literary criticism will be included, but also deep explorations of the wider interest in Bishop among artists of all disciplines (for example, a serious look at the film treatments of Bishop to date, especially since a new documentary film by Nova Scotian film-maker John Scott, who teaches at Ithaca College, is due out in the near future; also, I was recently asked by poet and playwright Malcolm Willison, of Schenectady and Key West, if anyone has looked closely at how Bishop has been treated in plays and fiction – and I wonder if Lowell has received this kind of attention from the wider artistic community). It will be interesting to watch this endeavour unfold and evolve.

Monday, August 24, 2020

A couple of EB items

It is time for the “Two Arts” virtual exhibit to wind down. I will begin posting other things and slowly the images will settle into the blog’s archive. That said, however, we will keep the separate “Two Arts” page in the menu on the right-hand side, so that if anyone wants to check it out in the future, the links will give easy access to the images. The EBSNS will continue to offer framed and unframed prints for as long as we have them available, so if anyone is interested, they can find out the terms on the “Two Arts” page and see what prints we still have.

The EBSNS wishes to extend deepest gratitude to Natallia Povaliayeva for her generosity in allowing the society to share her whimsical, EB-inspired drawings and to allowing us to raise money through the sale of prints. Her delightful art benefits all who see it and the fund-raiser has benefitted the EBSNS in a substantial way. Thank you.

Below are notices about several new collections of poetry that are inspired to some degree by Bishop’s life and art. I am happy to feature these books and their authors. At the end of this post, there is also an image that is as interesting as it is rare.


Aiden Rooney’s Go There, the Irish poet’s most recent collection, contains three poems that are inspired by his visits to Nova Scotia and his connection to Bishop. In the introduction to this collection, Daniel Tobin describes “Seals,” “In Acadie,” and “Habitation” as “North American poems,” but two of these are deeply immersed in the history of Nova Scotia itself, long before it was part of even British North America. “Seals” is clearly a nod to Bishop’s famous seal in “At the Fishhouses.”


New England poet Jeffrey Harrison’s new collection Between Lakes has just been published by Four Way Books. Jeffrey’s work is elegant and profound, deeply indebted to the natural world that infuses his gestalt. He is also a Bishop fan and the collection contains one poem inspired by a story I told him some years ago about Bishop and The Grateful Dead!


Poet and playwright Malcolm Willison’s latest collection, A House of Her Own (SeaStory Press 2019) has the delightful subtitle: Poems on the Afterlife of Elizabeth Bishop’s House in Key West. Over the course of many years wintering in Key West, Willison walked by Bishop’s home (the first home of her own in her adult life) again and again. He began writing about this experience and in the end realized he had a collection that charted the changes that took place to that house. These poems are by turns intriguing, amusing, elegiac and wonderfully descriptive of the activities or lack there of that he witnessed, as residents came and went. The house is now owned by the Key West Literary Seminar organization, with a mission to restore it and make it available to the public. Willison’s poems are a lovely, literary record of one poet’s longing to ‘get inside’ – and now that will be possible.


Poet Henri Cole recently send this image of what can only be described as a truly rare pairing. In 1973, The Phoenix Bookshop in New York City brought out a letter press printed chapbook of Bishop’s “Poem.” Only 126 were printed. Henri recently purchased one of the rare signed copies. His friend Rachel Jacoff is now the owner of the small George W. Hutchinson painting that inspired “Poem” – it was a truly inspired gesture to bring these two significant Bishop treasures together. I thank Henri for sharing this image with me.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

What people are saying about “Two Arts”

I love Natallia's ability to capture Bishop's sense of agonised fun (Robert Lowell called it her "sorrowing amusement"). Our awareness of the many sadnesses of Bishop's life sometimes leads us to forget this playful side. But it's alive and well in all of her illustrations, each of which make us aware how important childhood and children's tales were to Bishop's grown-up writing. In fact, looking at these illustrated poems, you realise how much Bishop delights in the silliness of measuring up experience according to scale and size. To grow up is not necessarily to become wiser.

Jonathan Ellis, Sheffield, United Kingdom

Playful, witty, and punchy in black and white, Natallia's drawings are such a lovely visual representation of Bishop's words.

Emma FitzGerald, Victoria, B.C

Right from the first one — the fridge magnet — Awful but Cheerful — I’ve found them delightful and could hardly wait for her next interpretation. I love the leap from one expressive form to another, words to images in this case. There is the occasional dog, lots of birds and a whimsical image for each succinct phrase. Unmistakably Elizabeth Bishop words, the images let us hone in on that moment, linger or take us aback, but all are “us”. All are us, the thin shanked, grinning gal in the polka dot shift.

Susan Kerslake, Halifax, N.S.

Every one of the drawings in the series, Two Arts, makes me smile and remember.  I ended up choosing two, each for its own reason.  Song for the Rainy Season:  this was the poem that introduced me to Elizabeth Bishop, when I was asked to read it at a concert about EB, a concert of song and poetry.  The result was a discovery that has stretched my mind and heart.  And Manners: I’ve always loved this poem for its whimsy and its kindness. Last fall I spent time with a friend as she endured chemo and I would read to her.  One day I selected several of Bishop’s poems.  Manners made my friend laugh out loud and let her forget, even briefly, why she was hooked up to tubes in a big chair.

So yes, smiles and memories, but also I love the way Natallia Povaliayeva has interpreted Bishop’s words. Her own affection for the poetry shines through.  Yet the simplicity of her black and white technique has left room for each viewer to find personal meaning and pleasure.

Claire Miller, Halifax, N.S.

("Dear, My Compass" print hanging in the dining room
of the Elizabeth Bishop House in Great Village, N.S.
Photo by Laurie Gunn.)

I purchased three black and white drawings by Natallia Povaliayeva, each illustrating a poem by Elizabeth Bishop. I “love them all,” but I want to talk about “Manners.” Each time I read the poem, I join the young EB sitting with her grandfather. Now I can read the poem aloud and pause to look at Natallia’s drawing, as we move along. "Thank you," Natallia and EBSNS!

Sally Middlebrooks, Lunenburg, N.S.

These drawings are delightful, each more so than the other! Two of them, “The Moose” and “Manners,” represent poems I know, love and have read many times. My favourite of the three, perhaps, is the third, inspired by “The Filling Station.” I didn’t know this poem. Natallia's image evoked childhood memories, and I knew I wanted to find out more. I read the poem and was taken back to a very vivid memory, driving in the back seat of the family car, early 60's, past the ESSO Station in Bathurst, New Brunswick. My sister and I would sing out E-S-S-O...., S-O..., So.... Thank you EB. Thank you Natallia.

Wenda MacDonald, Halifax, N.S.

{There are still framed and unframed prints for sale. Go to the fund-raiser section below to see how you can purchase them. As more responses come in, I will be posting them here. Thanks to those who have already purchased and responded to Natallia's delightful drawings.}

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Two Arts – EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 – Part 16 – Fund-raiser

As the EBSNS has already announced, the society has cancelled its 2020 Annual General Meeting because of the public health restrictions in place due to the covid-19 pandemic. As a result, the Echoes of Elizabeth Bishop Gallery exhibit for 2020 has been done virtually. This year’s exhibit, “Two Arts,”  is comprised of twelve Elizabeth Bishop inspired drawings by Minsk, Belarus, artist Natallia Povaliayeva. She has kindly agreed to let the EBSNS offer prints of her drawings as a fund-raiser for the society. All the images are found below this notice. To see the whole list of images together, go to the “Two Arts” page (the link is on the right side of this page).


The society offers one framed print of each drawing (12x15 inches) and five unframed (matted) prints of each drawing (10x13 inches). Each framed print costs $50.00. Each unframed (matted) print costs $25.00, plus postage.

Because the cost of mailing the framed prints outside of Nova Scotia would be high, the framed prints are reserved for interested Nova Scotians. The unframed (matted) prints can be mailed anywhere in the world.

If you are interested in purchasing one of the images, please contact Laurie Gunn at laurieegunn@ns.sympatico.ca or Sandra Barry at slbarry@ns.sympatico.ca to discuss payment options and the cost of postage.

Because these times are strange and disrupted for us all, we ask for and deeply appreciate your patience as we work through this virtual fund-raiser process. The prints are quite real, but it will take time for us to get them mailed. We hope that the Nova Scotians who want one of the framed prints might be willing to pick it up at some point, once the pandemic restrictions have eased, but delivery options can also be discussed.

This exhibit would have hung in the church in Great Village until September 2020, so we will keep it and the fund-raiser active on the blog through the summer of 2020.

Thank you for your interest and support.

Addendum: Blogger Bob Maher has made note of "Two Arts" in a recent post on his most interesting blog which covers many subjects, not the least of which is our connection to place and space. He has mentioned Bishop a number of times over the past couple of years and he and his wife attended the EBSNS AGM in 2019. You can read what he writes in this recent post here. Thanks, Bob, for giving "Two Arts" and EB this interesting commentary.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Two Arts – EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 – Part 15


When the residents of Great Village commemorated Elizabeth Bishop’s connection to the village for the first time in 1992 – a bronze plaque on St. James United Church – a line from this late masterpiece was chosen: “Home-made, home-made! But aren’t we all?” This poem is about the quintessential traveller-castaway, who must make his own home while remembering the old one left behind. Bishop probably first learned about Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe in Great Village. And her Crusoe did what she told Alexandra Johnson she had done: she carried her home within, comprised of all the worlds she had ever seen, especially, her childhood home “In the Village.”

This image is the final offering in “Two Arts” and the next post, which will appear soon, will explain the fund-raiser the EBSNS is doing around this exhibit. The EBSNS extends deep gratitude to Natallia for allowing us to share her images in this way and to offer them to the society to help us raise some funds. Thank you, Natallia.

Stay tuned for more details about how you can get one of the images from “Two Arts.”

Friday, May 29, 2020

Two Arts – EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 – Part 14

This late poem has become Bishop’s most famous, most quoted poem – a signature piece. Search for it online, on YouTube, where countless people have recorded themselves reading it. Bishop’s life was filled with loss, but even so, she persevered and created a life and a body of work that was in many ways a triumph. Her work is more important than ever. We can all identify with her partly ironic, partly literal claim that losing is an art that is not hard to master. But, of course, it is the hardest art of all to carry. Natallia has made this “art” – a never ending process – into the epitome of a journey. We are all on that road away from and towards “home” and “elsewhere.” {REMEMBER: YOU CAN CLICK THE IMAGE TO ENLARGE IT.}

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Two Arts – EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 – Part 13

Bishop spent over fifteen years in Brazil, but her love of Nova Scotia, her childhood home, remained strong, as she expressed in “Dear, My Compass,” a brief, never published love poem. Her memories of her Nova Scotia childhood were never far from her mind and remained vivid and vital throughout her life. She created what might be called an illuminated manuscript of this poem, writing it out and illustrating it with all the images it mentions, the only poem, it appears, that she visually embellished in this way. Natallia has done justice to Bishop’s own sense of whimsy in her charming drawing.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Two Arts: EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 – Part 12

One of Bishop’s favourite places in Brazil was the baroque city of Ouro Preto (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site). She visited there a number of times and stayed at an inn that belonged to her friend Lilli Correia de Araújo. “Under the Window: Ouro Preto” is set at that place. Eventually, Bishop bought and restored an eighteenth-century house that she named “Casa Mariana,” in honour of her friend Marianne Moore and because it was on the road to the town of Mariana. It was not the first house Bishop had owned (that was in Key West, Florida), nor would it be her last (a condo at Lewis Wharf, Boston); but it was one which she loved, even though she spent little time there.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Two Arts – EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 – Part 11


Bishop arrived in Brazil in late 1951. In early 1952 she began her long residency. She lived there for over fifteen years with Lota de Macedo Soares. Lota was building an ultra-modern house in Samambaia, near Petropolis, and one of the first things Lota did for Bishop was build her a studio. “Song for the Rainy Season” evokes the natural landscape (flora, fauna, weather) around the first real “home” Bishop had in her adult life, a home that reminded her of Great Village. Bishop travelled far away from Nova Scotia and New England, a long sea journey, and unexpectedly found a beautiful, inspiring place to settle in. What did she do first? She wrote about her childhood.


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Two Arts – EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 – Part 10

“Dear Dr. Foster”

Bishop underwent psychoanalysis with Dr. Ruth Foster in 1945-1946. One of the results of this therapy was a return to Nova Scotia after a sixteen-year hiatus. The trip was difficult, but it was also rewarding because it triggered several breakthrough poems, including “At the Fishhouses.” She knew how important her sessions with Foster had been and while in Halifax, Bishop began to write a poem for her therapist and friend. She never finished it, but as Natallia says in her Artist’s Statement, it was this fragmentary poem that prompted her first Bishop-inspired drawing. Dreams and memories were vital inner forces in Bishop’s poetics. She wrote years latter to Anne Stevenson that she used “dream material” whenever she was lucky enough to have it. And her poems are abundant with memories.


Monday, May 18, 2020

Two Arts – EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 – Part 9


This poem, placed in the “Elsewhere” section of Questions of Travel, is perhaps one of the most direct links Bishop makes between Nova Scotia and Brazil. Great Village got its first filling station in the 1930s. Indeed, there were two by 1946 (Esso and Texaco), when she returned to visit after a sixteen-year hiatus. The trigger for this poem, however, was a filling station in Brazil. Both the stations in Great Village were operated by families, including Bishop’s (her Uncle Arthur owned the Texaco). Clearly, the Brazilian version, which she would have seen in the 1950s, took her back to the village’s own versions, where “Somebody loves us all.”



Saturday, May 16, 2020

Two Arts – EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 – Part 8


One of Bishop’s masterpieces, “The Moose,” took over two decades to complete. It began in 1946 on a bus ride back to Boston from Nova Scotia and was finished for and read at a commencement ceremony at Harvard University in the spring of 1972. This poem is an essential nexus between the ideas of “home” and “travel,” revealing how Bishop could say to Alexandra Johnson in the 1970s that a poet carries home inside. It spans vast space-time with a profound intimacy, a deep sense of history and community, a mature and expansive aesthetic – and the “sweet sensation of joy” of an encounter with an ineffable creature.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Two Arts – EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 – Part 7

The other place central to Bishop’s childhood was Massachusetts, particularly Worcester and Revere. From the spring of 1918 to the spring of 1930, when she graduated from Walnut Hill School, Bishop was based with her Aunt Maude and Uncle George Shepherdson. There were some dark and difficult issues in their guardianship, including abuse at the hands of George. But there were also vivid and vital memories that made their way into her poems, such as the unfinished “Salem Willows,” which is about an encounter with a colourful carousel, while Maude sat nearby waiting and knitting.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Two Arts – EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 – Part 6

Bishop’s maternal family was an essential element in her childhood, and not only the most immediate members, but also distant relatives such as her Great-Uncle George W. Hutchison, a painter and illustrator who lived in England. He was very much alive during her early years in the village. Her poem “Poem” describes a small painting he did of Great Village, one Bishop was given and kept until her death. This painting was a nexus of contemplation and an aesthetic force, for Bishop. And in the poem it generated she asks one of her most penetrating and mysterious questions, as Natallia shows in this image of echoes.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Two Arts – EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 – Part 5


If her grandparents’ home was the heart of Bishop’s childhood, Great Village was the body of her experience – the heart and body helping to create her vivid and precocious mind and imagination. If the house was associated with her grandmother, the village was her grandfather’s preserve. Bishop loved driving around the village on the horse and wagon with her “Pa,” who taught her about courtesy, consideration, common sense and caring. She learned “Manners” from him. I've lost count of the number of walking tours of the village I gave to Bishop fans from all over the world.


Friday, May 8, 2020

Two Arts – EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 – Part 4

Curator’s Note: With each of Natallia’s wonderful images, brief contexts for the poems that inspired her drawings will follow, and links to the poems will be embedded in the posts.


We begin the virtual exhibit in the heart of Elizabeth Bishop’s childhood world, her grandparents’ home in Great Village, Nova Scotia; at the centre of this heart: her grandmother’s kitchen. When I was steward of this storied house, I lost track of the number of visitors and artists in residence who stopped at the door to this room, paused and entered with delight that they were indeed walking right into the poem itself. Many read “Sestina” while standing or sitting in this room.


Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Two Arts -- EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 -- Part 3


EBSNS:  In your Artist Statement you mention how you encountered Bishop’s work and felt compelled to respond to “One Art” when you read it. After reading and responding to more Bishop poems, do you have a favourite poem? A favourite line?

NP: Yes, my absolute favourite is “Song for The Rainy Season” and its first lines: “Hidden, oh hidden in the high fog/ the house we live in,/ beneath the magnetic rock.” I love the rhythm of the poem which creates the mixture of statics and movement; all the alliterations, wonderful descriptions, and (in my opinion) rather rare (for Bishop) intensiveness of straight expression of strong feeling (in the very first line – in repetition, and in this “oh”).And my second favourite is her unpublished poem “I believe” – because it is a prayer in a form of a “wish list”; it is serious but at the same time it has famous Bishop’s irony in concentrated form, so to speak.

EBSNS: You have an “Elizabeth Bishop” in your drawings – what made you create this charming, cheerful character? Also, in some of your drawings there is an angel figure, why?

NP: I don’t remember how exactly the Bishop character was born, but I think that most important things in it are three: the hair (“unruly”), the dress (“polka-dot”) and the fact that the entire figure is definitely smaller than the real-life adult person. This, I think, expresses Elizabeth Bishop’s essence. But it’s really difficult to analyze – because I’m looking now at the result (the character) which lives its own life, but I can’t grip the process of its creation. 
I also can’t say why exactly I use a figure of an angel (not only in Bishop-related pictures, but in my drawing in general). I even don’t sure that it is really an angel. It is more like a representative of one of those many “other worlds” that overlap with our visible world. And I think that Elizabeth Bishop had this ability to reveal the presence of these “other worlds” in her poetry.

EBSNS: You clearly have a keen sense of humour. This quality is often overlooked in Bishop’s work. What is it about Bishop’s humour that resonates with you?

NP: Oh, that’s the subject for a good voluminous PhD thesis, I think! First of all, I’d say that Bishop’s humour is a rather rare type of intellectual humour (may be this is the reason – why it is often overlooked in her work). Her humour based on the constant observation, comparison, changing point of view. Even if she tells what one may call “an anecdote” (like the episode with photo session in Samambaia when Bishop got Pulitzer Prize and the only person who enjoyed the process was probably the cat), she made it not only “funny” but also a parable of something important – something essential to life. I also think that her humour is so powerful because it is based on a deep trauma. I think that for Bishop sense of humour was the only available weapon – to survive, to confront the life. The other weapon was, as we know, alcohol – but this weapon often betrays. 

EBSNS: What other poets have spoken to you? I think, for example, of Emily Dickinson.

NP: Yes, Emily Dickinson is my favourite number two after Elizabeth Bishop – but she’s the poet of absolutely different type; for instance, I can’t imagine myself creating a character of Emily Dickinson. She’s sort of “closed”, “sealed” person for me. Although, of course, I know her biography, etc. But I can’t say that I feel “like Emily Dickinson” – which is usual feeling about Elizabeth Bishop. What is great about Dickinson’s poems is absolutely incredible unity of surreal and exact, and – for me – every line of Dickinson’s poems is a motivation for drawing. I also love poetry of Ann Carson, her mixture of lyrical “feeling” and scientific analysis. And maybe I should name here British author Carol Ann Duffy, especially her postmodern sense of humour and intellectual deepness.

EBSNS: You are a translator. Have you translated any of Bishop’s poem (other than, of course, in your drawings)? If so, which ones? If not, why not? What are you translating these days?

NP: I made only one attempt to translate Bishop -- it was this poem about the hen, "Trouvee," but found it impossible to complete. Bishop's poetry seems to me untranslatable. It works only in English. You maybe know that there are very few professional tranlations of Bishop poetry into Russian -- and those are (in my opinion) not good. Maybe it's because the essence of her poetry lives not in the rhyme or rhythm, the sense of the words, the composition, the alliterations and rhetorical devices -- all these things could be translated, even if it is also difficult. But the essence of her poetry is in the unity of all that stuff, in the immediacy of the effect -- and this is exactly what I found impossible to translate.

Recently I am translating a lot from Swedish (poetry, prose, children’s books). Right now I’m translating a collection of essays by Sara Danius, who was the first woman to get the post of Permanent secretary of Swedish Academy. The collection called “The death of housewife and other texts” and is a very deep and at the same time funny, playful reflections about the classic and contemporary culture (literature, fashion, photography, etc.) I think that Elizabeth Bishop and Sara Danius would like each other.

EBSNS: How did you come across the EBSNS?

NP: When I started reading Elizabeth Bishop I searched all I can find on the Net about her – and this is how I came across the EBSNS.  

EBSNS: Elizabeth Bishop is known as a poet of geography and place. How does your own sense of place influence your response to Bishop’s work?

NP: This is one of the many aspects in Bishop’s poetry that resonate powerfully with me. I love travelling very much – and I fully understand Bishop’s keenness for changing places, along with the opposite keenness to have “a home”, a place where one belongs to. Travelling is a kind of treatment, a medicine, a way to become somebody else, to investigate, to observe, to find new motivations – but it’s always great to come home. So I see the point.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Two Arts -- EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 -- Part 2



Natallia Pavaliayeva (b. 1971, Minsk, Belarus) is a writer, graphic artist/book illustrator, and a professor of English Literature in BSU (Belarusian State University, Minsk, Belarus). She teaches modern and contemporary English Literature. She is also a translator from English and Swedish.

Natallia has been drawing since the age of two. She studied at an art studio under the Belarusian artist Vasily Sumarev and has taken courses in sculpture and art history. Her pictures have been sold in many countries around the world, including the USA, France, Germany, Norway, Finland, and Italy. She is doing a lot of book illustrations and book cover designs and graphic art in mixed media. 

