"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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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 36: Grandchildren and Greyhounds

The 9 April 1958 letter was written shortly after Easter, which fell on 29 March that year. As always, Bishop updated Grace on “the ‘grandchildren’,” who were were “still staying down the road.” Having them nearby gave Bishop the incentive to host “their first party and the first time they’d ever hunted for anything” — that is, an Easter egg hunt. Bishop “hid a hundred little eggs around the yard and terrance” and let them go to it. Even the two-year old, “filled his little basket and shrieked with excitement.”
The youngest of this little tribe was Lotinha, who turned “four ½ months” and to Bishop was “one of the prettiest babys [sic] I’ve ever seen, without exaggeration.” So adorable was this infant (“pink … tanned with red cheeks … and dark eyes and lots of fine dark hair”) that “on Sunday everyone took turns carrying her around, even our men guests.”

Once again, Bishop tells Grace that Lota was “very proud of all her ‘offspring’,” and happy to be a “doting grandma.” Bishop wasn’t sure how well they’d do in life, but she reported as proudly as Lota might have that these little people were “good and polite and healthy.”

The other subject on Bishop’s mind was the gift of her translation, The Diary of ‘Helena Morley’. Grace had finally written to Bishop about this book, though clearly not to the extent that Bishop hoped: “I was hoping you’d go into detail.” She wanted to know if Grace thought it was “funny”: “didn’t a lot of it remind you of G V?” and she listed a few things she thought would resonate for her aunt: “the false pregnancy,” “the town’s a regular asylum,” “because her dress was with ‘they may even thinks I have two,” “and so on.”

Bishop had also heard from Aunt Mary, to whom she’d also sent a copy. “she, too, just said it was ‘interesting’.” By that, I suppose, one can assume that Grace herself offered such a succinct review!

Bishop had spent a great deal of time on this translation. She was so excited about it, believed it offered and respresented something deeply authentic, that she confessed to her aunt, “I yearn for flattery, I guess.” She noted that it was getting “wonderful reviews everywhere,” and was disappointed that her aunts didn’t share her enthusiasm.

Letting go of translation and grandchildren, Bishop returned to the weather that Grace had experienced during her Florida sojourn, “such a cold winter.” Grace must have given her more particulars about this trip because Bishop noted, “I went to the dog races once, too,” and wondered if Grace “got to Hialeah — race track?” Bishop had been there once and declared it “one of the prettiest race tracks in the world.” Bishop remembered the “flamingos” and “a lagoon.” Bishop didn’t think very highly of Miami, “a pretty horrible city,” except for “some of the old parts, like Coconut grove,” which she thought were still “very nice.”

Greyhound dog racing has actually entered into my consciousness. There are a number of people in Middleton, where I live, who have adopted greyhounds retired from racing. One of the most recent arrivals of these Florida canines is Monty, who has become the office dog for the company where my sister works. Monty arrived during a severe cold snap, so he got some cosy pajamas.
 (Monty in his warm Canadian pjs and his new "mom")
Bishop concluded her letter with the most immediate of her updates: “It’s time for lunch.” She told Grace that lunch consisted of “garbanzos” and “left-over Easter ham.” She wondered if Grace had eaten garbanzos in Florida, noting “the Cubans eat them a lot,” and again wistfully writing, “Wish you were here!” She sent her love to “Phyllis and Ernie” and gave one final plea for her aunt to write more about her trip and to tell her niece “how you are.”

Next offering will show how space-time is a real force in transcontinental communication.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Our Cambridge Correspondent Writes --


Megan Marshall  (“Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast”) reads at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, January 11, 2017, in Lesley University’s Marran Theater, 34 Mellen St., Cambridge, Massachusetts.>

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Response to Elizabeth Bishop and Translation, by Mariana Machová

CONTEXT
I met Mariana Machová in 2005. She was a young scholar and translator who made her way to Nova Scotia to get the lay of the land and to hear the sound of the talk, the elements that would still be familiar to Elizabeth Bishop. I forget now just how we connected. She probably sent me an email.

At that point, the artist retreat at the Elizabeth Bishop House in Great Village was starting to establish itself and I invited her to stay there and offered to act as tour guide. Mariana will have to remind me of the time of year (not hot summer nor snowy winter, so spring or fall). [Ed. Note: Mariana has confirmed that her visit was in April.]

I met so many wonderful people during the eleven years I took care of the house, it is difficult to remember the details of each visit, because I tended to “do” the same tour each time, retracing the routes and stopping at the sites Bishop fans want to see.

Mariana came bearing a gift: her first translation into Czech of Bishop’s poems. She also came with an openness and eagerness to learn something of Great Village and Bishop’s childhood. I am sure we drove “The Moose” route. We also spent time in Halifax.

Besides Mariana’s delightful personality, what I remember, specifically, are two small details: a story about an escaped hamster and a discussion about finding a word in Czech for “seal” (the animal), found in “At the Fishhouses,” a challenge in the language of a land-locked country. I listened with fascination to her talk about translating and now realize she was forming ideas that coalesced in the book about which this post is written.

After her visit, Mariana continued to translate Bishop’s work. She kindly sent her collection of translated stories and letters, a substantial volume. In the fall of 2016, her next book was published — in English — Elizabeth Bishop and Translation. Again, she generously sent me a copy.

I told Mariana I would write something about this book for the blog and proceeded to read it with keen interest. It has been a long time since I read serious literary scholarship about Bishop. I have steered clear of it for many years. Knowing Mariana, however, and being interested myself in the idea of translation in general, and in Bishop’s ambiguous fascination with and practice of translation, I was eager to read this detailed study of the subject.

Before I continue, I must apologize because I will not shift gears and turn formal and academic in my response, switching to the convention of using Mariana’s last name, for example, which is the professional way to proceed. I admire what Mariana does in this book and I hope that she will not mind my response’s familiarity. After all, she offers a serious contemplation and discussion of the nature of “the foreign” and “the familiar,” including as it applies to names and naming. My choice is done quite consciously, based on my own principles. I mean no disrespect.
(Mariana at the Elizabeth Bishop House)
RESPONSE
The first part of this book is a detailed exploration of Bishop’s practice of translation from her college efforts to her mature projects, from Aristophanes’s The Birds to The Diary of ‘Helena Morley’ and beyond. The second part examines the way Bishop incorporated the principles of “translation poetics” (which Mariana regards as “a creative attitude,” “an aesthetic stance”) into her own creative process.

