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

Monday, April 19, 2010

by Binnie Brennan

It was Sandra Barry who introduced me to Elizabeth Bishop’s work. I know Sandra as an ardent supporter of Symphony Nova Scotia, and a dedicated audience member who listens deeply to the music we play from her seat in the second row. When the situation merits, she leaps to her feet, arms held aloft and hands clapping, often leading standing ovations.

In 2008 I took a year’s leave-of-absence from my position with the Symphony to pursue my writing interests. In no time at all, Sandra introduced me to Elizabeth Bishop, and infected me with her enthusiasm. As a prose writer, I was initially interested in reading Bishop’s fiction, but soon I was equally taken by her poetry, letters, and essays.

Sandra invited me to attend the 2009 Elizabeth Bishop Birthday Bash, which was terrific good fun. On February 10, 2009, I wrote the following blog post:

“I am in awe of Elizabeth Bishop’s writing, since reading her Collected Prose. Her story, In the Village, is as perfect a work as any I have read, performed, listened to, or looked at, and it had the same effect as any masterpiece of any genre. There are images and emotions that simply will not leave me, nor do I particularly want them to.

“At the Elizabeth Bishop Birthday Bash I closed my eyes and listened, enraptured, as people took turns reading her poetry. If the Elizabeth Bishop Society newsletter is anything to go by (and it is), the publication of EB’s Library of America volume, Poems, Prose, and Letters (2008) is something for readers to celebrate. In addition to being a first-rate poet and prose writer, EB is touted as one of the greatest letter-writers of the twentieth century. This alone makes me put the new volume at the top of my birthday wish list. The wait-time on the library reserve list is far too long for my impatient heart.” (February 10, 2009)

Indeed, I was fortunate to have my birthday wish list honoured. The Library of America volume rests at the top of the pile on my book table. I return to it often, and always find a treasure within.

Binnie Brennan
2 April, 2010

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