(Natallia Pavaliayeva)

I had never heard about Elizabeth Bishop before I watched the movie “Reaching for the Moon”. This happened in 2015. And the poems from the movie struck me at once. So I started – quite predictably – with “One Art.” And I knew at once that that was “my” type of poetry. I liked the poem’s deceptive simplicity which covered deep reflection on love and loss and all those things. I liked this “ordinary” tone of speaking, definitely ironical, mixed with true tension. I liked the precise use of every word. And – most important of all, since this is my almost instinctive reaction to any text I like – I felt the desire to draw an illustration to this poem, which I did the next day – that was the first attempt (later I made another version, which has been represented here). But the character of Elizabeth Bishop that inhabits all the illustrations came a bit later – in the illustration to the poem “Dear Dr. Foster.”

Since that time, I have started reading Elizabeth Bishop’s poems almost every day. I liked her permanent interest in ordinary things, her ability to say a lot using only a few small details; I liked the “prosy,” narrative structure and tone of her poems. And of course I liked visual imagery of her poems. I think that Elizabeth Bishop is a poet whose texts address first of all to eyes, not to ears (and let’s not forget that she herself was a visual artist too). That’s why her poems are a real treasure for an artist, for an illustrator.

Soon just reading Elizabeth Bishop’s poems wasn’t enough for me, and I started reading Elizabeth Bishop’s biographies, her letters, and some academic materials about her. Somehow, very fast and in very natural way, Elizabeth Bishop became an important part of my life. And what was very motivating for me is that I’ve had encouragement and support from some people in Elizabeth Bishop’s world: Jonathan Ellis, Sandra Barry, and John Barnstead.

Recently I’ve read an essay about Swedish poet, Nobel Prize laureate Tomas Tranströmer. The author of the essay, Sara Danius, stresses the importance of “first places” – first room, first house or apartment, first street, first town, etc. – for a poet. These “first places” are the vessels for memory, and by this they are the forming power for poetry. And of course all this is very true when we speak about Elizabeth Bishop. And I am really happy that my illustrations are exposed in Elizabeth Bishop’s most important “first place,” Great Village.

My deep gratitude to everyone who made this exhibition possible!

Friday, May 1, 2020

Two Arts -- EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 -- Part 1



From the time Natallia Pavaliayeva, from Minsk, Belarus, connected with the Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia in 2015, sending the first of her many charming, whimsical and expressive drawings, she generously offered them to the society to use in any way it desired, to help raise funds. The EBSNS created a fridge magnet that became highly popular and sent them all over the world (we sold out of them a few years ago).

(the magnet image)

From the beginning, the EBSNS wanted to mount an exhibit of some of Natallia’s images and finally, in late 2019, decided it was possible and began to organize the exhibit to coincide with the 2020 Annual General Meeting. Then covid-19 hit the world in mid-March and brought in strict public health measures, which forced the EBSNs to cancel the AGM. Still, the society wanted to present Natallia’s images and decided on a virtual exhibit through this blog and its Facebook page. Over the course of the next several weeks, background to the exhibit and the images themselves will be posted on both sites. The society hopes its members and the wider audience will take time to look at these posts as they proceed.

It was a difficult task to select only twelve images, but the ideas of “home” and “journey” anchored the selection. Bishop once said that the poet carries home inside, and her sense of home was comprised in large part of elements and memories of Great Village and her childhood. She also began her life-long journey, which took her to many places in Europe and South America, from her homes in Nova Scotia and New England. Most of the drawings chosen connect to her Nova Scotia poems, with a couple of Brazil images to add a southern perspective.

With these two ideas and the dialectic between image and word, Natallia has given this exhibit the title: “Two Arts,” with a nod to Bishop’s most famous poem, “One Art.”

The next post will be Natallia’s Artist’s Statement. Then an interview will follow. After this background we will present her images in the format as we would have hung them in the real world, if that had been possible, that is, photographs of the framed prints. Natallia is generously allowing the EBSNS to sell prints of these images and full information about this fund-raiser will also be forthcoming, once all the images have been presented. Keep checking in!

P.S. We have tweaked the look of the main page of the blog, putting the separate pages in a list on the right-hand side of the page, rather than in a banner on the top. We've added a "Two Arts" page where all the posts related to the exhibit will be collected, so you can check there as well, to see all the posts that will be coming in the next several weeks.