Here are two statements/observations Mariana makes that for me offer a good sense of what this book contains:

“My aim is to see Bishop’s translation [sic] from a new perspective, not as a marginal activity by which Bishop was occasionally and accidentally distracted from her real work as a poet, but as a recurrent presence in her creative life, which was not by any means dominant, but which was present there all along, sometimes more and sometimes less conspicuously, like a basso continuo beneath the main voice of her own poetry.” (2–3)

“The ‘translator type’ of the poet is conscious of the richness and the potential of language, and is fascinated by the many voices which sound in the language, and at the same time she realizes that this richness is not limited to the variation of sound, that each tongue and voice says different things.” (152)

Around these ideas and observations, Mariana provides deep, detailed readings of a wide-range of texts. This approach is especially welcome with the translations themselves. The Bishop translation I have thought about most is The Diary of ‘Helena Morley’ (I presented a paper about it at a conference in Ouro Prêto, Brazil, in 1999). While I am certainly aware of the others Mariana discusses, I knew little about the originals and the translating process Bishop used. Through her discussions of these works — their chronologies, contexts and challenges — Mariana lays the foundation for the second part of the book, which looks at Bishop’s own poetry through the lens of translation poetics. Mariana makes a solid argument for seeing Bishop as a “translator type” poet. You need to read the book to learn the various elements and practices of translation that Mariana argues Bishop employed in her own creative process; it is a fascinating claim.

It is usually considered naïve** in a reviewer of an academic book to say that she learned a lot from reading it, but I did, especially about the space-time around Bishop’s own translations. For a writer who was not a professional translator and for someone essentially monolingual (she could read and speak languages other than English, but none really well), Bishop translated quite a lot. By simply bringing together all the translations Bishop did, Mariana shows the significance of translation in Bishop’s life. I don’t know of any other book that has so fully focused on this subject, which offers such a concentration.
 
 (Translation as curtained window.)
A COUPLE OF QUIBBLES
I will say, I sighed a bit when I came upon the rather conventional academic practice of dismissing the biographical approach to reading Bishop’s work. It never ceases to amaze me how academics must set up a hierarchy of analyses. Since just about every literary critical study about Bishop I’ve read does so, I can’t fault Mariana too much for engaging in it. And she presses the point far more moderately than many critics. It is a bit ironic, though, that Mariana’s well argued and supported claim about how Bishop did not privilege one voice over another, but had a remarkable capacity for hearing them all, does not translate to her own practice. This gripe is, however, my own hang-up, and the reason why I am not an academic. I just can’t see the point of dismissing one approach and privileging another. Bishop never did, even as she was known to have an ambivalent opinion of literary criticism. She asserted to Anne Stevenson that she was fine with her poems being “interpreted,” though she rarely read such stuff herself.

While Mariana’s own English is good, there were a few places where I paused and wondered if she really meant to use the word she had chosen. For example, she describes “In the Waiting Room” as “notorious.” (“Well known, commonly or generally known, forming a matter of common knowledge, esp. on account of some bad practice, quality, etc., or some other thing not generally approved of or admired.” Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 1,952). I wondered what this poem had done to make it so? I wondered about “superficial” (9); “threat” (31); “primeval” (143–44), and a few other words. Though I thank her for “macaronic”(55), a word I had to look up.

I also found that the text could have stood a better copy edit, particularly when it came to those annoying but vital helping words (articles and prepositions), as well as agreement between subject and verb, and a handful of typos. But these kinds of infelicities are so common in published texts these days, they clearly are accepted (if not acceptable), even for prestigious academic presses.

All this said, I found Mariana’s book a fascinating read.

CONCLUSION
One of the many questions in Bishop’s work that Mariana uncovers in her readings of the poems is: “where is the source of control over representation?” (125) Though a rather dry way of saying it, this is a critical question for all artists, and she is right that it is one Bishop asked over and over, in all sorts of ways.

Another insightful conclusion she arrives at delving deeply into the texts is Bishop’s realization that “what she has achieved is so relative that other people may fail to recognize it …. the translation may be in vain.”(111), epitomized for me in “Crusoe in England.” As a poet myself, I found this idea unsettlingly familiar. All artists inhabit this existential condition and it might be the sub-text to just about every creation (unless one is a raging egomaniac). Doubt is healthy. It keeps one honest, on one’s toes; unless it becomes crippling, of course.

Mariana makes the valuable observation that Bishop often engaged in translation when she was stuck in her own writing. By so doing, Mariana argues, translation became a practice that helped Bishop see and know her native tongue differently. It not only reflected her preoccupations in her own work, but returned unexpected insights and approaches to help with her own poems. This observation made a great deal of sense to me.

This way of looking at Bishop, arguing for the indispensability of translation, is thought-provoking. Bishop’s nature and poetic practice held a remarkable diversity and range. Add to this her fascination with translation, ambiguous as it was, we see more fully just how Bishop’s eclectic interests manifested and evolved.

Thanks, Mariana, for making me think about Bishop’s poetic program from this unusual perspective, to think about it more carefully and to understand it more fully.
(Sandra and Mariana in study of EB House, 2006)
Note:

** A reviewer is generally considered to be another expert, someone who has the knowledge to assess the research, writing and authority in a given book; someone who knows such things already. I am not such a reviewer, at least where the subject of translation is concerned.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 35: Grace and Marjorie

Bishop’s next letter to Grace is dated 9 April 1958. Since the March epistle, Bishop had heard from Grace, who was back in Nova Scotia. She had also heard from Marjorie Stevens about Grace’s visit to Key West. Catching up with these correspondences was the first order of business.

Even though Grace was “home” from her gallivanting, Bishop wasn’t exactly sure if that meant Great Village or Dartmouth. Grace’s daughter Phyllis Sutherland and her family lived in the latter place and Grace often spent time with them. Even though Grace had been gallivanting, she always took time to write and she had remembered Bishop’s birthday (8 February): “Your birthday card to me arrived about a week ago!” One can observe that mails are not much faster these days. The slowness of this natal day greeting was due to it being “overweight so it had come by boat.” Bishop mentioned “the yellow roses,” but didn’t linger on this birthday greeting, rather she jumped right into “a long letter from Marjorie,” in which she learned more about Grace, Mabel and Hazel’s visit to Key West. Marjorie had penned the letter “the day after your visit there.”

Bishop passed on Marjorie’s response: “She was sorry she couldn’t do more for you … but loved seeing you.” Grace clearly had been stylishly turned out, as Marjorie “described your outfit in great detail, said you looked very chic and had a good haircut.” Bishop envied Grace’s good hair, confessing she cut her own hair when not in Rio and declared that at “the moment I look like a bundle of steel-wool.”


As for Grace’s niece Hazel (Mabel’s daughter), she was very familiar with Key West, having lived in Florida for decades. Bishop said that Marjorie felt Mabel seemed “rather indifferent to it all,” in contrast to Grace who “took in everything.” With a knowing, behind the hand whisper in her words, Bishop wondered, “maybe she was having the sulks that day?”

