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

Monday, September 14, 2020

Anne Stevenson (1933-2020)

 A short time ago, I learned from U.K. Bishop scholar Jonathan Ellis that the poet, biographer and literary critic Anne Stevenson died today (14 September). Stevenson was a “pioneer” in Bishop studies, publishing a book about EB’s poems in 1966. She subsequently published two collections of essays about Bishop’s work. Her final book of poems came out recently with Bloodaxe Books and the publisher has posted a moving tribute to her, complete with a video of her reading some of her poems.

I first met Anne Stevenson in 1995 – September I think – when she and her lovely husband Peter Lucas visited Nova Scotia (it was her first visit to the province). I remember the year because the second Quebec Referendum was happening and she was quite interested in this event. She and Peter stayed at the Lord Nelson Hotel in Halifax and I remember walking around town with her. I can’t remember if I went to Great Village with her, but I might have. Even though I was a total stranger to her, in a most generous gesture, before she left, she handed me a folder containing copies of the correspondence between her and EB in the 1960s. I was stunned and profoundly grateful. This correspondence, some of which is finally published in the Library of America's Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose, and Letters, has been mined by many scholars over the past decades, including myself. Bishop was remarkably forthcoming with Stevenson in this correspondence and revealed all manner of things both personal and poetic.

Anne Stevenson and Peter Lucas, September 1998, 

Acadia University, Wolfville, N.S. (Photo by Laura Menides)

Then I spent a bit of time with Anne and Peter in 1998. Anne kindly agreed to be the keynote speaker at “Divisions of the Heart,” a Bishop symposium at Acadia University (the repository of the Bulmer family archive) in September of that year. I remember an afternoon sitting in the Blomidon Inn interviewing Stevenson about Bishop. I wished we had recorded her keynote talk, which was lively, even feisty, and especially the Q&A afterwards. Subsequently, I had my own exchange of letters with Anne, until the beginning of the new millennium, when our communication dwindled and ceased. I would hear about her now and then from U.K. friends, but our contact became just a pleasant memory. Curiously, this past week, I had been writing about Stevenson to Walter Smart, a friend in Michigan who has become quite interested in Bishop. In the course of our lively correspondence, he mentioned Stevenson (he’s been delving deeply into all that has been written about Bishop in the past 40 years – and Stevenson is important). I wrote him some of my memories and even observed that she was still living but would be elderly by now (Stevenson was 87 – she was born the same year as my mother). And then to hear of her death earlier today – well, I wondered about this interesting convergence. I am grateful for the brief contact I had with her and immensely grateful for her sharing of such vital correspondence. My deepest sympathy goes out to her family and friends. Her passing is a loss to the world of poetry and scholarship. 

Monday, September 7, 2020

New journal to be published

Jonathan Ellis, our correspondent in the UK, has just alerted me to a new development out of Penn State University – the publication of a new journal, Bishop-Lowell Studies. It was only a matter of time before such a project manifested and with its stellar editorial board, this journal will attract the top Bishop/Lowell scholars writing today. As was observed to me from our correspondent, Bishop has become “iconic” – and then some, and not only in the academy. My hope is that there will be a wide definition for contributions, so that not only the hard-core literary criticism will be included, but also deep explorations of the wider interest in Bishop among artists of all disciplines (for example, a serious look at the film treatments of Bishop to date, especially since a new documentary film by Nova Scotian film-maker John Scott, who teaches at Ithaca College, is due out in the near future; also, I was recently asked by poet and playwright Malcolm Willison, of Schenectady and Key West, if anyone has looked closely at how Bishop has been treated in plays and fiction – and I wonder if Lowell has received this kind of attention from the wider artistic community). It will be interesting to watch this endeavour unfold and evolve.

Monday, August 24, 2020

A couple of EB items

It is time for the “Two Arts” virtual exhibit to wind down. I will begin posting other things and slowly the images will settle into the blog’s archive. That said, however, we will keep the separate “Two Arts” page in the menu on the right-hand side, so that if anyone wants to check it out in the future, the links will give easy access to the images. The EBSNS will continue to offer framed and unframed prints for as long as we have them available, so if anyone is interested, they can find out the terms on the “Two Arts” page and see what prints we still have.

