"I'm back from my week at Elizabeth Bishop's childhood home in Great Village, Nova Scotia. What follows is the beginnings of an essay on the experience -- in the form of the raw entries in my day-to-day notebook. I'll pretty these up, elaborate them, and essay-fy them over the next few days. It was a bigger experience than I can encompass in words, I'm afraid -- and it'll take months to come to grips with it. Anyhow..."
"[23 February - Wednesday] I didn't get to sleep until after midnight, and got up a little before six. I read what criticism there is in the house about "Filling Station" -- not much, really -- certainly it seems to be relatively neglected compared to many of her other things. Divisions of the Heart has two amusing interpretations of the last line -- one erudite, the other McLuhan on acid -- the first one found that the 'so, so, so' line echoes Prospero in The Tempest; the second claims only we can be the 'somebody' who loves us all... the 'we' being poetry-lovers, or maybe McLuhanites, I don't know for sure which. Anyhow, I'm going to combine the two into 'prospero-us' for the poem I'm contemplating as an entry, or part of one, in the House Journal before I leave. The whole problematic of the House Journal will have to form a separate essay, I suppose -- anyhow, I have one almost complete in my mind about the concept and its realization. Yesterday my walk took me up the road past the funeral parlour and out of town. There was almost no traffic. I walked a couple miles or so on the way out -- on the way back I took a side road upward and through what I thought was a ridge but turned out to be a high pasture covered in crusted snow -- you could see for miles and miles, also down on Great Village -- just the church spire, really. I snapped a picture. Back in town I stopped at the antique store that is now next to the Bishop house and browsed for a pleasant hour -- I got a volume of Lowell's poems for the house -- James Russell, not Robert, and an old book on English composition which emphasized memorization -- some of the passages were half decent, but it's remarkable how bad many of them were. I also got a little plate with a crack in it that reminded me of Russian lubki, with their colours applied with violent inattention to the stippled outlines of the country scene -- and a turned birdseye maple bowl made by somebody named Bell out on Prince Edward Island -- fairly recently, I presume. Towards evening I went to the little Quickmart that the old grocery has turned into, and got munchies and dip, Pirate peanut butter cookies and a locally-made curriwurst sausage. This morning it is snowing rather hard, so I'll have to think twice about going out."
"[24 February - Thursday] Yesterday wasn't productive. In the afternoon I got this sudden intense urge to go up the road to the left of the church, despite all the snow, and out to where I knew, vaguely, the cemetery was. I turned left about a mile out at what almost looked like a driveway; there was an enormous pile of snow across it a few yards in that would block access to anybody who wasn't on foot -- I expect they must salt any winter corpses away somewhere until spring, or at least until a thaw long enough to soften the thoroughly frozen ground. It was heavy going getting out there -- sometimes I could feel that I was crossing water, perhaps deep water, under all the crusted snow; sometimes the crust would break and I was thigh-deep, almost, in snow. But I made it, albeit with several almost disastrous falls along the way. Most of the stones were completely obscured by the snow. But as luck would have it, I found William Brown Bulmer (Bishop's maternal grandfather, whom she referred to as 'Pa') almost immediately. Probably her grandmother was buried next to him -- they died a year apart, in 1930 and 1931, but the snow had hidden her completely. Anyway, I said a silent thank you for the love and care they had given her. Then I struggled toward the power lines that I thought marked a country road -- no, it was just the power lines -- so I had to retrace my steps and struggle back to the highway. Then I went home. I got the fixings for making an apple pie, but ended up making a kind of apple oatmeal mush instead.
"I called Mark around eight that evening. It turned out he thought I was coming here next week. He called back an hour or so later, after putting his two little girls to bed, and we thrashed out what to do. Then around half past ten he drove over from Brookfield and stayed about an hour. He brought with him all the files, so I'll be able to concentrate on what hasn't been done yet. He likes the house. His boss is keeping him very busy at work, but we will have Friday evening and most of Saturday to work. The book won't get done in the time we'll have, of course, but it's better than nothing. I read Susan Halpern's Migrations to Solitude and Howard Norman's My Famous Evening, with its charming essay, "Driving Miss Barry", about his time with Sandra."
"[25 February - Friday] About five hours sleep. "Music by Letter" is playing on CBC-2 -- they're up to 'Q'. The programme begins with a medley of alphabetical songs - "R-E-S-P-E-C-T", "L is for..." "M is for..." "YMCA" and the Jackson Five's "ABC -- simple as 1-2-3" among others -- so I am taking that as a Divine Prompt to pursue the ideas I've had for composing a "Filling Station" palinode.
"I made a couple of apple crisps yesterday - consumed one entirely by myself, and about a quarter of the second one -- finished off the hot dogs, and ate about a third of the chicken thighs I brought with me -- boiled. The curriwurst was great boiled, and the water it boiled in, when I added a couple tablespoons of peanut butter and about a cup of milk, made a really delicious soup -- no further seasoning was necessary.
"Mark called around eight or so that evening to say he couldn't come out because of road conditions. I felt bad about that, but I did make progress on a translation of Kuzmin's "Faustina", which has the same title as one of Bishop's poems -- I noticed for the first time that it is written in sapphics, and that proved to be the key to producing a version that pleased me more than anything I had got from it before. It is one of Kuzmin's "Gnostic Poems" -- all of which are terribly obscure and difficult. I worked some more on the Filling Station palinode, and took quite a number of pictures the past couple days -- I guess I'm glad I took Evan's suggestion to bring the camera along after all. Endless listening to Shostakovich's preludes and fugues, and Glenn Gould playing the first half of the well-tempered clavier, and Bishop reading her poems, again and again -- you can make out background voices in quite a number of them. Also, I used my little micro-recorder to make a copy of the Bishop recording, and spent about an hour reading some of my poems from last year and Canticle onto a tape."
"[26 February - Saturday] Mark finally made it over at about two in the afternoon. We took some more pictures, and talked and talked about many things, and I read him some of my poems from last fall -- he was enthusiastic about them. We finished my "End of the Month Club" soup for supper -- made from the water I had boiled the chicken thighs in, two packages of Caesar salad, and the rest of the duck egg instant noodles I'd brought with me, along with the rest of the milk. Then he settled down to work and I settled down to reading -- he took a nap for an hour or so with a poem pressed to his chest, and then got up and did a creditable job on a version. Around nine o'clock I finished cleaning up and shut out the lights and turned down the furnace, and we left for the Truro bus station. I got in to Halifax at about half past eleven, and took a cab straight home."