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

Monday, January 8, 2018

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 46: Returning to 1959

My last “Letters to Aunt Grace” post was on 17 March 2017 (#45). I had become a little discouraged about the point of the whole series, even as I had a really fun time writing it (indeed, it was the most fun I ever had writing about Bishop). So I decided to take a break for awhile. Now we are well into 2018. The good news about the EB House has lifted my spirits and makes me want to re-start these epistolary meditations. I do believe Bishop’s letters to her favourite aunt are important, even if it is not the grand literary correspondence that gets all the attention. I am going to start slowly, but I hope to post an item every week or so.

I stopped at a letter in July 1959 and begin with one dated “Rio, August 25th, 1959.” This was a time when Elizabeth and Lota were going back and forth between Samambaia and Rio on a fairly regular basis (the harbinger to the big change that happened in 1960–1961, when Lota began work on the park). As this letter starts, Bishop reports than she and Lota were in the big city “for another stretch,” having been there only a short time before. Bishop had been accumulating Grace’s letters, “(no 5),” without being able to respond, because of the travelling.

Just where Grace was, we do not know, but likely at home in Nova Scotia, because her most recent epistle brought alarming news: “I am so sorry to hear you’ve been sick and in bed with phlebitis.” As with all letters, the gap between writing and reading was considerable, so Bishop wrote what most correspondents in that era did, declaring, “I do hope you are better now.”

Like Bishop, Grace had an issue with penicillin. Neither could take it safely, though Bishop, ever up on all things medical, noted: “there are one or two forms of it one can take, apparently.” All medications carry risks (listen to any drug ad on television these days), and Bishop pondered, “if one is really sick enough it is worth the bad reaction, I suppose — to save one’s life!” Indeed. But what a choice to have.

Bishop and Grace not only loved each other, they also empathized deeply. From the time Bishop was a child, this empathy and kinship with Grace was a central part of their bond. Bishop’s often lengthy disquisitions about her and Grace’s health issues and medical treatments emerged from this deep concern and shared interest, not to mention knowledge. Bishop knew Grace was just as interested in such things as she was.

Bishop wondered if there was not “something they can do to cure it [the phlebitis] permanently.” And she again urged Grace to go to Halifax for a cardiograph (a subject that had come up a number of times in previous letters), because it was the only way to know “what you’re doing.” Besides, such tests were “reassuring.”

Bishop’s final comment in this opening paragraph, which covered a lot of ground in a few lines, was an editorial comment on what we today call “big pharma”: “These drugs are so damned expensive,” confirming it was so “even here, where things are cheaper as a rule.”

And so began another letter. Those of us who care mostly for the high literary value of correspondence forget that even the most famous people are, in the end, only human and are concerned, preoccupied, even obsessed with issues that obsess us all, especially illness and medicine. Clearly, Bishop did not find this kind of subject boring, rather it was vital and perhaps reflected on and affected her art more than we realize.

Bishop’s next subject in this letter (for the next post) takes this kind of concern about health, illness and medical intervention into a different, but closely related realm. Stay tuned.

(Photo portrait of Elizabeth Bishop that hung in the EB House.
Photo by Brenda Barry)

Saturday, January 6, 2018

From Our Correspondent in Minsk: A New Book by Natallia Pavaliayeva!

Our faithful readers will be delighted to hear of the approaching release of a new book by Natallia Pavaliayeva, whose visions of Elizabeth Bishop's poetry have delighted and inspired so many of us. Details may be found here.  Congratulations, Natallia!

From the Publisher's announcement: "Today many people are depressed. Well, some are. Some people today have depression. They dream ridiculous, disturbing, similar dreams. Their morning is reflected in the old mirror. They are surrounded by the uninitiated (damn, some uninitiated!). Let's get discouraged together, with taste and not without a dollop of fun! Well, not fun, perhaps, but at least some gloomy humor.

"We will be undertaking this with Natallia Pavaliayeva's new book, which is called, enigmatically enough, M.   Just what lies behind this letter, try to guess. Hint: depression, sadness and decay - that is the same for us and for you, whether a lady or a gentleman, whether an adult or a teenager. Or even, perhaps, a grandmother or grandfather - even they have depression. Why don't you stay here and wonder about it a bit, while we finish work on the book. It will be released in our new series 'Awful but cheerful.'"