The EBSNS wishes to extend deepest gratitude to Natallia Povaliayeva for her generosity in allowing the society to share her whimsical, EB-inspired drawings and to allowing us to raise money through the sale of prints. Her delightful art benefits all who see it and the fund-raiser has benefitted the EBSNS in a substantial way. Thank you.

Below are notices about several new collections of poetry that are inspired to some degree by Bishop’s life and art. I am happy to feature these books and their authors. At the end of this post, there is also an image that is as interesting as it is rare.


Aiden Rooney’s Go There, the Irish poet’s most recent collection, contains three poems that are inspired by his visits to Nova Scotia and his connection to Bishop. In the introduction to this collection, Daniel Tobin describes “Seals,” “In Acadie,” and “Habitation” as “North American poems,” but two of these are deeply immersed in the history of Nova Scotia itself, long before it was part of even British North America. “Seals” is clearly a nod to Bishop’s famous seal in “At the Fishhouses.”


New England poet Jeffrey Harrison’s new collection Between Lakes has just been published by Four Way Books. Jeffrey’s work is elegant and profound, deeply indebted to the natural world that infuses his gestalt. He is also a Bishop fan and the collection contains one poem inspired by a story I told him some years ago about Bishop and The Grateful Dead!


Poet and playwright Malcolm Willison’s latest collection, A House of Her Own (SeaStory Press 2019) has the delightful subtitle: Poems on the Afterlife of Elizabeth Bishop’s House in Key West. Over the course of many years wintering in Key West, Willison walked by Bishop’s home (the first home of her own in her adult life) again and again. He began writing about this experience and in the end realized he had a collection that charted the changes that took place to that house. These poems are by turns intriguing, amusing, elegiac and wonderfully descriptive of the activities or lack there of that he witnessed, as residents came and went. The house is now owned by the Key West Literary Seminar organization, with a mission to restore it and make it available to the public. Willison’s poems are a lovely, literary record of one poet’s longing to ‘get inside’ – and now that will be possible.


Poet Henri Cole recently send this image of what can only be described as a truly rare pairing. In 1973, The Phoenix Bookshop in New York City brought out a letter press printed chapbook of Bishop’s “Poem.” Only 126 were printed. Henri recently purchased one of the rare signed copies. His friend Rachel Jacoff is now the owner of the small George W. Hutchinson painting that inspired “Poem” – it was a truly inspired gesture to bring these two significant Bishop treasures together. I thank Henri for sharing this image with me.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

What people are saying about “Two Arts”

I love Natallia's ability to capture Bishop's sense of agonised fun (Robert Lowell called it her "sorrowing amusement"). Our awareness of the many sadnesses of Bishop's life sometimes leads us to forget this playful side. But it's alive and well in all of her illustrations, each of which make us aware how important childhood and children's tales were to Bishop's grown-up writing. In fact, looking at these illustrated poems, you realise how much Bishop delights in the silliness of measuring up experience according to scale and size. To grow up is not necessarily to become wiser.

Jonathan Ellis, Sheffield, United Kingdom

Playful, witty, and punchy in black and white, Natallia's drawings are such a lovely visual representation of Bishop's words.

Emma FitzGerald, Victoria, B.C

Right from the first one — the fridge magnet — Awful but Cheerful — I’ve found them delightful and could hardly wait for her next interpretation. I love the leap from one expressive form to another, words to images in this case. There is the occasional dog, lots of birds and a whimsical image for each succinct phrase. Unmistakably Elizabeth Bishop words, the images let us hone in on that moment, linger or take us aback, but all are “us”. All are us, the thin shanked, grinning gal in the polka dot shift.

Susan Kerslake, Halifax, N.S.

Every one of the drawings in the series, Two Arts, makes me smile and remember.  I ended up choosing two, each for its own reason.  Song for the Rainy Season:  this was the poem that introduced me to Elizabeth Bishop, when I was asked to read it at a concert about EB, a concert of song and poetry.  The result was a discovery that has stretched my mind and heart.  And Manners: I’ve always loved this poem for its whimsy and its kindness. Last fall I spent time with a friend as she endured chemo and I would read to her.  One day I selected several of Bishop’s poems.  Manners made my friend laugh out loud and let her forget, even briefly, why she was hooked up to tubes in a big chair.

So yes, smiles and memories, but also I love the way Natallia Povaliayeva has interpreted Bishop’s words. Her own affection for the poetry shines through.  Yet the simplicity of her black and white technique has left room for each viewer to find personal meaning and pleasure.

Claire Miller, Halifax, N.S.

("Dear, My Compass" print hanging in the dining room
of the Elizabeth Bishop House in Great Village, N.S.
Photo by Laurie Gunn.)

I purchased three black and white drawings by Natallia Povaliayeva, each illustrating a poem by Elizabeth Bishop. I “love them all,” but I want to talk about “Manners.” Each time I read the poem, I join the young EB sitting with her grandfather. Now I can read the poem aloud and pause to look at Natallia’s drawing, as we move along. "Thank you," Natallia and EBSNS!

Sally Middlebrooks, Lunenburg, N.S.

These drawings are delightful, each more so than the other! Two of them, “The Moose” and “Manners,” represent poems I know, love and have read many times. My favourite of the three, perhaps, is the third, inspired by “The Filling Station.” I didn’t know this poem. Natallia's image evoked childhood memories, and I knew I wanted to find out more. I read the poem and was taken back to a very vivid memory, driving in the back seat of the family car, early 60's, past the ESSO Station in Bathurst, New Brunswick. My sister and I would sing out E-S-S-O...., S-O..., So.... Thank you EB. Thank you Natallia.

Wenda MacDonald, Halifax, N.S.

{There are still framed and unframed prints for sale. Go to the fund-raiser section below to see how you can purchase them. As more responses come in, I will be posting them here. Thanks to those who have already purchased and responded to Natallia's delightful drawings.}

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Two Arts – EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 – Part 16 – Fund-raiser

As the EBSNS has already announced, the society has cancelled its 2020 Annual General Meeting because of the public health restrictions in place due to the covid-19 pandemic. As a result, the Echoes of Elizabeth Bishop Gallery exhibit for 2020 has been done virtually. This year’s exhibit, “Two Arts,”  is comprised of twelve Elizabeth Bishop inspired drawings by Minsk, Belarus, artist Natallia Povaliayeva. She has kindly agreed to let the EBSNS offer prints of her drawings as a fund-raiser for the society. All the images are found below this notice. To see the whole list of images together, go to the “Two Arts” page (the link is on the right side of this page).


The society offers one framed print of each drawing (12x15 inches) and five unframed (matted) prints of each drawing (10x13 inches). Each framed print costs $50.00. Each unframed (matted) print costs $25.00, plus postage.

Because the cost of mailing the framed prints outside of Nova Scotia would be high, the framed prints are reserved for interested Nova Scotians. The unframed (matted) prints can be mailed anywhere in the world.

If you are interested in purchasing one of the images, please contact Laurie Gunn at laurieegunn@ns.sympatico.ca or Sandra Barry at slbarry@ns.sympatico.ca to discuss payment options and the cost of postage.

Because these times are strange and disrupted for us all, we ask for and deeply appreciate your patience as we work through this virtual fund-raiser process. The prints are quite real, but it will take time for us to get them mailed. We hope that the Nova Scotians who want one of the framed prints might be willing to pick it up at some point, once the pandemic restrictions have eased, but delivery options can also be discussed.

This exhibit would have hung in the church in Great Village until September 2020, so we will keep it and the fund-raiser active on the blog through the summer of 2020.

Thank you for your interest and support.

Addendum: Blogger Bob Maher has made note of "Two Arts" in a recent post on his most interesting blog which covers many subjects, not the least of which is our connection to place and space. He has mentioned Bishop a number of times over the past couple of years and he and his wife attended the EBSNS AGM in 2019. You can read what he writes in this recent post here. Thanks, Bob, for giving "Two Arts" and EB this interesting commentary.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Two Arts – EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 – Part 15


When the residents of Great Village commemorated Elizabeth Bishop’s connection to the village for the first time in 1992 – a bronze plaque on St. James United Church – a line from this late masterpiece was chosen: “Home-made, home-made! But aren’t we all?” This poem is about the quintessential traveller-castaway, who must make his own home while remembering the old one left behind. Bishop probably first learned about Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe in Great Village. And her Crusoe did what she told Alexandra Johnson she had done: she carried her home within, comprised of all the worlds she had ever seen, especially, her childhood home “In the Village.”

