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

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Lifting Yesterday — Supplement — Chapters 9 and 10: Old volcanoes

Since Chapters Nine and Ten of Lifting Yesterday are relatively short, since we are at the end of this subscription, I thought that I would send them together to my subscribers. Concluding this process during the last month of summer, and just as the Elizabeth Bishop Festival is about to happen (on 8 August 2015 in Great Village, N.S.), seems to make sense. When September rolls around, we all turn back to our autumnal rhythms.

Chapter Nine is another exploration of several Bishop works, looking at them through the lens I set up in the preceeding chapters. Chapter Ten turns the lens on Bishop herself, which I do using her late great poem “Crusoe in England,” included in her final collection Georgraphy III.

Thinking about what sort of supplement I might offer, I decided on just a couple of photographs, recently taken at the house by my sister, Brenda – photos of old newspaper that is still attached to the walls of the attic room on the second floor. At one time, newspaper would have covered the walls of this room – insulation. I have no doubt that Bishop spent time playing in this room covered with text (quite literally “writing on the wall”).

When people see this room, they are amazed and immediately can connect what are now only the barest remnants to various themes, interests, aspects of EB’s work. This tiny room with its open beams and boards, tucked at the back of the house, is, in my view, a vital space in Bishop iconography. Some of which I explore in these two chapters.

For example, two of the most prominent mentions of volcanoes in Bishop’s work are found in “In the Waiting Room” and “Crusoe in England,” both in Geography III. Bishop encountered images of volcanoes in the 1918 National Georgraphic that seeded “In the Waiting Room.” I encountered a vivid description of a Russian island being born because of a volcano in an issue of the Truro Daily News in the late 1910s, a piece that I could well imagine Pa Bulmer reading to the family after tea on one of those quiet evenings during the last days of Gertrude’s time with the family, before she went into the hospital. “Crusoe in England” begins with the image of an island being born from a volcano. Did that early article help seed this very late poem?

But, perhaps Bishop’s earliest encounter with an erupting volcano was on the walls of the attic room at the EB House.
Caption on image: "Vesuvius in Eruption" (Photo by Brenda Barry)

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