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

Monday, February 8, 2010

Simple Gifts: the fifth annual Elizabeth Bishop birthday party, Halifax, N.S.

On Sunday, 7 February 2010, about thirty-five people gathered at the Writers' Federation of Nova Scotia to for the fifth annual Elizabeth Bishop birthday party and Elizabeth Bishop House Artists' Retreat fund-raiser. Elizabeth Bishop's actual birthday is today, 8 February, and thanks to John for getting our "Today" feature up and running. We asked Elizabeth Peirce, one of our dear friends and faithful supporters to write her impressions of the gathering, which I am including below. I and the other nine co-owners of the Elizabeth Bishop House want to express our heartfelt thanks and gratitude to all who participated -- eight fantastic readings by eight wonderful readers -- and all who attended. I hope we will get some pictures from the party up soon. Elizabeth speaks to some of the highlights of the gathering, but I want to speak to the bigger picture: these birthday parties have been happening for five years, each year bringing us closer to the Elizabeth Bishop Centenary -- which is the point of this blog -- to spread the word about this important milestone and all the exciting things we will be doing in Nova Scotia in 2011, not only at the Elizabeth Bishop House and in Great Village, but also all around the province. Keep tuned in to learn more.


Elizabeth Bishop is said to have hated birthdays—when you’re 99, you should be entitled to some peace and quiet. Still, I’m glad we well-wishers persisted with a little homemade birthday cheer.

The gifts were of several kinds: the handmade, from EB friends near and far—cards, envelopes, photographs, CDs, needlework, pickles. Some shared their gift of creative costuming: John found the best possible use for a Bishop’s Landing flyer as the centrepiece of his festive coronet, while Roxanne’s amazing jukebox of poems made sure that EB’s own voice was part of the festivities.

Then there was the gift of poetry well read (and sometimes to the clanking accompaniment of the WFNS heating system; said the ever-professional Suzie, “That’s OK. I enjoy percussion duets.”) Hearing Truman read “The Moose” awakened a fierce, visceral pride in EB’s distinctively Nova Scotian roots; I was gently chastised moments later by John’s eloquent reading of “One Art” in Russian, reminded that the great writers finally belong to us all.

Think of it as a friendly gathering rather than a birthday celebration if you prefer, dear EB—a little warmth in a cold month, an afternoon of catching up with old friends and meeting new ones, a chance to be read to (a rare gift in adulthood!). I’m afraid we’ll be doing it all again next year....

Elizabeth Peirce
Halifax, Nova Scotia


  1. Happy birthday, Elizabeth Bishop.

    "There is a magic made by melody:
    A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
    Heart, that sinks through fading colors
    To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
    And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
    Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep."