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

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

First Encounter XLII: Alexandra Hirschel

My first encounter with Elizabeth Bishop was in 2014 when I watched the film “Reaching for the Moon,” which in German is simply called “Die Poetin” (The Poet). I found that title interesting, probably because I had started writing short stories myself in 2013. While I watched the film I didn’t even realize that it was about a real person. I thought it was a fictional story until I read the quotations of Miss Bishop and Robert Lowell at the end of the film. I had watched a lot of films about writers before but none of them haunted me like “Reaching for the Moon.” I thought about the quoted poems in the film for weeks until finally, in September 2014, I bought Bishop’s complete poems.
The first poem I read was “The Map” — I had some problems with “Norway’s hare” until I opened an atlas and found Norway looking like a running hare. The second poem I read was “A Cold Spring,” which has become one of my favorites and opened Bishop’s beautiful world of metaphors to me. Probably that is what I love so much about her poetry, that she describes everything so detailed. As I’m not a native speaker I sometimes have to look up quite a lot of words in the dictionary, but Bishop’s great descriptions are really worth having a close look on them.

It didn’t take long until I had read much more poems. At that time we had to do presentations in our English class at school and I decided that Miss Bishop’s poetry would be a great topic. I suggested to present Bishop as well as her poem “One Art.” Our teacher was enthusiastic because she hadn’t heard of Miss Bishop before. At that time I also found the Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia, where I got very kind answers to all my questions from Sandra Barry.

Some time after I had presented Bishop in class I read Remembering Elizabeth Bishop — An Oral Biography. I really could identify with Bishop in her early years, as I had always felt out of place in school. Living at the edge of the German Alps one usually does a lot of winter sports, but I never did like those things. That made me the odd one out at elementary school, I think. Especially in the last two years, Miss Bishop’s poetry and stories helped me a lot in finding my way. I struggled with the decision of what I would study after finishing my final exams. Unlike Bishop, who chose to become a writer, I chose to study veterinary medicine. I haven’t regretted my decision so far and find it quite funny that we seem to share an interest in medicine.

Recently — in February 2017 — I organized an Elizabeth Bishop evening with some of my texts and Bishop’s poems because I find it a pity that only few people here in Germany are familiar with Miss Bishop, who is such a great poet. Over the last years she really has become my favorite writer.
(Alexandra during her reading in February 2017.)

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