Bishop herself had been in Key West the previous year, a visit after a long absence. For her, Key West was “completely ruined.”  Some of the “back streets” retained their charm, but the main street was “just one long bar and stinks of beer.” Not a slogan for a tourist brochure! Marjorie must has shown Grace the house Bishop and Louise Crane had owned in the 1930s: “How did you like” it? Bishop asked. It had changed, too, from the time Bishop lived there in the 1930s. At that time “there were not buildings across the street just fields.” Because “the woman who has it now has never pruned a single bush in 15 years,” Bishop was shocked by how overgrown it was. Even with this change, Bishop held some affection for the building itself, “a pretty house, as far as lines go.”
(EB’s house in Key West, 2011.
I have forgotten who sent me this photo and the ones below.)
Eager to learn Grace’s impressions of the place, Bishop urged her aunt to write, and also to “tell her how Marjorie seemed.” Bishop’s visit the previous year had been pleasant, with her “well and cheerful” friend. But Bishop knew her Marjorie “works much too hard — Saturdays & Sunday’s usually, too.” Living on her own, with a house to maintain and a modest income, Marjorie had not yet been able to “furnish her house” fully, partly because she had renovated. But Bishop was impressed by how much her old friend had accomplished. She worried, however, that Marjorie was “terribly lonely there, poor dear.” To cheer her up, Bishop was going to try to send her “some orchids.” Bishop had described the “orchid-growers for neighbours” in Samambaia, and two of the big nurseries had “export licenses.” Alas, it is not known if Marjorie ever got her Brazilian orchids.
(EB’s house in Key West. Still overgrown!)
Even with all the struggles and challenges, Bishop admired how her old friend “keeps going and keeps up her ‘standards’.”

After all this catching up, Bishop concluded wistfully with, “Well, I wish you could have come a few thousand miles further south, too.”
 (The literay landmark plaque on Bishop's house in Key West.)

The next post is a little hunting expedition.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 34: Hoping for a response to the diary

Having accounted for the family in her first letter of 1958 (12 March), Bishop turned to a literary topic: “‘The Diary’ is doing pretty well, I think.” By which she meant her translation, The Diary of ‘Helena Morley’.”
Bishop told Grace that it was already into a second edition and was getting “very good reviews.” She couldn’t tell her aunt “how many copies have been sold yet.” In the end, not as many as she had hoped.

Bishop sent Grace a copy, but the niece was unsure if the aunt had received it. She thought not (partly because Grace was gallivanting), “I do think you’ll enjoy it when you get your copy.” [Grace did receive her copy and it is now resident at Acadia University Archives.]

It is not known what Grace’s response was, but knowing something of her sense of humour, she undoubtedly enjoyed it, as Helena has quite an attitude about life. Bishop said that Helena’s Diamantina reminded her of rural Nova Scotia. And there were remarkable echoes, indeed.

Interestingly, Bishop admitted to Grace that “it was hard to make it sound natural.” As she explained to others, Portuguese is a more formal language than English. In her effort to do so, when she “got stuck about how to translate them literally,” she said she tried “to think of what Gammie would have said! I think it worked pretty well.”
In 1999 I had the privilege of going to a Bishop conference in Ouro Prêto, Brazil. Brett Millier kindly invited me to present a paper on a panel she put together. My topic was Bishop’s translation of this book. Here is a brief paragraph from that talk, which speaks to the above claim:

While she tried to remain true to the tone and texture of the original, Bishop incorporated a good deal of her own colloquialism and idiom into the translation. I offer only one interesting example — there are many. One of Bishop’s favourite words was “awful” (and its variations). Listen to how many ways Bishop brings it into the translation: “awfully sorry,” “awfully funny,” “perfectly awful,” “how awful,” “awful things,” “something awful,” “an awful lot,” “this awful fault,” “that awful dentist,” “it’s awful,” “the rice is awful,” “it must be awful,” “so awful,” “awful uproar,” “really awfully bad,” “too awful,” “an awful shock.” And, again, there are many more examples.

Certainly, Grace would have recognized much that appeared in this lively translation, one of the most ambitious projects Bishop ever undertook, a commitment of several years’ duration.

Bishop also told Grace that she’d sent Aunt Mary “a copy of the book but I’ve never heard a word. I wonder if you happen to know if she got it?”

Bishop also wondered if Grace, who was still in Florida, happened to get to Key West for her visit with Marjorie Stevens. “I haven’t heard from Marjorie for ages,” Bishop noted, and reiterating something she’d told Grace before, “she works much too hard, usually.”  She had heard from her friend “at Christmas time,” but not since, Bishop said, and declared, “I know she’d like to see you though, if she possibly could.”

Scribbled on the bottom of this letter, in Bishop’s near indecipherable scrawl was an addendum, “I just got a letter from Marjorie — says she’s expecting you & Hazel on the 20th — hope you have a nice time.” Remembering her pretty “little house,” Bishop editorialized, “ she’s the world’s fussiest housekeeper!”

Earlier in this letter, Bishop accounted for its poor condition by telling Grace that she was “typing down at the house because the lights in the estudio aren’t working tonight.” She was using an “old typewriter and it skips dreadfully.” This letter is filled with all manner of misspellings and gapped words, more than usual. Finally, Bishop declared (you can hear the frustration), “I think this typewriter is really too awful [there’s that ‘awful’ again].” She would “give up for the night” and asked Grace to “forgive me for not writing for so long — it was really awfully busy here.” All the activity had meant she didn’t even “get up to the studio for days on end.” And with the bug she’d picked up in Rio at Carnival, she “stayed in bed most of last week, no sick, just tired.” Grandma Lota tended to her sick partner, as well as the babies, giving Bishop “vitamin B shots,” which did the trick and she was feeling “fine.” Which meant she was trying to write again, “trying to finish up a bunch of stories.” The hope here was that they would earn enough to contribute to another trip to the USA and parts north soon.” Bishop never lost sight of the need to earn a living: contemplation AND commerce.

She closed with her usual “lots of love.”

The next post will take us into April.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 33: Population explosion: the grandchildren visit

The main subject of Bishop’s letter of 12 March 1958 was “the grandchildren.” All four of them had come to Samambaia with their mother to escape the heat and water situation in Rio. Bishop reported to Grace that they were “staying at a little house down below” them, about “½ a mile” away, “thank goodness.” Bishop liked their mother, “a very nice quiet little thing,” who had been trying to cope with a four-month old “adorable” infant and three toddlers, all under five. The mother “said that first of all, when they got their 4 gallons [of water], they washed the children.” This family of little ones were fetched by Lota as soon as she learned of the troubles, “she brought them all up — all car-sick, hot, exhausted, and very yellow, poor little things.” Bishop could happily report, “Now they’re already looking 100% better.”

Knowing Grace had a perennial interest in babies, Bishop gave a full accounting of how things were going. Bishop had visited them just that afternoon, “a walk down the mountain to call on them.” She updated Grace on their demographics: “one boy, Paulo, aged two, very big and fair — surprising here — and shy” and “2 little girls, five and 3½.” The sisters “doted” on their little brother, undoubtedly pretending he was their baby doll: they “tug him around with them all day long, hug him and kiss him.” Bishop noted, undoubtedly with her tongue in her cheek, that “only the 3½  year old” understood “what he says.”

