"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop
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Monday, March 30, 2020

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 142: A leaving and a returning

Bishop’s next 1963 letter to her aunt is dated 16 May. By this time, Joanne Ross Eartly’s wedding had happened and Bishop began with the hope that Grace “had a gay time” and “that you’ll write me all about it.” It appears that Elizabeth Ross Naudin and her family did not actually make it back in time for the ceremony, which led Bishop to wonder if Grace would “still be there” when her niece arrived. Bishop was still not sure how Grace got to Montreal from Florida: “Fly? Not more bus trips?” Grace’s toing and froing was so regular it caused Bishop to ask: “How are you? Where are you –and are you going to stay put for a while now, I wonder?” Her title for Grace: “The Flying Grandma.”

Bishop reported that “E sailed on the 11th.” She had seen her cousin “about a week before they left but not again because I had that horrid ‘flu’ or whatever it is that everyone has here.” Whatever it was, “a bad cold – I’m not sure” (not covid-19!!), she stayed away, of course, so as not “to give it to the babies.” After weeks, if not months, of agonizing over a wedding present, Bishop finally settled on “a luncheon set … mats & napkins,” which would have been light and easy to pack. As promised, too, she also sent small gifts for Grace and Mary, “two boxes of soap,” which she left “at the hotel” before the Naudins departed. She admitted that they were “not a very thrilling present,” and moaned once again that it was “so hard to find things here.” For Bishop, the best part of the gift was not the “nice soap,” a kind “I like myself”; but rather the “wooden box, old-fashioned, with hinges,” in which she place the “three cakes each.” Bishop loved these little boxes, useful “for odds & ends, sewing things etc.”

Then Bishop reported that she had spoken “to E on the telephone to day goodbye” and was told by her cousin that “she’d unwrapped everything and mixed them up with her clothes, because of customs.” Bishop was flabbergasted, concluding “the poor girl is absolutely nuts.” She explained to Grace that one was “allowed to bring in $100 worth of shopping, each, to begin with.” She noted she had “never had a bit of trouble with customs coming from here – taken all kinds of groceries, antiques, jewelry.” I was puzzled by these observations, and perhaps Grace was, too, because one of Bishop’s complaints about Brazil was its slow customs process. In any case, she averred, “Lota even took all her own flatware – silver – once!” To where, she does not say. Bishop wondered if “E thinks Canadian customs are tougher, I don’t know.”

The end result of this dismantling was, Bishop assumed, that Grace and Mary “won’t get the little boxes … the only nice thing about my gift,” a feature for which she “even paid extra.” Bishop was exasperated, declaring to Grace that she was “somewhat fed up with my cousin, as you can see,” a feeling she quickly added was “no doubt mutual.” Bishop felt that Elizabeth Naudin “is just too aggressive, really.” One can hear the sigh as Bishop typed: “Well – I certainly tried – all along, I mean since she came to Brazil.” These last few words were scribbled in the right-hand margin in her tight, indecipherable scrawl.

She was not entirely without sympathy and compassion, though. She reported to Grace that “they had had a bad night before they left because Patricia had another attack of asthma.” Bishop understood al about this condition and one can hear the empathy in her “poor baby,” who she described, curiously, as “like a little mountain.” Bishop hoped that once they got back to Montreal that “maybe Mary will be able to do something about her [Patricia],” and if nurse Grace was still there, she would undoubtedly be a help, too.

As if to shake off this generally frustrating, unsatisfying family subject and experience, Bishop suddenly declared: “Well – Cooper made it – I just heard on the radio – hurray.” Bishop was talking about Gordon Cooper. As Wikipedia reports: “In 1963 Cooper piloted the longest and last Mercury spaceflight, Mercury-Atlas 9. During that 34-hour mission he became the first American to spend an entire day in space, the first to sleep in space, and the last American launched on an entirely solo orbital mission. Despite a series of severe equipment failures, he managed to successfully complete the mission under manual control, guiding his spacecraft, which he named Faith 7, to a splashdown just 4 miles (6.4 km) ahead of the recovery ship.”
The rest of this rather short letter, which will comprise the next post, addresses a number of family matters and a couple more news-worthy subjects.

Click here to see Post 141.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Pandemics: 1918-1919 / 2019-2020

With the coronavirus in just about every country in the world and covid-19 infecting tens of thousands and killing thousands of people so far, governments and medical authorities across the globe have been using words like “unprecedented” and “uncharted” to describe this pandemic. But this assessment is not true. Some historians and scientists are regarding this crisis in the context of the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic, a crisis that had immense impact just a century ago. In the Maritimes there is a small but still significant number of centenarians who might have some recollection of this crisis. Certainly, they lived through its aftermath, the major affects it wrought and the changes it triggered;* but for the most part this pandemic has been completely forgotten, except by a few specialists in the humanities and sciences.

As a student of Canadian history, I remember studying this event in undergrad and graduate courses, but the particular work that brought it more fully to my attention was my research and writing on Elizabeth Bishop, who was 7-8 years old when the pandemic raged. She and all her immediate family survived the sickness – no small feat since around 500,000 Canadians and over 679,000 Americans succumbed.** When I looked back to my accounting of this event in Bishop’s life in Lifting Yesterday: Elizabeth Bishop and Nova Scotia, I discovered that I gave it only a passing reference. Here are the few sentences I thought it warranted:

Bishop spent most of 1918 recovering from the serious illnesses of the past winter. In the later part of that year the world, and of course Massachusetts, was hit with a “terrible epidemic of Influenza.” Grace Bulmer, who had been living in New York, working for the Red Cross, returned to Boston at this time to work at the Massachusetts General Hospital and helped nurse Bishop back to health (the Shepherdsons’ apartment had three bedrooms and they often accommodated family and friends from Nova Scotia). It appears that Bishop did not contract the Influenza. Ironically, her illness probably protected her, isolating her from the outside world.***

When the current pandemic really began to register with me, I immediately thought about the 1918-1919 event and started reading a few things online about it. I quickly realized that Bishop’s survival might be seen as miraculous. Bishop had been removed from Nova Scotia in October 1917 by her paternal grandparents and taken to live with them in Worcester. By the winter of 1918 (the winter of her famous poem “In the Waiting Room”), she was seriously ill with what she described in “The Country Mouse” as “eczema, and then asthma,” as well as a host of allergies. By May, the Bishops realized they were not the people to care for her, so she was taken to Revere, MA, to live with her Aunt Maude and Uncle George Shepherdson.

The first wave of the influenza, a relatively mild strain, washed over the US in the summer of 1918 (some historians, such as John Barry, trace its origins to Kansas). The second wave, more like a tsunami, hit in October-November. By this time the virus was spread across the globe and was killing millions. There was a third, less lethal (though still severe) wave in January 1919, after which the virus, having used up so much human fuel, petered out.


(Bishop in 1916, a year before her removal
from Nova Scotia. Photo by J.E. Sponagle.)
Bishop slowly recovered during this same stretch (she was taken back to Nova Scotia in August 1919), but Massachusetts, and Boston especially, were hot spots for the virus. Because World War I was still underway for a good part of the pandemic (ending only on 11 November 1918), government censoring meant the truth about what was happening was suppressed. Indeed, newspapers everywhere except in neutral Spain reported that things were fine and under control, only adding to confusion and distrust as the evidence in front of people was the opposite.

Bishop was cared for by the adults in her family, particularly Maude, but also by Grace. As I mentioned in passing in Lifting Yesterday, Grace was nursing with the Red Cross in New York City. (I remember Phyllis Sutherland telling me that her mother had wanted to go overseas immediately after graduating as a nurse in 1914, but her parents objected, so she and her Great Village friend Una Layton, settled for service with the Red Cross as their war effort.) When Bishop was taken to Maude’s, Grace left New York City and returned to Boston to work at the Massachusetts General Hospital (from where she graduated in 1914), to be nearer Bishop and help with her care. Well, Maude, George and especially Grace would have been exposed to influenza. Yet, they survived and brought Bishop through this terrible pandemic, too.

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*Note: Writer Gerry McAlister published a short piece about the pandemic in New Brunswick in NB Media Co-op on 21 March 2020.

**Note: The estimates of how many died as a result of the influenza – and H1N1 virus -- and corollary diseases range anywhere from 20 to 100 million. It will never be known exactly how many died because of poor recordkeeping in that era. Even so, at the lowest end of the range the death toll was profound and one of the worst, if not the worst, pandemic in human history, rivalling or surpassing the Black Death in Europe in the Middle Ages.

***Note: One of my objections to Thomas Travisano’s characterizations of Bishop’s early childhood in Love Unknown: The Worlds and Life of Elizabeth Bishop (2019) is his repeated assertion that it was isolated – the word he uses most often to describe it in general. His implication is that she was essentially alone, bereft and confined until the age of 13 or 14. Bishop’s childhood was highly complex, not only one unrelenting state. However, during her illness in 1918-1919, she was probably more or less confined in her aunt’s home. And thank goodness for that because, in all likelihood, it helped to save her life.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 141: Doughnuts and Roosters

Bishop’s letter of 19/21 April 1963 finally wound down with two long paragraphs containing miscellaneous chat. Her first point was to report that on a “cold & foggy” Saturday “in the country” (that is, at Samambaia), she “made doughnuts.”  She told Grace that she had “never made them before coming to Brazil.” But now, “about once a year,” she got “the urge to.” She “gave Monica one of the holes – not very good for babies, but of course she adored it.” The clever toddler “kept coming back and saying – ‘Nina wants more’.” Nina, if you remember, was “the 12-yr old who takes care of her.” It was Nina “or ‘Grandma (Lota!)’,” who wanted “more.” You can see the smile on Bishop’s face when she observed, “lying like a trooper!”
This precocious child also had “a sense of humor,” according to Bishop: “when we arrived she looked at Lota very mischievously and said ‘You aren’t grandma! No!’ – a joke she’d thought up all by herself.” Bishop thought such funny stories were “promising” for a child of “2 yrs.” Monica was “so tiny – about as big as Patricia [Elizabeth Ross Naudin’s youngest child] at 11 months!” Monica’s mother, Mary Morse, was “a tall, rangy American,” so the pair looked “funny together,” in Bishop’s view. And now there was another baby due to arrive – Martha. Bishop wondered what she “will be like – maybe I’ll go look her over today.”

This domestic paragraph shifted to another about more social subjects, though still in the family. Bishop expressed her admiration for Grace’s bravery in taking “all your bus trips,” and quickly added that she was “glad you had such a nice time in Alabama,” a place she reiterated she had “never been.”

Grace’s peregrinations brought up the wedding of her young cousin Joanne Ross: “I must find a present,” a task she had been pondering for a while. She had just received “the invitation – very classy.” Frustratingly, Bishop couldn’t “think of a thing” to get the couple. She also wanted “to send you something, too.” Once again she moaned, “It is so hard here.” She did note that “E[lizabeth Naudin] is going by boat,” so that made it easier as “a plane is harder.” Apropos of this kind of search, she then reported that “an American I know just took me out to see an old Brazilian couple she’s discovered.” These elders made “their living, apparently, by making hensand roosters, rabbits, chickens, guinea hens, out of paper,” meticulously it seems, “each feather separate – and exactly like life.” Bishop’s assessment that it was “Not ART,” seems a slight, but she quickly added, “but amazing.” This couple, “aged 81 and 82” were, in Bishop’s view, “cunning.” They lived in “a little house neat as a pin, with huge holy pictures and statues (one Christ is as big as the old lady, I swear).” Besides the creatures, there were “artificial flowers all over the place.”
Bishop told her aunt that she “bought a rooster for Monica – for 50₡.” She told the old woman that she “liked the ‘animals’ better than the flowers.” To which the elder said, “I agree with you – they are more interesting.” The lady continued, clearly buttering up Bishop, “All Americans are intelligent.” Bishop supposed this woman “meant because we come & buy her roosters!”

The final few sentences of this letter were typed vertically in the left margin and across the top of the page. She reported “a big storm at sea a few days ago,” which had caused waves to come “right up around our [apartment] building” in Rio. So powerful was this water that workmen were “still steam-shovelling away the sand, just like snow in N.Y.”

This long, discursive letter ended with a couple quick addenda: “Love to one & all – I am sending [Aunt] Mary a note too. Don’t get too tiddly at the wedding!”

Bishop’s next letter was written about a month later. The next post will pick up at 16 May 1963.

