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

Friday, February 12, 2010

Nova Scotia Connections

My dear Miss Bishop:
I hope you won’t think it an impertinence if I try to tell you how much I have enjoyed your two (latest?) stories in The New Yorker. Not that I shall attempt anything in the way of an appreciation of their aesthetic qualities. My competence in that field is much too amateur to put into words what I feel about the perfection of your writing. I am simply overwhelmed with its loveliness. But as a former Nova Scotian I should like to thank you for the delight you have given me with the absolutely correct Nova Scotianness of your characters, scenes, and incidents. Indeed you bring my past so much alive that you make me feel you have almost lived my youth over again….

[Elizabeth Bishop Papers, Vassar College Special Collections, Series I, 2.15.]

This passage is the opening of a letter written by Victor L.O. Chittick to Elizabeth Bishop on 2 January 1954. It might be one of the first fan letters she ever received. Chittick was born in Hantsport, N.S., but in 1954 he was a professor of literature at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. In December 1953 he read “In the Village” in The New Yorker and wrote to Bishop, who was living in Brazil. Think about the trajectory of this correspondence—New York, Portland, Petrópolis. What brings them all together? Nova Scotia. Chittick and Bishop began a correspondence and the well-known Thomas Chandler Haliburton scholar went on to write what might be the first critical essay about her work, published in The Dalhousie Review in 1955. The title of that essay is “Nomination for Laureateship.” Yes, Chittick put forth Elizabeth Bishop as the “unofficial Poet Laureate of Nova Scotia” (Nova Scotia not having an official position). Even as Bishop had been Poetry Consultant for the Library of Congress in 1949–1950, this “former Nova Scotian” saw instantly the depth of her connection to the province. I wonder if Bishop ever told him that in 1929 her Walnut Hill School classmates had foretold this position in their graduating class prophecy: “Miss Bishop, the poet laureate of Nova Scotia. Walnut Hill has proudly placed her bust in the alcove, while she remains in Nova Scotian seclusion.”


The focus of this blog is the Elizabeth Bishop centenary — a place to find out information about the many activities which will happen in Nova Scotia — and elsewhere. Some of these activities are well into the planning stages, some are only just germinating. Over the next two years we will ask various artists to speak about these projects and their own connections to Bishop. But two years is a lot of days, weeks and months to account for (though sometimes it seems barely any time at all!), even with guest postings by the dozens of wonderful people who will participate. John has his challenge, to which he is admirably rising, with a quote of the day! He will have other germane and delightful things to say, too. Suzie will make offerings especially on the artistic side, as she is deeply involved in the musical events being planned; her vision and creativity in this realm fostering all sorts of wonderful collaborations. I wondered how I could contribute beyond discussing my own involvement in centenary projects. I decided that I will, now and then, write about Bishop’s many “Nova Scotia connections,” details I have discovered in my research about her family and childhood. Whatever we write — along with your welcome comments — will reflect the larger motivations and intentions behind EB100, so in the spirit of Bishop’s interest in “(no detail too small),” I thought our readers would enjoy learning about some of the particulars, and might even be inspired by them.

No comments:

Post a Comment