Lota took her grandmotherly duties very seriously. One of the things she brought back with her from New York, in the many boxes and barrels, was “junket tablets,” which she had seen in a grocery store. Something she had never heard of before. “Her idea was to make junket for the children.” Bishop reported that, unfortunately, “Brazilian milk is too poor.” At least their efforts proved unappealing. Bishop asks, rhetorically, “Or does it have to be whole milk?” The milk they could obtain was “so watery,” Bishop explained, she “wasn’t surprised when it wouldn’t work.” While shopping in Petrópolis, however, they bought more milk hoping it would be better. But it, too, failed to produce an edible treat. Bishop wondered if she’d explained to her aunt about the milk: “The milk is always watery — I guess I told you, didn’t I — they call it ‘baptizing’ the milk…”

The next little one to come in for comment was Betty, the cook’s daughter, who turned three on 7 February. Bishop included a photo of her namesake (which does not survive) with her sister, “Alisette Mara — (I don’t know how to spell it, that’s what it sounds like).” Bishop remarked again how “awfully bright” Betty was. Unkindly, she notes that her parents are “stupid,” and that she and Lota were going to “try to get her to school at least.” The new addition was only six months old. Even though space and time made the next bit of information irrelevant to Grace, Bishop couldn’t help but pass on some gossip: “this one looks exactly like our ex-gardener … but really exactly.” Even though it was obvious, Bishop noted that “Lota’s trying to get her courage up to ask Maria … if she didn’t slip a little.”

To round out these accounts, Bishop noted: “Besides all this infant human life, we also have one tiny black puppy.” This new addition was the offspring of their “mongrel dog.” This aging canine (one thinks of Bishop’s poem “Pink Dog”) “is getting quite old, her face is white, and she’s lost some teeth.” In spite of this diminishment, “somehow or other she recently produced this puppy.” As cute as it was, they had “found a home for it.” But Bishop assured Grace that “I won’t let it go until it’s over two months old,” a kindness and caution she undoubtedly learned in rural Nova Scotia during her childhood. She did report that it was “six weeks” old and, with a smile on her face, for sure, already “housebroken — that is, it comes in the house without fail, to go to the bathroom.”


 
(Parrot at house at Samambaia, during my 1999 trip to Brazi)

The next post will return to a subject close to Bishop’s heart, her translation of Mina Vida de Menina.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 32 – The Extended Brazilian Family and Carnival

With the weather situation dispatched in her letter of 12 March 1958, Bishop offered Grace an explanation for why Lota had been enduring the excessive heat in Rio. A crisis had developed with Lota’s sister and required her attention on a number of occasions.

Bishop was under the impression that Grace already knew something of the situation, “I think the last time I wrote you [Lota’s] sister [Marietta Nascimento] had had her first operation.” Since this information was not included in the final letter for 1957, another letter must have conveyed it. But, then, as Bishop thinks again, she wonders: “I’m not sure whether I wrote you or not.”’

Lota’s sister had “two badly infected tumors,” which required emergency surgery. Lota “had to rush to Rio one night and get the sister into a hospital, where she was operated on at 6 A.M.” Bishop was certain that if Lota had not intervened, her sister “surely would have died.” Clearly, in some sort of denial, the sister was “just dying, at home, taking aspirin and ice-water, with her lover at her bedside!” Bishop’s unkind assessment of this woman was that she was “too wacky to do anything for herself.”

The initial intervention solved one problem, only to have another, “adhesions,” develop. These required further surgery, which also required Lota’s presence. Bishop watched all this unfold and described the situation as “dreadful.” Bishop and Grace shared a keen interest in all things medical. Grace was still nursing, though in a reduced capacity, and she had been in this profession since the mid-1910s. A running theme in Bishop’s letters to her aunt was medicine. [Ed. note: Eons ago, I presented a paper to The History of Medicine Society in Halifax, N.S., about Bishop’s medical history and her keen interest in medicine.]

One pleasant consequence of this family drama was that Lota’s nephew, Flavio Soares Regis, came to stay with them for a few weeks, while his mother was in hospital. Bishop described Flavio as “a book-worm, 15 years old.” He suffered from asthma, so he and Bishop had an instant connection. His condition, like hers, required injections, which Bishop administered. They encouraged him to go swimming.

Bishop and Flavio eventually became good friends. One other deep connection they shared was a love of music. Flavio eventually entered the Brazilian diplomatic service, but retained a keen love of jazz music. Sadly, however, he committed suicide early in 1971. A death Bishop felt acutely. She never learned the reasons for this irreversible decision, but she blamed the troubled and tumultuous political situation in Brazil. She had always felt the pressures and strains of Lota’s involvement in public life and the Parque do Flamenco had taken a serious toll on her health and led directly to her suicide.

But, in 1958, Flavio was a bright, young, pleasant companion, someone Bishop could talk to about poetry and music. Her fondness for him never waned. He must have felt a deep fondness for her, too, because when she became persona non grata in Brazil after Lota’s death in 1967, their friendship endured.
Bishop did not remain always at Samambaia when Lota was in Rio. Once the worst of the trouble with Lota’s sister eased, Bishop went “to Rio for the one night of carnival I wanted to see — the Negro Samba ‘schools’.” Carnival is one of the most elaborate events in Brazil (might one suggest, the world). Bishop had a keen interest in this phenomenon of celebration and tried to see the big parade every year. This year, Bishop reported to Grace, “we had seats in the press section, but just boards, and it was fearfully hot.” They countered the strain of the heat with “a thermos of iced coffee to support us through the night, and sandwiches.” It was an all-nighter because “the really good ones don’t come until the end.” But they didn’t make it through to the end this year, giving up around 3 A.M., driving “all the way back here.”  For reasons unknown to Bishop, “the schedule was so off” that things didn’t wind up until 11 A.M. the next day.
Bishop then offers a description to Grace about the participants of this grand event. “They’re clubs of dancers, hundreds in each club.” These clubs “rehearse all year, and make their own songs and dances.” Bishop herself wrote some samba songs for carnival. Most of these clubs were comprised of “the poorest people” in Rio, but they managed to “put thousands into it.” Professional dance teachers were hired and elaborate, “beautiful costumes” made. Some clubs decked out in sumptuous “silks and satins,” with “white wigs” from the “Louis XVI period.” Bishop declared, “It’s one of the nicest things in Brazil, for me.”
Unfortunately, on this excursion, she “picked up some germs” and not being “used to them” developed “horrible diorraha [sic: I don’t think I need to clarify this misspelling!] and she had been struggling with something like flu for “over a week.” As bad as she felt, she did not return to Rio to see a doctor, but toughed it out in the cooler air of the mountains. Her treatment for this ailment was “charcoal pills” and “waited for it to subside and finally it did.”

By the time Bishop wrote this letter, Flavio was “back at school.” But all was not quiet at the house in Samambaia because all the grandchildren were visiting. More about them in the next post.