Click here to see Post 140.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 140: Stoneware

The next subject in Bishop’s 19/21 April 1963 letter connected her to the past, to her childhood. She enclosed “this card” (now missing), sent from “a friend.” Perhaps it was a postcard because it contained a picture of “salt-glazed stoneware (as it’s called),” which Bishop was sure they “used to have a lot of … around at Gammie’s” – not only dishes, but “even a churn of it?” The Great Village stoneware was “perhaps not this beautiful, but the same sort of thing.” She sent the picture because she wanted to know if Grace had any: “whatever you’ve got – please hold onto it for me!” Bishop then declared, “I love it.” She observed that if she was able to “get back to N S and can come back here by boat I’d like to pick up some things to remind me of my northern origins.” She informed Grace that “they’ve even started making it again in a place near Boston.” Bishop knew this to be so because their friend Mary Morse, who had visited the U.S. recently, “went there … and bought back a pot for herself with a spray of blueberries on it.” But, for Bishop, “the old is still better.”** 
(Vintage American Stoneware butter churn.)
A new paragraph was begun at this point because, as Bishop reported, “We have just this minute heard that the little illegitimate baby has at last been born, and it’s a girl.” That is, the second child that Mary Morse was going to adopt. Bishop noted that they had “Mary’s travelling basket for the baby here [in Rio] all ready & waiting.” Bishop continued that this infant would first be examined by their “own doctor … of course.” She observed that “if all is OK,” then she and Lota “will be taking a four-day old baby up to Petropolis next week-end.”

Bishop suspected that “little Monica is going to be awfully jealous, I’m afraid.” Monica knew about the addition because, as Bishop noted, the child “shows you the baby’s room and bed, etc.” And every time Bishop and Lota arrived, Monica “says ‘Did you bring the baby?’” The child’s name was Martha because “Mary wanted names that sound well with Morse, and also are more or less alike in Portuguese & in English.” She wrote that “Monica is exactly the same,” but Martha was pronounced “Marja, since they have no t-h sound – but it’s close enough.”

Bishop wondered “HOW Mary is going to manage with no help.” But Morse insisted she could, even as she was “looking for a good maid, but they’re hard to find, off in the country.” Scribbled in Bishop’s nearly indecipherable scrawl: “(No washing-machines, etc. – no stores near – well – you managed!).”

Another gap and a quick return to the stoneware, with Bishop just having “noticed – it says this picture – the jug – is a ‘Water-color rendering’.” So real was the effect that Bishop thought it was “a color photograph, didn’t you?”

Yet another gap and a quick update about a family matter – Bishop had “heard from Aunt F[lorence]’s lawyer,” who told her Florence “left whatever she had to the 4 nieces,” of whom Bishop was one. The thing was, Bishop still didn’t “know if she left anything yet.” Bishop suspected that there couldn’t “have been much, certainly.”  She assumed Florence “was just struggling along on that annuity that reverts to Aunt Ruby.”

This long letter was slowly coming to a close, but still two hefty paragraphs covering a range of things remained. The next post will offer the conclusion.


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**Note: The only stoneware item that is part of the Bulmer family collection at Acadia University is this soup bowl, part of a set, which is marked on the bottom, “Stoneware J[ohn] T[ams],” which was most likely British in manufacture and of a finer type than the more primitive version Bishop was likely remembering – not that Gammie didn’t have the more primitive type, which was entirely possible, too. 

(Bulmer family stoneware. AUA.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Permit me a slight indulgence: An Elizabeth Bishop precedent

I have just finished reading The Dolphin Letters, 1970—1979: Elizabeth Hardwick, Robert Lowell, and Their Circle (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2019), edited by Saskia Hamilton. The correspondence presents the story of the breakdown of Hardwick and Lowell’s marriage and Lowell’s use of some of Hardwick’s letters to him in his collection The Dolphin, a still controversial book. The crux of the issue, as I read it, was, in part, that Lowell used passages from Hardwick’s letters without her knowledge (initially) and permission. As Lowell was writing The Dolphin poems, he was living with Caroline Blackwood in England. They had a son together and eventually married, after Lowell and Hardwick, who had a daughter, divorced.

This story is complex and riveting as it unfolds in these letters, not only between Hardwick and Lowell, but also among various friends (e.g., Mary McCarthy, Stanley Kunitz, Blair Clark, Frank Bidart and Elizabeth Bishop). One of the most famous letters in this saga was written by Bishop to Lowell on 21 March 1972, after she read the manuscript of The Dolphin and discussed it with Bidart. Bishop was deeply troubled and upset by what Lowell had done and her admonition to him has become almost legendary. It has been quoted in a number of scholarly books and essays. The kernel that usually appears is thus: “One can use one’s life as material – one does anyway – but these letters – aren’t you violating a trust? IF you were given permission – IF you hadn’t changed them … etc. But art just isn’t worth that much.” (252) She then paraphrased a passage from a Hopkins’s letter “about the idea of a ‘gentleman’ being the highest thing ever conceived – higher than a ‘Christian’ even.” (252) Bishop thought that what Lowell had done was “cruel.” Lowell was unsettled by Bishop’s sharp critique, but he declared to Bidart, in a letter of 10 April 1972, that “her extreme paranoia (For God’s sake don’t repeat this)” was “a wildness.” (272) For a long time, Lowell remained, more or less, unrepentant.

I was mesmerized by this trans-Atlantic back and forth between Hardwick and Lowell, and among “their circle,” in this well edited book. A fascinating story made all the more riveting because we the readers know what happened, while they, living in their moment in time, did not. They can’t fully see the ironies, the surprises, the consequences of their actions and words. The “untidy activity” of life, as Bishop concluded in “The Bight,” was “awful but cheerful,” and sometimes not so cheerful.

I have my own views about Lowell’s actions, which closely mirror Bishop’s and probably I would go even further because I do not have the decades-long friendship with Lowell that tempered Bishop’s objections, at least somewhat. In my opinion, Lowell betrayed Hardwick because, as Bishop pointedly and emphatically observed, “Lizzie is not dead, etc.” and “there is a ‘mixture of fact & fiction’, and you have changed her letters.” (252) Lowell’s actions seem irrefutable and inexcusable.


