"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop
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Monday, July 16, 2018

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 72: Family matters continue

This long delayed post will conclude Bishop’s letter of 18 October 1960. After the rather lengthy, perhaps slightly obsessive analysis of her cousin’s strange, stand-offish behaviour, a dense paragraph that filled nearly one half of the page on which is was typed, Bishop suddenly stopped. This interruption was signalled in the text by an empty line set off from the previous dense paragraph and then the sentence:

“Stop — to take a large stinging [this word scribbled by hand above the type] out of my brassiere —”
(Perhaps this Paraponera clavata, one of the nastiest stinging ants
in Brazil, is the kind Bishop mentions.
Click the link to see all kinds of Brazilian ants!)
Bishop was nothing if not literal and immediate, and this delightful interjection (not, I suppose, delightful for her!) would have given Grace a chuckle and brought her niece’s daily life really close. Bishop did not offer any report of being stung, so the removal was done before any injury.

One might think this interjection would shift Bishop’s focus and she would turn to other things, but family matters continued to dominate — though she did acknowledge that she “must stop wondering and go down and see what there is for Marietta’s (the sister’s) lunch.” If cousin Elizabeth was “baffling,” Lota’s sister was her own sort of trial. Thought “2 years younger than Lota, with two sons and two baby grandchildren,” Marietta was “a nervous wreck.” Whatever the cause of this condition, Bishop told Grace that “we always get so tired when she comes to visit!”

This somehow prompted Bishop to remember to say, “I hope you are keeping well and taking your medicine” and inquiring about her aunt’s leg. Which in turn made her report that she had once again “had a letter from Aunt Florence from another nursing home,”  writing about her “circulation troubles.” Florence gave no reason for the move so Bishop was “waiting to hear from the cousins about what really happened and how she is.” In the end, all Bishop could say about this difficult, cranky, elderly relative was “poor thing.”

Winding down this epistle, Bishop once again urged Grace to write and wistfully concluded: “I wish it weren’t so far away and expensive for you to visit me — I don’t think you’d stall like my cousin, would you?”

She signed off with her usual “much love,” but before she sealed the missive in its envelope, she added a postscript “after lunch” to update the cousin issue. She reported that she “finally got Ray at his office — bright & cheerful as ever.” She confirmed they had moved and had no telephone, “but HE could call, after all.” Bishop and Lota were still waiting to get the maple syrup the Naudins had transported, which Ray mentioned, “Aha!” wrote Bishop, “I’ll send you a check next time.” Surely Grace didn’t want any reimbursement. Bishop also reported that they had “made another date, for the 29th” for their visit, “maybe he’ll be able to get a company car.” Bishop had reached her limit though: “I’ve been inviting them & telephoning them for 5 months,” she scribbled in her almost indecipherable hand at the bottom of the page. She swore it was “the last time I’m going to try.” She quite rightly noted: “don’t they know the young are supposed to make the effort to see the OLD?”

Bishop’s next letter was typed on 29 October, the day of the proposed visit. The cousin saga continued and will be the subject of the next post.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Elizabeth Bishop Society of NS participates in Truro's Pride Parade

The weather cooperated and the turn out was great, and a fun time was had by all who participated in Truro, N.S., third annual Pride Parade, including members of the Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia. Here are a couple of images taken by Mickey Rigby, which show just how colourful the celebration was. Thanks to April Sharpe, summer student and tour guide in Great Village, for pitching the idea to participate and helping to bring it about. Thanks to all the EBSNS supporters for getting involved.
(EBSNS President Patti Sharpe on the far right. EBSNS board member Laura Sharpe (and summer student at the Bass River Museum) to her left. Great signs!!
Here is the whole EBSNS contingent looking colourful, indeed. That is the instigator April on the far left. Patti reported: "The parade was a big success, well attended.  It was a lot of fun to be part of it all and everyone was in the best of spirits with lots of music and dancing." Bravo.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

EB turns up in interesting places

A few of us over the years have paid attention to Bishop’s appearance in unusual places: films, young adult novels, television shows and so on. Her words have appeared as epigraphs in fiction and non-fiction books. Her poems have been read on the big screen. (All of these appearances are outside the major treatments of her by composers, visual artists, documentary film makers, fellow poets, and the literary critical industry around her.)

Indeed, John has been locating and posting some of these interesting and strange places where Bishop or her art have found a unique place.

I think a whole study could be done about the way Bishop’s art has infiltrated other art and even mainstream cultural expression. I suppose it is so for many other poets, such as Dickinson and Frost; but for those of us who love Bishop’s work, it is fun to come across her in places where one isn’t looking for her.

Recently, my sister read Brad Kessler’s 2006 novel Birds in Fall: A Novel, which uses the tragedy of the 1998 Swiss Air crash off the coast of Nova Scotia as a foundation for a fictional story about the families who lost loved ones in that terrible disaster. She excitedly showed me a spot near the end of the book which includes a passing but clearly knowledgeable reference not to Bishop’s art but to her life.


The reference is near the bottom of the page.

Brad Kessler, a very interesting fellow, who clearly spent time in NS before (perhaps even during) the writing of this novel. His novel came to us via Heather Killen, who owns a wonderful used bookstore in Berwick, N.S., called Shelf Life. I had not heard about it before – when I am done with it, I will pass it on to Laurie Gunn to put in the EB House – it only seems appropriate.


Friday, July 6, 2018

EB House Tours -- Summer, 2018

April Sharpe is working for the St. James Church of Gt. Village Preservation Society for the summer as a historical interpreter both at Elizabeth Bishop House and the Saint James Church. She will be doing tours of the Elizabeth Bishop House on Saturdays at 2pm with the exception of July 14th. She will also be offering tours of EB's Great Village on Thursdays at 2 pm.

Parking is available at the church. April can be found upstairs in the church most days with the exception of Mondays and Tuesdays. Thank you, April, for your dedication to Elizabeth Bishop's legacy!

Monday, July 2, 2018

An Afternoon with Cory Lavender at Elizabeth Bishop House


BBC Radio 3 Programmes about Elizabeth Bishop

Here are some links to BBC Radio 3 programmes about Elizabeth Bishop and her works --

[1] Elizabeth Bishop's 'Large Bad Picture' -- Episode 2 of Five Poems I wish I had Written, with poet, editor and teacher Don Paterson.

[2] The Loves of Elizabeth Bishop -- Episode 4 of The Love that Wrote its Name, with novelist Neel Mukherjee.

[3] Colm Toibin on Elizabeth Bishop, Mammoth Cloning, Fareed Zakaria.