Sunday, December 4, 2016

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 31 – There is always weather, 1958 begins

Bishop’s first letter to Grace in 1958 is dated 12 March. There were perhaps others, but this long missive appears to be a catch-up, filling in a gap that occurred because Bishop was flat out busy. This letter will require several posts, as it is packed with detailed accounts of various people, activities and situations. Even with gaps, sometimes lengthy, Bishop’s letters simply launch into her side of the dialogue, knowing that Grace was as eager to hear her news as she was to hear Grace’s.

Bishop began the letter with a typical declaration, “I’ve been very bad about writing lately,” acknowledging that she had one of Grace’s in hand, unanswered, a letter that had included a photograph of Hazel Bulmer Snow’s house in Hollywood, Florida, where Grace was still staying. “It looks very nice and pleasant.” Though unsure if Grace was still there (she was), Bishop took that possibility to launch into a commentary about the weather (so typical of Maritimers, who might be called “weather obsessed”).

The winter of 1958 was a bad one, if Bishop’s observations are a clue. “You certainly chose the worst winter,” to be in Florida, “one of the coldest they’ve ever had.” Bishop knew this all the way in Brazil because she was reading American papers. She was sorry for Grace about this timing, because, as a rule, “it can be so nice in Florida in February — bright and up in the 80’s and no rain.”

As bad as it was in Florida, Bishop somehow knew it was “an awful winter” in Nova Scotia. How she knew this isn’t clear, but she remarked that “my friends in N.Y. have been seeing northern lights, and they’ve had to use ice breakers in N.Y. harbor.” So, as cold as Florida might have been, at least Grace had some sort of “escape” from the worst, farther north.

This kind of extreme weather occurs periodically, and most recently in the winter of 2015, which again caused N.Y. harbor to freeze solid:
And brought the Northern Lights as far south at the northern US:
If it was cold in the north, it was hot in the south, “Here, or at least in Rio,” Bishop noted, “it’s been the hottest summer ever on record,” with the temperature reaching 105F a few times. Bishop reported, “Lota tells me it’s sun spots, making these extremes, and maybe she’s right.” The spots would certainly have triggered the aurora borealis, but perhaps what was starting to manifest was what most scientists now call the chaos of climate change.
Bishop had been able to stay away from Rio, remain at the house in Samambaia; but Lota had been back and forth steadily for various reasons, “and she minds the heat much more than I do,” Bishop observed.

Another issue in Rio was water, or the lack of it: “there has been no water in some sections of Rio for months,” Bishop reported. Most places had water, but only “for an hour or two a day.” Bishop does not explain the cause of this shortage, but its affect was to trigger a visit from all of Lota’s “grandchildren” and their mother (an account of this visit is for another post).

In the midst of her lively reporting of the happenings around her, Bishop interjected an announcement, perhaps because it had happened while she was composing the letter: “I had a wonderful letter from Aunt Mable [sic].” Sadly, Bishop’s letters to this aunt did not survive. Mabel is vividly described in Bishop’s “Memories of Uncle Neddy,” a woman Bishop was not particularly close to, but even so, she clearly welcomed this epistle: “The first paragraph or two she hadn’t hit her stride,” Bishop observed, “then she really did, and she does write wonderful letters!” Writing a good letter was an admirable achievement in Bishop’s mind, and she had pretty high standards.

The next post will offer the first “happening” of 1958.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 30 – Back in Brazil: Bureaucracy and Babies

If Elizabeth and Lota had been busy in the final weeks of their stay in the US, they were even busier once they returned to Brazil. Bishop’s next extant letter to Grace is dated 11 December 1957. If others were written and sent, they no longer survive. Undoubtedly, Bishop did let Grace know when they were safely back in Brazil, but perhaps it was just a postcard, which vanished into time’s vast vaults. These vaults hold many lost and forgotten communications. Even so, it might have taken Bishop that long to settle down enough to write, the prompt of approaching Christmas bringing her to the letter she perhaps had wanted to write all along.

Another issue in the delay was Brazilian bureaucracy. After expressing her hope that her missive would reach Grace “in time for your Christmas,” in spite of the “slow mails” at “this time of year,” Bishop informed her aunt that her delay was partly because she was “waiting for my Christmas cards that I bought in New York to show up!” But they, along with much else, were “still in the customs … and now they’ll have to wait until next Christmas.”

Since returning, Elizabeth and Lota had been trying to free their many boxes and barrels from Brazilian customs. Bishop noted, “Poor Lota has been to Rio three times now and still half our stuff is there.” They both had to make another trek “next week” to keep at the bureaucrats, who had, “at one point … lost all our papers — including both our passports!” Bishop’s word for this slog was “maddening.”

After being away for months, Lota’s family had its own demands. Bishop wrote that the “two oldest ‘grandchildren’” were visiting. Old being a relative term: “aged 3 and 4½.” Their mother had just had her fourth child, another girl, so the older siblings needed tending. The newborn was named after Lota, “‘Maria Carlota’  and nicknamed ‘Lotinha’, or ‘Little Lota’.” If these toddlers weren’t enough, “the cook’s new baby is here, too … three months [old].” As well as Betty (Bishop’s namesake), who would be three in February. Bishop acknowledged the “big responsibility” these little ones brought to Lota. Musing on the nursery that surrounded her, Bishop wrote, “You’d think that two old maids could avoid all this fuss about little shoes, cod liver oil, bowel movements, haircuts, etc. — but apparently not!”

The straw on the camel’s back of all this activity was the “horrible weather since we’ve been back.” So bad was it that Bishop could count the sunny days on one hand: “exactly three sunny days so far.” The “pouring rain” meant the children were more or less housebound: “You should hear me trying to tell stories in Portuguese!”

Winding down her letter, Bishop apologized for its poor quality, “but I think you owe me one.” Her brief epistle was meant to carry the “small present” (the usual money, with an echo of her previous claim that it would have been bigger “if I weren’t so broke after my N.Y. trip”).

Suddenly realizing that she had forgotten an important update, she added, “I love having the pictures.” The grandchildren were intrigued by them, too. They “think they’re my mother and father, and asked all about them.” When Helena asked, “What did they die of?” Bishop directed her, “go and ask your Grandmother … so she went and asked Lota.”

One thing that becomes clear in this letter is that Grace was back in the US, in Florida. In Hollywood, FL, to be exact, where Hazel Bulmer Snow lived. Hazel was Arthur and Mabel Bulmer’s daughter, so another of Grace’s nieces.
Hazel had been living in Florida for some time. Mabel, a widow of five years, was spending the winter with her daughter. Grace joined them. Clearly, Grace had been in touch about this recent development (it was not “news” to Bishop), so perhaps it was Bishop who really owed a letter. Bishop wrote, “I’ll try to get a card for Aunt Mabel in Petrópolis today.” And concluded this brief, jumbled letter with a plea: “I am very eager to hear from you and learn what you’re doing, if you’ve got a job, etc., and how you’re liking it there.”

While not as far south as Key West, Hollywood was in southern Florida. Having been in that neck of the woods relatively recently, it is clear Bishop was pleased that Grace was experiencing something of the “state with the prettiest name.” Scribbled in Bishop’s gnomic holograph, at the bottom of the page, was her acknowledgement that Grace would find it “strange,” having her “1st Christmas in the tropics! They put off fire-works — or used to.”
Distracted, with little left to say, Bishop signed off with love to her cousin and two aunts. If you would like to see a photograph of Grace and Mabel in Florida,click here. And Mabel and her daughter Hazel, click here.

The next post makes up for December’s brevity, but when 1958 is well underway.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 29 – Too little time, too much to do

Bishop’s 16 September 1957 letter to Grace was written not long before she and Lota were due to return to Brazil. It was a busy time. Bishop had just returned from Key West, where she had gone to see Marjorie Stevens: “I felt I couldn’t leave the U.S.A. without seeing Marjorie.” With Lota occupied with a Brazilian friend visiting for a few weeks, Bishop had gone off to reconnect with Majorie after nearly a decade. Grace knew Marjorie, so Bishop knew Grace would be interested in how she was doing. Marjorie was also interested to know about Grace. “She asked all about you,” Bishop wrote.
(Marjorie Stevens and Pauline Hemingway in Key West, 1940s)
Marjorie was living in a “new little house” and was keen to show it to Bishop. Though it was “fearfully hot in K.W.,” Bishop seemed to have a pleasant time, and saw several other “old friends.” The big topic was “Blue Points,” that is, Siamese cats, which Marjorie was taking care of for a friend: “pale gray with silver markings and blue eyes, beautiful animals.” Being a died-in-the-fur cat person, Bishop “let them sleep with me,” in spite of the heat. The more challenging part of their nature was they “talk a great deal!”
Bishop had welcomed this side-trip because Lota (and the visiting Brazilian friend) was “shopping like crazy,” so the apartment was in a state of upheaval with all the packages and packing.

Upon returning to New York, which was “hotter than ever — an unusual heat wave for September,” Bishop found “a new batch of proof waiting,” which had to be gone through before they left. You can see what came next: “This, plus the earlier sailing date, plus the fact that I’m completely BROKE, of course — means that I don’t see how I can possibly get to N.S.” I suspect Grace was not surprised, even if she was disappointed. Bishop always “hop[ed] against hope” to get to Nova Scotia on the rare occasions she was in the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s. But it never happened.

To further explain her financial constraints, Bishop noted, “I thought I was getting a refund on my income tax that would have paid for the ticket.” Her accountant, however, had conscientiously applied the refund “on next year’s instead.” Bishop was never good with business matters. Perhaps the accountant knew this weakness and was trying to help Bishop, in spite of herself. After months in the US, Bishop declared, “I’m going off with lots of unpaid bills and unseen friends.” Still, her “I am so terribly sorry, really,” sounded genuine. She added, “If it’s any consolation, Aunt F tells me my Worcester relatives are mad at not seeing me again!” Poor Aunt Florence “got Lota on the telephone while I was away — called her “LOLA” and told her how smart I am, but how it was only natural because the Bishops are all so smart!” When Bishop returned, she called her elderly paternal aunt, who told her that she wanted “some pink pajamas, ‘pretty ones dearie’ (as if left to my own devices I’d buy ugly ones).” There might have been good reasons why Bishop avoided her Worcester relatives.

Amusingly, Florence declared (in all seriousness) to Bishop that Grace was “getting married.” Bishop knew, of course, that this was not true, but couldn’t resist: “Is this true, and if so I wonder who is the lucky man?” Though she knew perfectly well it was “Aunt F’s fancies.” To extend the joke a bit more, Bishop noted, “I think it is a fine idea but I’m surprised you’d confide in Aunt Florence first!” One can see the two of them laughing heartily over this fancy.

Bishop was clearly pressed for time with completing the book work, shopping, final visits, and other appointments. This letter has a tone of: there are not enough hours in the day; and a regret of letting go of something she really wanted to do.

Bishop concluded this letter with an odd story, about an appointment with the dentist (she had been preoccupied about her teeth in Brazil, needing to get to the dentist; so getting to one in the US was a priority). To Grace she said, “I spent the morning at the dentist’s and read the Sept. [sic: August] National Geographic — a very silly piece about the Bay of Fundy.” This piece, “Giant Tides of Fundy,” was written by Paul Zahl. She told her aunt, “I think I’ll buy it just for the photographs — some of them made me feel homesick.”
In 1918 Bishop was in another dentist’s office reading a National Georgraphic. Here, nearly 40 years later, she was again registering the contents of one of the most ubiquitous magazines found in such waiting rooms. One wonders if it might not have triggered the old memory, though it took nearly another decade before she began to write “In the Waiting Room.” Zahl’s piece is actually not “silly” but a passionate and lively account of the environment of the Bay of Fundy. There are dozens of photographs, and no wonder some of them made her homesick. She concluded her letter, “I do wish I could get there now, to see the colours of the maple trees. With much love, and I’ll try to write sooner.”

The next letter has them back in Brazil.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

An Uplifting Evening with Suzie LeBlanc and friends

In these troubling times, positive creativity is vital. We need more music, more poetry, more painting, dance, drama. Suzie LeBlanc’s “APocket of Time” concert, a tribute to Elizabeth Bishop, on Sunday evening, 13 November, at the Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts in Halifax, N.S., embodied the kind of collaborative creativity that brings out the best in and inspires all of us. Presented by Cecilia Concert Series, it gave all those who attended a great lift.

With Blue Engine String Quartet and pianist RobertKortgaard, Suzie sang several settings of Bishop poems, which had been composed for her for the Elizabeth Bishop Centenary in 2011: a setting of “Sunday 4 A.M.,” by John Plant (whose birthday it was that day – imagine, having Suzie LeBlanc sing you “Happy Birthday” accompanied by a string quartet!); and “A Short Slow Life,” by Emily Doolittle (who had arranged an orchestral score for this superb string quartet).

Two new settings of Bishop poems were also performed. The most recent, “Paris 7 A.M.,” by British composer Ivan Moody, was a world premiere performance. Halifax pianist and composer Peter Togni recently set “Lullaby for a Cat,” for Suzie and she closed the show with this tender song. The concert opened with Blue Engine performing Alasdair MacLean’s “The Silken Water is Weaving and Weaving,” inspired by this line from Bishop’s poem “Cape Breton.”

Music and songs by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa Lobos and Robert Schumann rounded out this program which explored time and dream and the moon.

I had the privilege of presenting a little pre-concert talk, which I think entertained those kind souls who arrived early. Here I am in full flight – not singing! – but declaring Bishop’s life-long love of music.
(Photo by Binnie Brennan)
I want to thank Cecilia Concert series for their warm welcome and for deep commitment to music, and all those who attended. It was a kind of “old home night” for me, seeing friends I had not seen in a long time, as I do not live in Halifax any longer. Including my friend, the poet and Open Heart Farming editor Mary Ellen Sullivan. To be part of this kind of music-making is a tremendously uplifting honour. Thanks to Binnie Brennan for taking these photos.
 (Photo by Binnie Brennan)
As Bishop wrote, “I am in need of music,” aren’t we all!