What struck me most, however, about Bishop’s letter is what this post is really about. As I mentioned, only specific, short passages from this letter, which is actually quite long (running from page 251 to 259 in the book), are quoted, which means they are out of context, considerably. Bishop clearly thought about her response for some time and felt strongly enough to write at length and in detail. What delighted me most about this detail was not the larger “moral” objections (as well-presented and important as they are); but after going through these serious concerns (which Lowell by and large dismissed and ignored), Bishop offered Lowell a list of what she called “very petty comments” about “small mistakes” (255), or “trivialities.” (258) What followed was a dozen or so issues that go on for well over a page, some complex enough to warrant a paragraph of explanation. I won’t repeat all of these issues, but will offer one example, my favourite:

“31. I am pretty sure it’s Ernest Thompson Seton – he used to be my favorite author. (I saw ‘Rolf in the Woods’ at the Coop – so I’ll check on it.)” (257)
Hamilton’s footnote for this item reads, in part: “2. Lowell: ‘What were was the lessons of the wolverine, / the Canada of Earnest [sic] Seton Thompson’ …. The poem was removed The Dolphin and added to History as ‘Wolverine, 1927’.” (257)


I do not recall ever seeing this list of issues mentioned in any reference to or discussion of Bishop’s letter/response to Lowell’s poetic actions. Lowell received her list much more positively than her moral objections (he acted on them), which reinforced, it seems, the certainty of his prerogative, about which he wouldn’t budge, much: Hardwick’s letters to him were for him to use.

On a number of occasions on this blog, I have offered my own lists of “comments,” “mistakes,” “trivialities” for various books about Bishop (by Alice Quinn, Megan Marshall and Thomas Travisano, etc.). When I read Bishop’s list about nothing less than Robert Lowell’s poems, I felt reassured by my own practice. Here was my precedent from no less than Bishop herself. Somehow, I didn’t register the significance of this letter when I first read it in Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell (NY: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2008). But that book presented a very different context for it and in 2008 there was no blog and I had not written much by way of reviews of the voluminous literary criticism and biography about Bishop being churned out in the first decade of the new millennium. Since that time, I have written more critique, mostly located on this blog. Perhaps somewhere at the back of my mind, I remembered the letter and felt my own modus operandi justified, though occasionally I felt petty, pointing out things like Bishop’s “Ernest Thompson Seton.” Reading the letter again, over a decade later, in an entirely different context, was a reassuring surprise.

As for Hardwick and Lowell: The passage of time blunted the sharpest edges of the hurt for Hardwick. One can’t tell from the letters if she actually forgave him, but with the immediate bond of their daughter, Hardwick’s determination to move on with her life, and Lowell’s increasingly poor health, Hardwick seemed to let bygones be bygones, and Lowell himself eventually managed a qualm. In a letter of 2 July 1976, he wrote to Hardwick, “I regret the Letters in Dolphin.” (435) Hardwick had the last word though, in her autobiographical novel Sleepless Nights, begun while Lowell was still living but published in 1979, two years after his death. Her achievement is best described by Mary McCarthy in a letter to Hardwick on 4 June 1979:

“When I read the first bits in the New York Review, I couldn’t see how you were going to cope with the huge fact of Cal [Lowell]; it didn’t occur to me that you could do it by simply leaving him out. That’s a brilliant technical stroke but proves to be much more than that. He becomes a sort of black hole in outer space, to be filled in ad lib, which is poetic justice: he’s condemned by the form to non-existence – you couldn’t do that in a conventional autobiography. In any case, he couldn’t patronize your book by appearing to be generous about it, though I suppose he might try.” (456-7)

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

A Conversation about Elizabeth Bishop

On 2 March 2020, I had the honour and privilege to participate in a public conversation about Elizabeth Bishop, held at the marvelous Central Library in Halifax, N.S. I joined Rita Wilson, author of A Pocket of Time: The Poetic Childhood of Elizabeth Bishop, Emma FitzGerald, illustrator of this book, Nova Scotia poet Alison Smith, and Nova Scotia writer, academic and scholar Alexander MacLeod, who acted as moderator for what, from my perspective, felt like a lively chat. I hope that the over 100 people who turned out to listen found the same to be true. I was delighted and a bit surprised that so many folks gathered for a poetry chat on a damp Monday evening.


I want to thank Rita and Emma for having this idea and for their effort to organize it, along with the folks at the library, Nimbus Publishing (who published A Pocket of Time – in particular Whitney Moran), Dalhousie University for providing much practical support, and Mike Hamm from Bookmark and Lisa Doucet from Woozles, who are two of the greatest supporters of writers in Halifax. Here is a photograph of the panel “in action” taken by Marlo MacKay from Dalhousie. The image projected behind us is one of EB’s own paintings, a Nova Scotia scene.
(Left to Right: Rita Wilson, Sandra Barry, Alison Smith,
Alexander MacLeod, Emma FitzGerald.)
The conversation continued afterwards at Field Guide, a wonderful restaurant and cocktail bar in the north end of Halifax. Field Guide co-owner Ceilidh Sutherland is the granddaughter of Phyllis Sutherland, first cousin of Elizabeth Bishop. Ceilidh, her head bartender and Emma FitzGerald conspired to create three cocktails in honour of EB. Alas, I was not able to attend this more informal element of the evening, but Emma has sent me several photos, which I share below. How I wish I could have tried all three!! EB would have been intrigued by these poetic, liquid creations.
With deepest gratitude for all those who made this event possible.
(Lovely atmosphere)
(The second gathering)
(Rita and Emma, the instigators!)
(Making those cocktails!)
(Click to enlarge to see the titles and recipes!)

(This photo just in from Alexander MacLeod --
The cocktails in question!! They look so elegant. thanks Alexander)



Saturday, February 29, 2020

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 139: More Miriam

The next subject of Bishop’s 19/21 April 1963 letter shifted back to the family; a subject Bishop still felt was sensitive. She knew Grace would receive her epistle “away from N.S.,” so her aunt could “destroy it,” as she didn’t want her to “have to say anything to Phyllis.” Fortunately, Grace did not comply with Bishop’s suggestion, perhaps because she knew Phyllis didn’t mind Bishop’s concerns over Miriam, who was not almost a year old, who had Down Syndrome.