This image is the final offering in “Two Arts” and the next post, which will appear soon, will explain the fund-raiser the EBSNS is doing around this exhibit. The EBSNS extends deep gratitude to Natallia for allowing us to share her images in this way and to offer them to the society to help us raise some funds. Thank you, Natallia.

Stay tuned for more details about how you can get one of the images from “Two Arts.”

Friday, May 29, 2020

Two Arts – EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 – Part 14

This late poem has become Bishop’s most famous, most quoted poem – a signature piece. Search for it online, on YouTube, where countless people have recorded themselves reading it. Bishop’s life was filled with loss, but even so, she persevered and created a life and a body of work that was in many ways a triumph. Her work is more important than ever. We can all identify with her partly ironic, partly literal claim that losing is an art that is not hard to master. But, of course, it is the hardest art of all to carry. Natallia has made this “art” – a never ending process – into the epitome of a journey. We are all on that road away from and towards “home” and “elsewhere.” {REMEMBER: YOU CAN CLICK THE IMAGE TO ENLARGE IT.}

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Two Arts – EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 – Part 13

Bishop spent over fifteen years in Brazil, but her love of Nova Scotia, her childhood home, remained strong, as she expressed in “Dear, My Compass,” a brief, never published love poem. Her memories of her Nova Scotia childhood were never far from her mind and remained vivid and vital throughout her life. She created what might be called an illuminated manuscript of this poem, writing it out and illustrating it with all the images it mentions, the only poem, it appears, that she visually embellished in this way. Natallia has done justice to Bishop’s own sense of whimsy in her charming drawing.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Two Arts: EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 – Part 12

One of Bishop’s favourite places in Brazil was the baroque city of Ouro Preto (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site). She visited there a number of times and stayed at an inn that belonged to her friend Lilli Correia de Araújo. “Under the Window: Ouro Preto” is set at that place. Eventually, Bishop bought and restored an eighteenth-century house that she named “Casa Mariana,” in honour of her friend Marianne Moore and because it was on the road to the town of Mariana. It was not the first house Bishop had owned (that was in Key West, Florida), nor would it be her last (a condo at Lewis Wharf, Boston); but it was one which she loved, even though she spent little time there.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Two Arts – EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 – Part 11


Bishop arrived in Brazil in late 1951. In early 1952 she began her long residency. She lived there for over fifteen years with Lota de Macedo Soares. Lota was building an ultra-modern house in Samambaia, near Petropolis, and one of the first things Lota did for Bishop was build her a studio. “Song for the Rainy Season” evokes the natural landscape (flora, fauna, weather) around the first real “home” Bishop had in her adult life, a home that reminded her of Great Village. Bishop travelled far away from Nova Scotia and New England, a long sea journey, and unexpectedly found a beautiful, inspiring place to settle in. What did she do first? She wrote about her childhood.


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Two Arts – EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 – Part 10

“Dear Dr. Foster”

Bishop underwent psychoanalysis with Dr. Ruth Foster in 1945-1946. One of the results of this therapy was a return to Nova Scotia after a sixteen-year hiatus. The trip was difficult, but it was also rewarding because it triggered several breakthrough poems, including “At the Fishhouses.” She knew how important her sessions with Foster had been and while in Halifax, Bishop began to write a poem for her therapist and friend. She never finished it, but as Natallia says in her Artist’s Statement, it was this fragmentary poem that prompted her first Bishop-inspired drawing. Dreams and memories were vital inner forces in Bishop’s poetics. She wrote years latter to Anne Stevenson that she used “dream material” whenever she was lucky enough to have it. And her poems are abundant with memories.


Monday, May 18, 2020

Two Arts – EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 – Part 9


This poem, placed in the “Elsewhere” section of Questions of Travel, is perhaps one of the most direct links Bishop makes between Nova Scotia and Brazil. Great Village got its first filling station in the 1930s. Indeed, there were two by 1946 (Esso and Texaco), when she returned to visit after a sixteen-year hiatus. The trigger for this poem, however, was a filling station in Brazil. Both the stations in Great Village were operated by families, including Bishop’s (her Uncle Arthur owned the Texaco). Clearly, the Brazilian version, which she would have seen in the 1950s, took her back to the village’s own versions, where “Somebody loves us all.”