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 28 – A Gap and a Gift

Bishop’s letter of 10 January 1957 appears to have been the last she wrote to Grace until September (at least none in the interim have survived). The reason for this gap was the trip Bishop mentioned she and Lota were going to take to the United States. As Brett Millier records, this trip was primarily to shepherd the translation of Mina Vida de Menia (The Diary of ‘Helena Morley’) through publication with Farrar, Straus and Cudahy. (p. 289)

Perhaps Grace wrote a letter to Bishop before they left for the US, on Bishop’s urging. She hoped she would hear from her aunt: “maybe I’ll get more [letters] if you keep working nights.” And closed by saying she hoped to see her “in 1957.”

They arrived in New York on 31 March. The visit lasted six months and included side trips to Maine, Massachusetts and Florida. It was a whirlwind of reconnecting with many friends, of onerous work with the publisher on page proofs, and witnessing the changes that had happened in America since she left in 1951. Grace was nursing in New England and as a result she and Bishop managed to catch what Bishop called a “glimpse” of each other, their first direct meeting in a decade. During this stretch, however, it seems that Grace returned to Nova Scotia (indeed, Grace seemed to be far more nomadic than Bishop in the 1950s). It is evident from Bishop’s next letter, however, that Grace continued to write to her niece during this stretch of time.

Bishop’s next extant letter to Grace is dated 16 September 1957, and was written in New York at the apartment she and Lota rented at 115 East 67th Street. Bishop had recently returned from a week-long stay with Marjorie Stevens in Florida. She told Grace, “I took your letter down to Key West with me and then never did get a chance to answer it, and while I was away your postcard came.” At some point, either during their brief visit or in subsequent correspondence, Grace offered her niece a precious gift: two family portraits, one of Bishop’s mother, Gertrude Bulmer Bishop, and one of her uncle, Arthur Bridges Bulmer, painted sometime in the late 1880s, one in Grace’s possession and the other in Mabel Bulmer’s (Arthur’s wife) possession.
(Gertrude Bulmer, circa late 1880s. Painter unknown.)
Bishop opens her letter unequivocally, “I’d love to have that portrait of my mother — I’ve wanted it, as you know, for years.” Much of their discussion about this subject related to the logistics of getting the paintings to Bishop: how much the postage would be, how much to insure them for, and what the customs duty might be. Bishop stated strongly that she would be willing to pay whatever the cost, and added, “Thank Aunt Mabel for me. It seems a shame to break the pair … and tell her I do appreciate it.”
(Arthur Bridges Bulmer, circa late 1880s. Painter unknown.)
These portraits reached Bishop before she and Lota left the US in early October (“Our freighter is now sailing on … the 8th.” As Millier writes, they accompanied “the seven trunks, four wooden boxes, four large crates, three barrels, and twenty-six pieces of luggage that Elizabeth and Lota” took back to Brazil. (p. 293) These portraits triggered one of Bishop’s most detailed word portraits of a member of her maternal family, her memoir “Memories of Uncle Neddy.” She re-framed the paintings and hung them in the house at Samambaia. She brought them back when she left Brazil in the late 1960s.

During their brief meeting, Grace gave Bishop another gift: “I like that little photograph you gave me so much.” Since both knew the content of the photo, it of course did not need to be described (how frustrating!). Lota liked it, too, because Bishop notes that she “found a very pretty oval gold frame for it — well, brass with some gold wash, but it looks very nice!”

These family mementos meant a great deal to Bishop. The portraits would have hung initially in her grandparents’ home, though by the time she came along, the one of Arthur perhaps had already migrated across the road to her uncle’s house. The memoir she wrote focused on her uncle because she had already written and published “In the Village,” a powerful word portrait of her mother. “Memories of Uncle Neddy” is full to the brim of vivid memories and details of this man and his family, of the village itself.

What happened to these portraits?
When Bishop died in 1979, Alice Methfessel inherited the bulk of Bishop’s estate, including the portraits, which she kept for the rest of her life. When Alice died in 2009, her partner Angela Leap inherited Alice’s estate, including the Bishop materials she retained (part of which was a filing cabinet with a cache of letters, some of Bishop’s own paintings, a George W. Hutchinson painting, which triggered “Poem,” and the portraits). Leap sold the contents of the filing cabinet to Vassar College. She commissioned rare book dealer James Jaffe to help her sell all the artwork. I spent well over a year trying to raise awareness and funds to repatriate the portraits and the “Poem” painting. Regretfully, I failed.

In December 2011, the Tybor de Nagy gallery in New York City opened an exhibition of Bishop paintings and memorabilia, “Objects and Apparitions.” It included the portraits and the “Poem” painting. The latter sold. But the portraits did not. Frustratingly, I have now lost track of where they are.

The next post will be pressed for time.

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 28 – The Gap and a Gift

Bishop’s letter of 10 January 1957 appears to have been the last she wrote to Grace until September (at least none in the interim have survived). The reason for this gap was the trip Bishop mentioned she and Lota were going to take to the United States. As Brett Millier records, this trip was primarily to shepherd the translation of Mina Vida de Menia (The Diary of ‘Helena Morley’) through publication with Farrar, Straus and Cudahy. (p. 289)

Perhaps Grace wrote a letter to Bishop before they left for the US, on Bishop’s urging. She hoped she would hear from her aunt: “maybe I’ll get more [letters] if you keep working nights.” And closed by saying she hoped to see her “in 1957.”

They arrived in New York on 31 March. The visit lasted six months and included side trips to Maine, Massachusetts and Florida. It was a whirlwind of reconnecting with many friends, of onerous work with the publisher on page proofs, and witnessing the changes that had happened in America since she left in 1951. Grace was nursing in New England and as a result she and Bishop managed to catch what Bishop called a “glimpse” of each other, their first direct meeting in a decade. During this stretch, however, it seems that Grace returned to Nova Scotia (indeed, Grace seemed to be far more nomadic than Bishop in the 1950s). It is evident from Bishop’s next letter, however, that Grace continued to write to her niece during this stretch of time.