Elizabeth Bishop House: Applications for September 2018 Residency now being accepted

The St. James Church of Great Village Preservation Society, now in possession of the Elizabeth Bishop House in Great Village, N.S., is setting up an annual two-week residency in September for a deserving artist. This residency is separate from the regular bookings that are being taken by the society for time at the house through the spring, summer and fall of 2018. Below are the terms for and instructions to apply for this residency. This is the first year for such a residency, so the society will assess how to proceed after it sees what this initial offering will bring. The residency is open to any artist, from anywhere; but those from elsewhere will have to cover their own travel to Great Village.
From my perspective, as a former owner of the house, I am once again thrilled that the Preservation Society is making provision to host an artist at the house, establishing a special retreat so that an artist will have space and time for work and also that the community will have the opportunity to connect with an artist. Thank you, Preservation Society, for your thoughtful approach to restoring the EB House Retreat to Nova Scotia and the Bishop world. I am also excited to see the casting call below, the next step in John Scott's much anticipated documentary about Bishop. It is fantastic that a Nova Scotian, with his own strong connections to the United States, is taking on this subject.

Thursday, January 4, 2018


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Elizabeth Bishop House Retreat -- open for business starting spring 2018

I am delighted to pass on this information from Laurie Gunn (the head of the EB House Retreat committee) about how to book time at the house. You can keep up to date on developments at the house on its Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ebretreat/

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year!

Wishing everyone a good turning of the year and all the best in 2018.

"...and these regions now have little to say for themselves / except in thousands of light song-sparrow songs floating upward / freely, dispassionately, through the mist ..." (EB, "Cape Breton"). (Photo by Brenda Barry)

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Brazil, Indiana: January 1, 1968

 "Brilliant sun and... what?! It's four below!
Steps bare, walk bare, road bare. Any snow
nowhere now in sight or even mind —
save for a pair of cardinals, who find
finding any food a larger chore
than once it seemed — at dawn the day before.
Mama is asleep, and Unk's asleep, —
I'm the only one awake to keep
the faith with baby-back-last-springtime birds.
I pull on day-old socks, mouth age-old words,
look for a coat or anyhow a sweater
but finding nothing closer serving better
head out the door to bait the railing, railing
now against the cold, and now the failing
of man and beast and bird to make provision
for mornings just like this one. 'Lack of vision!'
grumble I, 'or is it lack of gumption...'
— and so I freeze in shirt sleeves, the assumption
being, I assume, that even grapenut
cereal will do, from this old taped-up
dusty cardboard box from back last spring.
 Not my favourite breakfast fare — I take
a cup of them with eggs and milk to make
the grapenut pudding great-grand-daddy liked,
or so I was informed when still a tyke
— not because the fact was that important,
but that I was his namesake. Now this portent
means more to the cardinals than me.
I see them waiting there impatiently
out where the dogwood branches brush the board
the Amish carpenters replaced ("the Lord
be thanked!"), a half-a-dozen years ago.
I spread the nubblets thick on ice as thin
as when, the cream just come to boil, the skin
of grapenut pudding forms and barely trembles
beneath its weight of grain. The birds assemble
in strict pecking order, as if Francis
 never preached to them at all. The dance is
still to be distinguished from the dancer.
And though the Lord we've thanked gives them no answer
(Yeats tells us God has not appeared to them),
they are content with grapenuts now to stem
the rumble in their tummies.

                                               Fifty years
have passed sin-" ...but I see she is in tears!
Yes, tears — but not of sorrow: righteous wrath
as I make way for her (the narrow path
accommodating only one of us)
she's making what I'd once have called "a fuss"
— "You murderer of birds! You ignoramus!
Didn't you know, you fool, you dolt, you same-as-
the harm you caused by feeding them?" She twirled
around and like to gave my face a slap!
And then she undertook my Education:
"Grape nuts are like junk food. They're a trap
that keeps the birds from moving on to where
there's food enough for them, and not to share
with folks the likes of you — birds aren't aware
that grape nuts aren't calorie-dense enough
to keep them well and healthy, and they stuff
themselves, and then don't even try to find
the food that serves them better. So the blind
lead on the blind, I guess." She shook her head
and left me there behind, the way the dead
are left behind and out of things. Like bread,
or crumbs of it, or thimblefuls of coffee
served not to birds-on-board but to the lofty
1% who dread the thought of skim
milk or else skim ice, or all the prim
reproaches that the latest like to make
when contemplating all their sins the last.
She's right, of course. I give my head a shake,
as if I'm shaking off the snow. The past.

 Oakland City, Indiana, USA: January 1, 2018

Sunday, December 24, 2017

For Christmas Eve --

[From "At the Fishhouses."]

... Cold dark deep and absolutely clear,
the clear gray icy water . . . Back, behind us,
the dignified tall firs begin.
Bluish, associating with their shadows,
a million Christmas trees stand
waiting for Christmas. The water seems suspended
above the rounded gray and blue-gray stones.
I have seen it over and over, the same sea, the same,
slightly, indifferently swinging above the stones,
icily free above the stones,
above the stones and then the world.
If you should dip your hand in,
your wrist would ache immediately,
your bones would begin to ache and your hand would burn
as if the water were a transmutation of fire
that feeds on stones and burns with a dark gray flame.
If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter,
then briny, then surely burn your tongue.
It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Elizabeth Bishop House memoir -- An offer from Sandra Barry

I have once again written a rather unpublishable book, in part because, while I call it a memoir, it is a highly unconventional, non-linear narrative about my time as steward of the Elizabeth Bishop House in Great Village, Nova Scotia (2004 to 2015).

A couple of years ago, I offered “A Poem A Week” for a year. A number of kind people subscribed to receive one of my poems, along with a short commentary, every Monday morning. This offering was gratis. I plan to do something similar with my memoir: The Gestalt of Old Wood: My Love Affair with the Elizabeth Bishop House.

This memoir is made up of about 90 short sections. If you choose to subscribe, I will send a section, as a pdf file, once or twice a week, starting in January 2018, and continuing throughout the year.
(My father, Herb Barry, and our friend Ivy Cross,
sitting on the verandah, 2008. Photo by Brenda Barry.)
I am not asking for any payment, but if you want, you can donate something to support the Elizabeth Bishop House, which is about to re-incarnate : the St. James Church of Great Village Preservation Society was given the house in November 2017 by the new owners. The society plans to resurrect the artist retreat by the spring of 2018. I am excited about this development — the house will once again be open to Bishop fans and artists, and it is only right that this memoir help in some small way with this endeavour. (See the post below this one for more information.)

The Preservation Society is a registered charity (CRA # 803519370 RR0001), so Canadians can receive a tax receipt if they request one.

Do not send any donations to me, but directly to the Preservation Society. Let them know that the donation comes because of the memoir.

At this time, the Preservation Society can accept only cash or cheque, payable to “St. James Church of GV Preservation Society.” The mailing address is: c/o Laurie Gunn, Treasurer, 178 Parkwood South, Truro Heights, Nova Scotia, B6L 1P3.

If you have any questions about donating to the Preservation Society, contact Laurie Gunn at ebishopretreat@gmail.com.

For Bishop House supporters from elsewhere (that is, outside Canada and the US), if you want to make a donation, you can do so through the Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia’s website (http://elizabethbishopns.org/), through PayPal. There are “Donate” buttons on several of the pages of the website. If you have any questions about donating that way, just drop me a note.

(my email is: slbarry@ns.sympatico.ca)

Thank you for your interest and support.

Monday, November 27, 2017


The following is just in from the St. James Church of Great Village Preservation Society:

The St. James Church of Great Village Preservation Society is very pleased to announce that the Elizabeth Bishop House has been generously gifted to them.

The 150 year old EB House sits in the center of Great Village and was the much loved home of Elizabeth Bishop’s grandparents. Elizabeth Bishop spent her early childhood in this house and wrote poems, stories and memoirs about the people and events she witnessed and experienced.

The S.J.C.G.V Preservation Society is planning to re-establish the artist retreat as a place for Bishop fans and artists who want to experience this wonderful old house and spend quality time working and relaxing. The S.J.C.G.V. Preservation Society is hoping to have this exciting project ready by May 2018.

Check us out on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ebretreat/ or email us at ebishopretreat@gmail.com.

Anyone wishing to donate to this project can do so by making a cheque payable to the “S.J.C.G.V. Preservation Society” or “The Elizabeth Bishop Society “ (memo: EB House).

A charitable tax receipt is available for Canadians if requested.

Mail to Laurie Gunn, Treasurer, 178 Parkwood South, Truro Heights, Nova Scotia B6L 1P3.
As a previous owner of the EB House, I want to express my complete delight with this development and to thank the Preservation Society, especially Laurie Gunn, for all the hard work done to make this happen. And to thank the previous owners, who took good care of it between my tenure and the new guard. It is wonderful that the house will again be available for Bishop fans and artists of all kinds, as well as the many visitors who go to Great Village every year to see Bishop's beloved childhood home. I have written a memoir of my time taking care of the house and I will be sharing it with interested people in the near future. I will be posting a notice about this offer on the blog early in December.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Halifax Explosion, 6 December 1917: events to mark its centenary

EBSNS board member Janet Maybee, author of Aftershock: The Halifax Explosion and the Persecution of Francis Mackay (Nimbus), is involved in a number of projects and events marking the centenary of the Halifax Explosion, which occurred on 6 December 1917. One of these projects is an exhibit at the Colchester Historeum in Truro, N.S., dedicated to the response of Colchester County in the hours, days and weeks after the disaster: http://colchesterhistoreum.ca/current-exhibits/

See more about this exhibit on the Hub Now site
The booklet Janet created (cover above) for this exhibit will be part of a new time-capsule about the explosion that is being created to mark the one hundredth anniversary.

Janet is also involved in a re-enactment related to the aftermath of the explosion.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Suzie LeBlanc and friends’ opera premiere

EBSNS Honorary Patron Suzie LeBlanc is busy these days getting ready for the premiere of an opera. Recently, she wrote: “As you may know, I founded and co-direct with Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière an opera company called Le Nouvel Opera in Montreal. This fall, we are collaborating with Les Boréades de Montréal to perform and record a 17th century pastoral opera by Paolo Lorenzani: Nicandro e Fileno. This delightful work has not been presented on the stage anywhere in the world since its creation in 1681. It has never been recorded. Six singers, two dancers, actors and a small orchestra will perform the piece in a fully-staged production directed by Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière in Montreal on November 23rd, for one night only!

Le Nouvel Opera is involved in a fund-raising campaign for the recording of the opera on Indigogo. Check it out here:

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Lest We Forget...

To mark Remembrance Day, 11 November, Great Village resident Carole Pugsley Fisher has installed two banners next to the cenotaph, one to honour her grandfather Walter Perrin and the other to honour Neil Fisher, both veterans. Every year, as in nearly every community in Nova Scotia, a Remembrance Day service, organized and hosted by the Legion, is held at the cenotaph. This year will be no exception.
(Photos by Patti Sharpe.)
The EBSNS installed banners in 2011 for EB100, and has continued to put up banners every summer. These are taken down in the fall, but the society encourages other groups and individuals to make use of the brackets for other purposes.
(The Great Village cenotaph after a service,
15 November 2015. Photo by Brenda Barry.)

You can read more about Great Village and World War I on the blog here and here.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Brazilian Bishop scholar visits Nova Scotia

In the tradition of  “The Newsy Notes of Great Village” (which appeared regularly in the Truro Daily News) I offer a brief account of a visitor to Nova Scotia:

Recently, I had the great delight to meet with Tiago Barbosa da Silva, a Brazilian Bishop scholar who visited Nova Scotia this month. Tiago is working on a PhD dissertation at Universidade Federal Du Pernambuco.(https://www.ufpe.br/ ). He has been at the University of Ottawa working with Dr. David Jarraway. He and his partner Jalinson Jonas spent a couple of weeks in the province and we arranged to meet at Acadia University Archives, Wolfville, N.S., so I could introduce him to the material in the Bulmer-Bowers-Hutchinson-Sutherland Family fonds. We had a wonderful day talking about all things EB. What a true pleasure and privilege it was to share time and Bishop enthusiasm with Tiago. They spent time in Halifax, taking in the big Nocturne 2017 festival. They travelled to Cape Breton and then, of course, as they headed back to Ottawa, they stopped in Great Village, where EBSNS President Patti Sharpe and EBSNS board member Laurie Gunn met them and gave them a tour of the EB House.
(Tiago Silva, Patti Sharpe and Jalison Jonas at the EB House, October 2017.)

Tiago tells me that he will defend his dissertation in March 2018. We all hope that they will come back to Nova Scotia again!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Moya Pacey’s new collection of poems

We always like to make note of the activities of Bishop fans and devotees around the world. Recently, one of the creative alumni of the Elizabeth Bishop House, Australian poet Moya Pacey, published a new collection of poetry: Black Tulips (Recent WorksPress).

Moya was the winner in the adult category of the Elizabeth Bishop Centenary Writing Competition, 2011. Moya has been doing the usual launches and readings and has written about the book that she is “pleased with its shape” and feels that “the poems all sit together and have a conversation.” Check it out!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Update about Alfred Villeneuve's solo exhibit in Scotland

I recently received a photograph from painter Alfred Villeneuve (who donated a beautiful painting to the EBSNS to raise funds for our exhibit/gallery in St. James Church) taken at The Scottish Arts Club in August 2017. Alfred went for the opening of his first European solo exhibit, which coincided with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. We announced this exciting exhibit on this blog in July.