Bishop broached this subject with a question she had “been meaning to ask you for some time,” which was if Grace had “ever read Pearl Buck’s book about her little girl who was like Miriam? (only worse, I think).” Bishop was recalling the title from memory: “‘THE CHILD that Didn’t Grow Up’ [sic] – something like that.” Bishop declared rather categorically, “I don’t like Pearl Buck, but this is a very moving book.” She felt Grace “might like to read it – although you’ll cry your eyes out.” Bishop was close with her title, the actual one being The Child Who Never Grew.
(Pearl S. Buck. Wikipedia)
Bishop had heard from her cousin at Christmas, and Phyllis had sent her “a snapshot of all three children,” that is, Miriam with her older brothers, Wallace and David. Bishop thought the boys were “nice looking … aren’t they,” and with perhaps a tone of slight surprise, observe that Miriam looked “pretty alert and normal.” Phyllis  must have told Bishop that Miriam was “very slow about walking … oh dear.” (Well, Miriam learned to walk just fine.) Back to the Buck book, Bishop noted Grace could get it “in paperback,” but cautioned her aunt not to “show it to Phyllis.” Why such a concern, I don’t know. Phyllis never hid Miriam, and she and Ernest Sutherland did all they could to ensure Miriam was fully part of the family, even as they recognized her issues and limitations. Finally, Bishop thought the book “might give you some ideas how to help her.”

Bishop then reported that “there is also a new Dr. Spock book I have ordered.”  She was a keen reader of this child psychologist – clearly more interested in his work than that of experts such as Melanie Klein, whom she also read, but one might argue not with the regularity of Benjamin Spock, as least if her letters to Grace indicate anything! She noted that this new book “discusses the same subject” as the Buck book. Bishop promised that “if it is as good as he usually is on everything to do with children I’ll get a copy for you, too.” I am not sure just which book she refers to, but in 1961, Dr. Spock published Dr. Spock Talks with Mothers. In 1962, he published Problems of Parents.
Reassuringly, she observed, “So much can be done to help such children even if they are slow.” She was quite sure “there’s no reason why Miriam can’t turn out healthy & happy and just about as bright as any of us!” Quickly, she added that she was also sure that Phyllis “is a good mama – lots of love and encouragement – hugs & kisses – etc.”

Not quite done with the subject of children and challenges, she recommended her aunt “go to see the movie about Helen Keller – I think it’s called ‘The Story of Anne Sullivan’ (her famous teacher).” But she warned again that Grace “will cry your eyes out! – I certainly did.” All this crying echoes something Bishop wrote to Phyllis in a letter send just after learning that Grace had died in 1977, in which she remembered she and her Aunt reading Pollyanna together and weeping. Clearly, Bishop had acquired the tender Bulmer heart. After all, Gammie laughed as quickly as she cried.

In spite of that inevitable response, Bishop declared that the film “is really awfully good, and as exciting and full of suspense as any murder-story.” The film was based on a book of the same title, which Bishop also thought was “marvelous.” She regarded Anne Sullivan as “a wonderful woman.”

I could find no film or book with the title Bishop gives. The film she must mean is “The Miracle Worker,” which was done in 1962, starring Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft. I remember watching this film on tv in the early 70s. The film was based on a play of the same name.
(Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. Wikipedia.)
This long letter was now about mid-stride. The next subject was a turn, towards an object that triggered childhood memories. The next post will pick up that object.

Click here to see Post 138.


Tuesday, February 25, 2020

EB-inspired work to be premiered

Last week I learned about a new Bishop-inspired choral work by American composer David Conte, which will be premiered in Washington DC in mid-April with the Washington Master Chorale. Wish I could attend! If anyone of our readers is able to attend, do send us your response.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 138: A Work Report

The next section of Bishop’s 19/21 April 1963 letter commenced with a slightly incredulous acknowledgement: “I am very touched to think of someone’s [sic] actually going to the library to read me!” Who that reader was is of course not known, and makes me regret yet again the loss of Grace’s letters. Bishop had sent Grace and her maternal cousins her books – in 1963 this was North & South (1946) and Poems (1955), most of them now housed at Acadia University Archives – prompting Bishop to say, “you’ve got all the poems so far.” Bishop quickly added that “another book is coming out this year, if I get busy at it.” This book was Question of Travel, which did not appear until 1965. She noted that she had “a few stories – not really enough to make a book,” Bishop never published a collection of her stories, but she had sent Grace some of the journals and magazines in which they appeared, prompting her to add, “I thought you’d seen all of them.” Bishop reported that “they want to publish a book of stories,” but she felt there were not “enough good ones.”

Apropos of nothing, Bishop shifted gears mid-paragraph to describe an enclosure: “a snapshot of me with my friend Robert Lowell.” She remined Grace, as if she needed to after Bishop’s vivid letters about his visit, that Lowell was “the poet who visited me with his wife [Elizabeth Hardwick] & daughter [Harriet] last summer.” During that visit, Bishop’s nemesis “LIFE came & took pictures of us and then never used them (as usual – after annoying us a whole afternoon).” LIFE had given Bishop “a few bad ones like this [one],” but had “kept the best ones.” The photo in question has become famous. 
(Bishop and Lowell, Rio 1962.)
She explained, “We were supposed to be giving each other the Brazilian abraço, embrace, or hug – you do it when you shake hands here.” But the two New Englanders didn’t quite get it right, Lowell being “a bit awkward!” in Bishop’s  view. Bishop then observed of herself that she looked “exactly like Margaret Chase Smith (?0 – the lady-senator from Maine!” 
Then another quick shift – as though the picture explanation was a brief distraction, mid-thought, and back to noting that she was “making an index for my publisher this week,” presumably of where all her poems were published. She promised Grace the “list, too – but you’ll get the new book of poems when it does appear, of course.”

Still with writing, she next reported that she had “been doing a few translations of Brazilian stories & poems.” She was done with this effort and observed, “but no more – it’s not worth it.” She reported that “a big rich foundation in N.Y.” was undertaking “a huge series of poetry-translation.” Bishop was hooked initially because “they pay well – so I did a batch for them – 200 lines = $300.” However, if writing her own poems was hard, translating someone else’s was “next to impossible.” To explain the issues more particularly, Bishop told Grace that “someone here has translated some of me into Portuguese.” This unnamed fellow was due to arrive “to discuss it today – and what a mess!” Bishop knew he would “insist on being poetic & putting in ‘thees’ & ‘thous’.” Further, “when I say ‘stood up’ he’ll say things like ‘arose to his feet’ etc.” Bishop wanted to “tell him ‘please don’t publish them’, but don’t want to hurt his feelings.” Scribbled in the margin, Bishop added, “he’s worked so hard.”

The work report was just about done, but she added that “a long article about me” had appeared “in a Latin-American magazine – and all-South-America one.” Bishop’s assessment of this article was “not too bad.” Sending it to Grace was rather pointless, however, because it was “all in Spanish & the photographs are terrible.”