Bishop’s next extant letter to Grace is dated 16 September 1957, and was written in New York at the apartment she and Lota rented at 115 East 67th Street. Bishop had recently returned from a week-long stay with Marjorie Stevens in Florida. She told Grace, “I took your letter down to Key West with me and then never did get a chance to answer it, and while I was away your postcard came.” At some point, either during their brief visit or in subsequent correspondence, Grace offered her niece a precious gift: two family portraits, one of Bishop’s mother, Gertrude Bulmer Bishop, and one of her uncle, Arthur Bridges Bulmer, painted sometime in the late 1880s, one in Grace’s possession and the other in Mabel Bulmer’s (Arthur’s wife) possession.
(Gertrude Bulmer, circa late 1880s. Painter unknown.)
Bishop opens her letter unequivocally, “I’d love to have that portrait of my mother — I’ve wanted it, as you know, for years.” Much of their discussion about this subject related to the logistics of getting the paintings to Bishop: how much the postage would be, how much to insure them for, and what the customs duty might be. Bishop stated strongly that she would be willing to pay whatever the cost, and added, “Thank Aunt Mabel for me. It seems a shame to break the pair … and tell her I do appreciate it.”
(Arthur Bridges Bulmer, circa late 1880s. Painter unknown.)
These portraits reached Bishop before she and Lota left the US in early October (“Our freighter is now sailing on … the 8th.” As Millier writes, they accompanied “the seven trunks, four wooden boxes, four large crates, three barrels, and twenty-six pieces of luggage that Elizabeth and Lota” took back to Brazil. (p. 293) These portraits triggered one of Bishop’s most detailed word portraits of a member of her maternal family, her memoir “Memories of Uncle Neddy.” She re-framed the paintings and hung them in the house at Samambaia. She brought them back when she left Brazil in the late 1960s.

During their brief meeting, Grace gave Bishop another gift: “I like that little photograph you gave me so much.” Since both knew the content of the photo, it of course did not need to be described (how frustrating!). Lota liked it, too, because Bishop notes that she “found a very pretty oval gold frame for it — well, brass with some gold wash, but it looks very nice!”

These family mementos meant a great deal to Bishop. The portraits would have hung initially in her grandparents’ home, though by the time she came along, the one of Arthur perhaps had already migrated across the road to her uncle’s house. The memoir she wrote focused on her uncle because she had already written and published “In the Village,” a powerful word portrait of her mother. “Memories of Uncle Neddy” is full to the brim of vivid memories and details of this man and his family, of the village itself.

What happened to these portraits?
When Bishop died in 1979, Alice Methfessel inherited the bulk of Bishop’s estate, including the portraits, which she kept for the rest of her life. When Alice died in 2009, her partner Angela Leap inherited Alice’s estate, including the Bishop materials she retained (part of which was a filing cabinet with a cache of letters, some of Bishop’s own paintings, a George W. Hutchinson painting, which triggered “Poem,” and the portraits). Leap sold the contents of the filing cabinet to Vassar College. She commissioned rare book dealer James Jaffe to help her sell all the artwork. I spent well over a year trying to raise awareness and funds to repatriate the portraits and the “Poem” painting. Regretfully, I failed.

In December 2011, the Tybor de Nagy gallery in New York City opened an exhibition of Bishop paintings and memorabilia, “Objects and Apparitions.” It included the portraits and the “Poem” painting. The latter sold. But the portraits did not. Frustratingly, I have now lost track of where they are.

The next post will be pressed for time.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

“A Pocket of Time” – Suzie LeBlanc concert in tribute to Elizabeth Bishop

On Sunday evening, 13 November 2016, at 7:00 p.m., at the Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts, in Halifax, N.S., soprano Suzie LeBlanc, Honorary Patron of the EBSNS, will present a concert in tribute to Elizabeth Bishop, “A Pocket of Time.” She will perform some of the settings of Bishop poems that she commissioned for the Elizabeth Bishop Centenary in 2011 and premiere a new one. She will be joined by the Blue Engine String Quartet and pianist Robert Kortgaard. This concert is presented by Cecilia Concerts. You can find out more about this concert by clicking here.

I am pleased to say that I will give a short pre-concert talk, focused on Elizabeth Bishop’s love of music.
(Suzie LeBlanc at the Elizabeth Bishop House, August 2010)

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 27 – Friends, Neighbours, & Strange Folks

Christmas continued into 1957 for Elizabeth and Lota. In the 10 January letter, Bishop tells Aunt Grace that “a crate just came this afternoon from a woman we know in São Paulo.” This friend was a wealthy coffee plantation owner, who had wanted Bishop “to translate her life story she’d written!” Bishop managed to bow out, perhaps because she “found another American here to do it for her.” By way of a thank you, however, this woman “sent me a huge sack — like a potato bag” (something Grace would be very familiar with) “full of coffee beans,” “about 20 pounds.” Bizarrely, Bishop declares that they had “no mill … to grind it,” so they would “have to buy one tomorrow.” Remember, this letter was written from Rio. Presumably, they had such a device at the house in Samambaia. Bishop declared that the coffee was “marvellous … like nothing you’ve ever tasted.”

Bishop then tells Grace about Lota’s friend Alfred, “who visits us quite often,” and was there “for a stay.” Bishop described him as “a writer, more or less,” “separated from his wife” and living alone. He was “in terrible shape, poor dear,” not eating right, “etc., etc.” He liked coffee, so visited “just about every hour on the hour” with his thermos. To make him even stranger, Bishop scribbled in the margin, “He’s rich, but unhappy — a graduate of Princeton, so speaks English — perfect English, too.” Even with “a daughter of 22, & a son of 16,” he was very lonely. Bishop also had “to give him an injection every day.” For what, she does not say.

Another neighbour, this one in the country, offered much more delight. He owned land “next to Lota’s” in Samambaia and raised orchids. Bishop described his green houses, filled with “thousands of pots … each green house … a little further along and a little bigger, just like a school for orchids — until you get to the top class, when they’re in bloom.” He showed his orchids at “a big flower show” that was held annually in a hotel in Pétropolis, “and he usually gets some blue ribbons.” The most spectacular of his orchids, Bishop reported, “was just like a waterfall — an enormous pot, the plant about three feet high, with 12 cascades of small white orchids … each spray about 18 inches long — pure white with a tiny yellow spot.” As soon as Lota saw it, she went back to the house to get Bishop. “I’ve never seen such a gorgeous plant, really,” Bishop declared. Bishop noted that their neighbour had “been offered about $200 for it.” Having such a neighbour had its benefits. For one thing, “any time we feel like it we can go through his orchid houses.” And “at Christmas his truck came up with four beautiful gloxinias all in bloom” and “four big begonias.” Clearly, he grew more than orchids.

The orchid man came up in the letter because Grace had written something about a very showy flower called “Bird of Paradise,” which Bishop thought could also be found in Brazil, the flower that “looks like a cockatoo’s crest?” This comment then launched Bishop into the orchids.
Having exhausted quite a few topics in this inaugural letter of 1957, Bishop makes a few passing comments about a couple of strange subjects:

“‘The Ten Commandments’ sounds awful.” Clearly, Grace had seen this Cecil B. DeMille epic, but that didn’t stop Bishop from “enclosing a review of it by a funny friend of mine in the U.S.” It would be interesting to know who this was. Perhaps a review in The New Yorker?
"I just heard that [Anthony] Eden’s resigned,” though she wasn’t sure “whether he did it himself or was forced to,” because she had not seen the papers. “Poor England … But I think the U.S. handled that very badly, too, and that [John Foster] Dulles is a damned fool.”
(Anthony Eden)
 
 (John Foster Dulles)
She concluded her letter, with her love and a little scribble, “I hope to see you in 1957.” Which indeed happened. The next post will address a gap in their correspondence and the first letter that followed it.