Here is the photo Alfred sent -- he is sitting in the salon where his artwork was hung. His comment about this photo is that he was tired but happy. His artwork is visible on the wall behind him and to the left by the window. His work was received with much interest and enthusiasm, which I, for one, do not find at all surprising. Congratulations Alfred!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Paul Dodgson’s new memoir

In 2007 BBC Radio producer Paul Dodgson and writer Lavinia Greenlaw spent a week at the EB House recording a documentary about Bishop’s Great Village, “As Big as Life,” which was broadcast later that year. Paul returned to Nova Scotia a couple more times for retreats at the house and has kept in touch, as have many EB House alumni. Recently, he told me about a new project and I am excited to pass on word about it. Paul is working on a new memoir: On The Road Not Taken, which he describes as his love story about the transformational power of music. Paul is crowd-funding on the publishing website Unbound. Check out the wonderful video that explains his project, and you can become part of the story by subscribing: https://unbound.com/books/on-the-road-not-taken. Good luck Paul! 

(Paul Dodgson and me at Field House, Spencer's Point,
near Great Village, September 2007. Photo by Lavinia Greenlaw.)

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Copy of Elizabeth Bishop’s North & South for sale

Elizabeth Bishop was in Nova Scotia when North & South, her first book, was published by Houghton Mifflin Company in August 1946. Her publisher sent her a copy while she was there. During this trip she visited her Aunt Grace Bulmer Bowers in Great Village, so her family immediately saw this début. Bishop was called back unexpectedly to the US (the famous bus trip with the moose encounter) and it was likely from there that she sent copies of N&S to her aunt and her cousin, Phyllis Sutherland. The latter copy is in Acadia University Archives (Bulmer-Bowers-Hutchinson-Sutherland family fonds). The copy Bishop gave to Grace is owned by Grace’s youngest son Rod Bowers, of Brantford, Ontario, Canada. Mr. Bowers has decided to sell this copy.

According to various online rare bookseller sources, only 1,000 copies of this book were printed. It was never re-issued in a second edition, but was incorporated into Poems: North & South—A Cold Spring, which was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1955 and won Bishop the Pulitzer Prize in 1956. Thus, stand-alone copies of North & South are rare. And signed/inscribed copies rarer.

This copy of North & South does not have its dust jacket (the copy at Acadia University has a jacket, but it is torn and fragile). Like the Acadia copy, this copy is both signed (on the title page) and inscribed, “For Aunt Grace, with love, from Elizabeth” (on the front endpaper — this page has rust spots from a paperclip). Except for the missing jacket, this hardcover first edition is in good shape with the binding intact, with slight wear at the top and bottom of the binding. There are a few small stains on several its pages. Otherwise, minimal discolouration.

Mr. Bowers is asking $7,000.00 USD for this copy. Mr. Bowers can be contacted at: rodbowers@rogers.com.

Below are images of this copy of North & South.
(Front cover)

(Signed title page)

(Inscription on endpaper)


Thursday, August 17, 2017

New: A setting of Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Shampoo”

Recently, California writer and musician Charmane M. Vaianisi wrote to tell us of a collaboration with Oklahoma musician and composer Beau Mansfield: a setting of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “The Shampoo.” They have posted a recording of this setting on YouTube. You can here it by clicking: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lc4hvM9eHY
Charmane has an incredible story, which you can read here.
Charmane's YouTube Channel.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Heritage Day Event in Great Village

The Great Village Community Association organized a Heritage Day event which took place in the school gymnasium on 7 August 2017. Approximately 75 people attended to hear three guest speakers talk about three different periods of West Colchester’s history. 1. Garrett Gloade — early Mi’kmaw settlement of West Colchester and the Cobequid shore. 2. Bill Casey — the Acadian presence in Colchester and Cumberland counties. 3. Richard Akerman — Great Village’s role as the port of Londonderry during the boom period of the iron ore mines in that community.

Along with several other community groups, the EBSNS contributed a display, which was manned by April Sharpe, the summer student who is helping out at St. James Church. April kindly agreed to write a report for the blog, which follows: 

“Heritage Day was full of history, including the Elizabeth Bishop Display table set up for all to see. Many people came to the table, drawn perhaps by the Elizabeth Bishop doll more than anything. There were people who had no idea who Elizabeth Bishop was, but many more knew of her. Both groups were happy to see the display, to further their knowledge of the famous poet. The pictures of her maternal family members drew the most attention. The Vassar yearbook, citing Great Village as her home and showing her in her youth, made many smile. The display featured publications by and about EB, photographs, and various projects the Society had undertaken including our centenary and roadside banners. EBSNS pencils and walking tour booklets were free for the taking. It was an all around success. "
(A glimpse of Heritage Day and the EBSNS display --
our centenary and roadside banners are on the wall. Photo by Keith Pratt.)