The next paragraph of this long letter takes up family matters, particularly Bishop’s concerns about Phyllis Sutherland’s daughter Miriam. The next post will unfold Bishop’s ongoing interest in this child.

Click here to see Post 137.


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

John Demont's commentary on Bishop's "indrawn yes"

A contact in Great Village has just sent notice of Chronicle Herald reporter John Demont's commentary on Bishop's "indrawn yes." Leave it to John to go seeking the sources of our expressions. Check out his piece by clicking here.
(Apropos of nothing, here is a page of the
AMERICAN DICTIONARY that Bishop sent
to her cousin, Phyllis Sutherland, containing her signature.)

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 137: Painting

The next letter Bishop wrote Grace was done in “the installment plan,” that is, in two sittings. The first part was dated 19 April 1963; the second part 21 April, both done in Rio. This letter is long and comprised a range of subjects – some the regular topics, some new. This post will focus on the first installment, which is just one long paragraph, plus the beginning of the second part.

Bishop began with the usual account of a “batch of mail” brought “from Petropolis yesterday,” which contained a letter from Grace sent from “Birmingham, Alabama,” a location which “amazed” Bishop, it being, in her view, a “hot-bed of race-ism, industry, etc.” Why Grace was there is not apparent from Bishop’s letter, and since Grace’s letters are lost, we can’t know. No family lived there, as far as I know, so likely she was visiting an old friend. Grace had friends all over North America from her nursing days. Even so, Bishop was surprised enough by this destination that she asked, “where will you get to next?” Bishop could see that Grace was on the  move (she had recently been to Florida and was heading to Montreal), so she told her aunt that she would take her time writing the letter, which she would send to Aunt Mary’s in Montreal, “to be sure to catch you.”

Grace’s letter had informed Bishop of a new hobby: “I am glad you took up painting!” Grace’s daughter, Phyllis Sutherland, told  me that her mother took up painting in her early 80s, but clearly it was earlier. In 1963, Grace turned 74. Bishop observed that painting was “much more fun, don’t you think, than card-playing,” a common pastime for lots of Maritimers at that time.

Bishop quickly reminded Grace that “I paint, too, you know,” which she did “just for the heck of it.” Then she remembered that “you have one of my original primitives.” Whatever that painting was, I don’t know. There was no original Bishop artwork in the family archive that Grace collected and passed on to Phyllis (much of which is now at Acadia University Archives). It makes me wonder if this “primitive” got left at Elmcroft in Great Village, when Grace finally left for good.
Bishop reported that she had just done “a pastel – that’s lots of fun, too.” She enjoyed this medium because “you can put on lots of colors and then smooch them with our fingers and get wonderful effects.” She told her aunt that “a friend of mine here – (named Oscar [Simon]) –” had given her “a box of Japanese” pastels for Christmas, some of them “chalky,” some of them “greasy,” which meant that the pictures didn’t “need to be ‘fixed’ afterwards.” The brand was “SAKURA,” and Bishop recommended “them for the amateur.”  

To thank Oscar, she had done “a picture of coxcombs in a vase – lots of reds and purples – and gave it” to him “for his birthday – today.” Oscar “seemed pleased!” 
(Bishop’s “Coxcombs” for Oscar. Exchanging Hats Paintings, 73)
Then she reported that a “small art gallery” in Rio had “asked to put on a show of my paintings.” The problem was, Bishop wrote, “I do about one a year, or two.” So, she felt  it wouldn’t “be much of a show.” This rate of production was, more or less, on par with writing poetry.

To round out her advice on the pleasure of working in pastels, Bishop also made “one suggestion”: “DON’T copy pictures!” She did concede doing so was “a good way to find out how to use the paints, they say.” However, Bishop reckoned that “it’s much more fun and I like the results better if you do something from life,” which was Bishop’s routine practice. She paused then and qualified, perhaps hoping not to deter Grace with her views, “I shouldn’t say anything.” Clearly, Grace had been copying, because Bishop quickly added, “perhaps I’d like your ‘Arabs at Prayer’ best,” realizing she had not seen any of Grace’s work yet. Still, she had to add that Grandma Moses “you know, just painted what she remembered.” Then, to counter her pedagogy, she added, “It is fun, isn’t it.” For Bishop, painting was a pleasure, noting, “I’m always completely happy when I do get around to painting a small picture, whereas,” on the other hand, “writing is hell, most of the time.”

At this point, the first installment of the letter ended, to be taken up two days later, after returning from “Samambaia for the week-end.” She had two last painting observations to make. The first, “I bet you don’t need any art classes.” The second was a request, that her aunt “paint me a picture of the barn, or the pigs, or cows,” even “the family.”

Bishop knew Grace’s inclination to paint, as her own, came honestly through the family, with the precedent and ability of Great-uncle George Hutchinson and Aunt Maude. A few of Grace’s paintings are at Acadia University, but her biggest extant work, a painting of a bull moose, is still in private hands, with the Bowers family in Great Village. William Benton did a book about Bishop’s paintings, Exchanging Hats Paintings (NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996). The second edition of this book, brought out around the time of Bishop’s centenary, has her one Nova Scotia painting on the cover. 
The next post will take up the second installment of this April letter, which commenced with some poetry talk.

Click here to see Post 136.


Saturday, February 15, 2020

Elizabeth Bishop celebrations in Key West, Florida, 3-8 February 2020: A report by Kay Bierwiler

Before we get to Kay’s report, I want to thank her for sending it along with the photographs. I also want to mention that Judy Schuhlein, another correspondent, also attended some of the Key West EB events. In particular, she attended the birthday party/poetry reading, which she noted took “place in the ‘listening room’ behind the Key West theatre, a totally black room with round tables for two with black tablecloths and dim lighting.” She reports that “about 20 people read [Bishop’s] poems or poems they had written about her or inspired by her.” She notes there was “wine, and in the intermission there was a birthday cake … and we all sang happy birthday to” Bishop. Interestingly, Judy reports that she spoke “with one of the poets, who was from Halifax, Nova Scotia, but now lives in Key West. Her name is Janice Colbert, and she read her lovely poem entitled ‘Dear Elizabeth Bishop’.” Finally, Judy concludes, “It was great to hear so many local poets and to see the great enthusiasm for Elizabeth and for her poetry in Key West.”

Now to Kay’s report:

This has been a banner year for Elizabeth Bishop studies in Key West. The house Bishop purchased at 624 White Street in Key West was put up for sale and was purchased by the Key Literary Seminar in November 2019.  Arlo Haskell, the chairman of the Seminar, said the goal is to restore and maintain it as it was when Bishop lived there.

During the week of February 3-8 several events were held to honor Bishop. A talk by Arlo Haskell entitled “From the highest heron down to the weightless mangrove island: Elizabeth Bishop among the Birds and Beasts of Key West.”  Bishop was fascinated by the variety of birds and the natural surroundings of Key West. Photos of various birds were presented by Mark Hedden.

Thomas Travisano, a prominent Bishop scholar, presented a talk, “My Shelter from the Hurricane:  Elizabeth Bishop’s Search for Home.”  He discussed the various homes that Bishop lived in from Great Village, Canada, to Key West, running down the east coast of Canada and the United States and later,  Brazil. Bishop purchased her first home in Key West in 1938. Travisano spoke of the solidity of Bishop's poetry, similar to the solidity of the buildings her father's company built in Boston. He discussed how homes mattered to Bishop. He asked the audience to imagine Bishop peering into a worker's house and its sense of stability which she didn't have.

The next day, February 8, was proclaimed “Elizabeth Bishop Day” by the Mayor of Key West.

A panel discussion entitled “North and South: Key West in Elizabeth Bishop’s Life and Art,” consisted of  Bethany Hicok, Tom Travisano, Barbara Page. Emily Schulten, and David Hoak, moderated by Arlo Haskell.  It took place on 8 February in the backyard of Bishop’s house in Key West, 624 White Street. Palm branches rustled overhead, gently blowing in the breeze. Hoak discussed love and stability in Key West. When Bishop and Louise Crane bought the house at 624 White Street, it was the longest stretch living with someone yet. It was also the first of her beloved homes. Hicok spoke about Key West’s effect on Bishop’s views on race relations in the U.S. Bishop’s poem “Cootchie” discusses how a black servant, Cootchie, spent her life caring for her white employer, Miss Lula. Travisano spoke about Bishop’s poem “Seascape,” written in Key West, as central to her poetry. 
(Left to right: Emily Schulten, Tom Travisano,
Bethany Hicok, Barbara Page, David Hoak)
Later in the evening local poets gathered and read a variety of poems by Bishop, including “Filling Station,” “Florida,” “Questions of Travel” and “One Art,” as well as some of their own poems, which focused on Bishop in Key West. During the intermission all enjoyed a slice of the Elizabeth Bishop Happy Birthday cake. The Bishop birthday party was hosted by Malcom Willison. 
(Alas, I do not know any of the people in this photo)
Here are some more photos from the reading, just in from Kay. Thanks, again, Kay for sending the report and supplying the images.
(Arida Wright)
(Sheri Lori)
(Edgardo Alvarado-Vazquez)
(Arlo Haskell)
(The BIRTHDAY CAKE!)

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 136: Monica and Martha?

Bishop began the next paragraph of her 18 January 1963 letter reporting that Mary Morse’s “aunt died, too.” She was the “same age as Aunt F[lorence].” Mary had to return to the U.S. to “settle the estate,” and left “Monica with us 2 for a month,” as there was “no one else to leave her with.” Monica came with “a little nursemaid, a neighbor – aged 12.” Elizabeth and Lota took this duo “back to Rio.” The main issue this option presented came about because “Nina , the nursemaid, had never been to Rio, seen the ocean, been up in an elevator, etc.” As a result, Bishop noted, “it was almost as bad as having 2 children to take care of.” The other issue: “Nina is very pretty so we were afraid to let her out on the street alone – all the men spoke to her, etc. (Latins, you know!).” The responsibility of taking care of a toddler and an adolescent caused Bishop to observe, “Well – I was wise not to have children, I’ve decided.” Even so, Bishop declared that she “love[d] this baby and she couldn’t be better – so good.” Still, Bishop observed, “I am a NERVOUS mother, -- Great-Aunt, rather.” Tending these two charges for such a stretch meant they were “absolutely exhausted.”

Entertaining ‘dear little Monica” was, actually, easy because “she likes to go swimming more than anything in the world.” Bishop asserted, somewhat unfortunately, that this preference was because of “her Indian blood, I think (they go in many times a day).” Bishop herself loved to swim and observed later in this letter that while she was at Samambaia, “I dip in our little pool once or twice a day,” and Bishop had only white, English blood. Whatever the reason for Monica’s delight, it meant they “put the 2 out on the beach for as many hours as we could without giving them sunstrokes!”

Bishop reported that Monica was “talking a lot – Portuguese, however,” and described her as “tiny, very Brazilian – and such a wonderful disposition – gay all day long – almost never cries.” Once when she “fell and cut her chin,” badly enough that they “thought it needed a stitch,” Monica offered “just two howls, absolutely nothing more.” And, once again, Bishop invoked “an Indian stoic, I guess!” Monica was also smart and liked routine, Bishop noting that “she woke me up about 6 every day.” One morning, this effort included “poking a tiny plastic fork in my mouth.” Monica and Nina were by that time back home and Bishop lamented that “in spite of the work and worry we miss her dreadfully.” Then she reported that Morse was “adopting another – one’s being born this week.” This child, “if it’s a girl,” would be called “Martha.” Bishop reported that she would “probably have to go to Rio on the bus and bring her back in the basket Mary has already prepared.”

Bishop knew that Grace understood all about babies, toddlers and adolescents, observing, “I know full well what you mean when you say your grandchildren tire you!” After a full day of tending, Bishop declared, “I fell into bed at 9:30 many nights – and think I had ‘palpitations’.”

A month of baby sitting meant she was ‘away behind with my own work.” Alone at Samambaia was an attempt “to make up for it.” In Rio, “Lota works so hard, “ so she wouldn’t “even miss me for a week.” Bishop reported with pride that “Lota is doing wonders – and won’t take any pay.” She promised to “send you pictures of her 2-mile long PARK.” The problem with Lota’s “wonders” was that she was “getting too damned important for fun, however.” Bishop told Grace, with what was likely a weary tone, “we both need to get away from Brazilian problems and politics for a while.” The obstacle was that Lota couldn’t “leave while the present governor [Carlos Lacerda] is in office – 2 years to go.”
(The park under construction, 1960s.)
This long letter was coming to a close. Being in the house at Samambaia gave her access to their natural pool, which Bishop described to Grace as “sort of like the Old Rock Hole” on the Great Village River, not far from her grandparents’ house, “only colder.” Being able to bathe in the “just right” temperatures of Samambaia must have made Bishop think of its health benefits, which made her think of Grace: “How is your health? How’s the leg?” And since Grace was in Florida, “How are Aunt Mabel and Hazel – give them my love.” Bishop reported that she had received “a letter from [Aunt] Mary two weeks ago.” Mary’s daughter Joanna was planning to get married later in the year and Bishop wondered out loud, “What shall I send for that wedding.” She confirmed Joanna’s sister, Elizabeth Naudin, was “going back in June,” but Bishop was unclear the exact date of the wedding. Bishop had “suggested Brazilian coffee spoons” as a gift, but cousin “E said oh NO!” which somewhat offended Bishop, “since it was what I gave her.” Bishop thought this response “a bit tactless!” especially since she was “sure she’s used hers here, anyway.”
(Joanne and Frank Eartly on their wedding day. AUA.)
Bishop reported what Grace likely already knew, that Mary was “very pleased with lots of re-painting, etc. – and a possible trip to Europe!” Bishop paused here and noted parenthetically, “(I am feeling awfully bitchy today – but poor Jack [Ross, Mary’s husband] must have carried TERRIFIC insurance!).”

The letter was finally winding down for good with a statement Bishop was known to repeat at other points in her life, that Grace was her “favorite relative” and she hoped her aunt was “well and all was well.” She drifted off with a slight regret that she “never did hear about your bus trip – a letter must have got lost – oh dear.” As always, Bishop signed off  “With much love” and an added desire, “I’d love to see you –”

Only a month passed until Bishop’s next letter to her aunt, dated 19 April 1963. The next post will pick up the narrative with a short treatise on painting.

Click here to see Post 136.

Saturday, February 8, 2020




MCLIII

一藝術

One last narrative.
One final journey elsewhere.
Travel is an art.

[Today is Elizabeth Bishop's one hundred ninth birthday.]



Thursday, February 6, 2020

A Conversation about Elizabeth Bishop in Halifax

I am delighted to have been invited to participate in an EB event happening in Halifax on 2 March 2020, starting at 6:30 pm., at the Central Library. Here is the wonderful poster. Click the image to enlarge.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 135: Mail and Money

After the lengthy update about Aunt Florence’s death, Bishop shifted gears in her 18 March 1963 letter. She turned to one of her perennial subjects: the mails. She asserted, tentatively, that she didn’t think she owed Grace a letter: “unless one of yours got lost again!” An all too frequent happening and concern. She told her aunt that “shortly after Christmas” she had written Grace “almost a BOOK,” and noted of her last from her aunt, “I have it here – was just before you left for Florida.” A little pause, “ – ” and an afterthought, “or maybe you didn’t get my BOOK?” Clearly, there was some break in the exchange, which sometimes could not get “flowing,” but was rather more often “flown.” Upon reflection, that “BOOK” “may have looked temptingly fat to someone.” Evidence of pilfering had come to hand recently, in the form of “a manilla envelope that had obviously been opened.” The contents “were just three crayon drawings by the small son of a friend of mine.” Bishop was “puzzled” by this offering, “they were funny, but not that funny.” The mystery was solved when she “got a letter from him [her friend] saying he’d sent the drawings along with 3 pot holders his little girl had made me!” Bishop had received such a gift from this girl “once before & I had thanked her effusively.” This time, however, they were removed and Bishop wondered if that “someone” would even “know what they were for!” because Brazilians “usually just use towels.” This account was but one more in the long saga of how “the mails get worse and worse.” Sadly, Bishop observed, “but if only that were all that’s getting worse for poor damned Brasil.”
This set Bishop up for the next subject that often preoccupied her: inflation. Before she got to the core of that subject, she told Grace that she and Lota had come up to Samambaia “for Lota’s birthday – the 15th.” This event meant “hordes of people all day [Saturday] – and more on Sunday.” After the celebrations, Bishop “decided to stay on alone and try to get some work done.” In Rio, even when she “shut myself up in the study,” she still found it “hard to concentrate,” partly because “the phone goes all day long,” and the heat there was extreme, “over 100 a lot of the time.” She “desperately” needed to work because she “need[ed] MONEY.” Writing was her only way to “earn some.” This need was immediate and practical because “inflation here is a nightmare.” She noted that since she came to Brazil in 1951, “prices are about 2,000 % more … if you can imagine that.” Her American “$$$ keep[s] rising … but not enough.” She could “manage here while I’d have to teach or something in the US,” but even so, she had to write.

To convey more practically to Grace what she meant, Bishop offered an example: “I bought a little pair of sandals for ‘Monica’ … while her ma was away – just cheap, open sandals – for a 2 year old.” Bishop paid for them in Brazilian currency and they cost more … than I used to pay to have my own very best shoes hand-made by a Portuguese ladies’ bootmaker, about four years ago.” (An aside: it is interesting that EB had a shoemaker make shoes, just like her shoemaker Grandfather Bulmer probably did.) Bishop reported that “in [US] $$ it came to about $3.00 for the sandals.” Bishop’s own shoes had cost “about $10.” I was a bit confused by her calculations, but she doesn’t give the amount she paid in Brazilian currency, which was where the inflation was the worst. I took this to mean that Brazilians were paying equivalent to the $10, where EB paid only $3.00 in US funds. Whatever the case, inflation was high and Bishop was making the point that “poor Brazilians” were being hit hard. One of the most basic staples, milk, was for Brazilians, “equivalent … to … over $1.50 a quart” (remember, it is 1963). All Bishop could say, soberly, was, “I think of the babies here.”

Another example concerned their “part-time maid” in Rio. They paid  “for her bus fares, just what we used to pay her for a month’s wage when we hired her two years ago.” All of this meant “you have to keep raising, raising wages all the time.” Bishop knew that because she had American “$$” she was “lucky,” and the rampant inflation “doesn’t effect us too much,” but she also knew she was “a very rare exception, of course.”

Bishop’s next subject was also a perennial favourite, the sandal-wearing, two-year-old “Monica,” Mary Morse’s adopted daughter. The next post will attend to that lively update and close this gossipy epistle to Bishop’s “favorite relative.”

Click here to see Post 134.