Saturday, May 16, 2020

Two Arts – EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 – Part 8


One of Bishop’s masterpieces, “The Moose,” took over two decades to complete. It began in 1946 on a bus ride back to Boston from Nova Scotia and was finished for and read at a commencement ceremony at Harvard University in the spring of 1972. This poem is an essential nexus between the ideas of “home” and “travel,” revealing how Bishop could say to Alexandra Johnson in the 1970s that a poet carries home inside. It spans vast space-time with a profound intimacy, a deep sense of history and community, a mature and expansive aesthetic – and the “sweet sensation of joy” of an encounter with an ineffable creature.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Two Arts – EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 – Part 7

The other place central to Bishop’s childhood was Massachusetts, particularly Worcester and Revere. From the spring of 1918 to the spring of 1930, when she graduated from Walnut Hill School, Bishop was based with her Aunt Maude and Uncle George Shepherdson. There were some dark and difficult issues in their guardianship, including abuse at the hands of George. But there were also vivid and vital memories that made their way into her poems, such as the unfinished “Salem Willows,” which is about an encounter with a colourful carousel, while Maude sat nearby waiting and knitting.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Two Arts – EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 – Part 6

Bishop’s maternal family was an essential element in her childhood, and not only the most immediate members, but also distant relatives such as her Great-Uncle George W. Hutchison, a painter and illustrator who lived in England. He was very much alive during her early years in the village. Her poem “Poem” describes a small painting he did of Great Village, one Bishop was given and kept until her death. This painting was a nexus of contemplation and an aesthetic force, for Bishop. And in the poem it generated she asks one of her most penetrating and mysterious questions, as Natallia shows in this image of echoes.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Two Arts – EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 – Part 5


If her grandparents’ home was the heart of Bishop’s childhood, Great Village was the body of her experience – the heart and body helping to create her vivid and precocious mind and imagination. If the house was associated with her grandmother, the village was her grandfather’s preserve. Bishop loved driving around the village on the horse and wagon with her “Pa,” who taught her about courtesy, consideration, common sense and caring. She learned “Manners” from him. I've lost count of the number of walking tours of the village I gave to Bishop fans from all over the world.


Friday, May 8, 2020

Two Arts – EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 – Part 4

Curator’s Note: With each of Natallia’s wonderful images, brief contexts for the poems that inspired her drawings will follow, and links to the poems will be embedded in the posts.


We begin the virtual exhibit in the heart of Elizabeth Bishop’s childhood world, her grandparents’ home in Great Village, Nova Scotia; at the centre of this heart: her grandmother’s kitchen. When I was steward of this storied house, I lost track of the number of visitors and artists in residence who stopped at the door to this room, paused and entered with delight that they were indeed walking right into the poem itself. Many read “Sestina” while standing or sitting in this room.


Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Two Arts -- EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 -- Part 3


EBSNS:  In your Artist Statement you mention how you encountered Bishop’s work and felt compelled to respond to “One Art” when you read it. After reading and responding to more Bishop poems, do you have a favourite poem? A favourite line?

NP: Yes, my absolute favourite is “Song for The Rainy Season” and its first lines: “Hidden, oh hidden in the high fog/ the house we live in,/ beneath the magnetic rock.” I love the rhythm of the poem which creates the mixture of statics and movement; all the alliterations, wonderful descriptions, and (in my opinion) rather rare (for Bishop) intensiveness of straight expression of strong feeling (in the very first line – in repetition, and in this “oh”).And my second favourite is her unpublished poem “I believe” – because it is a prayer in a form of a “wish list”; it is serious but at the same time it has famous Bishop’s irony in concentrated form, so to speak.

EBSNS: You have an “Elizabeth Bishop” in your drawings – what made you create this charming, cheerful character? Also, in some of your drawings there is an angel figure, why?

NP: I don’t remember how exactly the Bishop character was born, but I think that most important things in it are three: the hair (“unruly”), the dress (“polka-dot”) and the fact that the entire figure is definitely smaller than the real-life adult person. This, I think, expresses Elizabeth Bishop’s essence. But it’s really difficult to analyze – because I’m looking now at the result (the character) which lives its own life, but I can’t grip the process of its creation. 
I also can’t say why exactly I use a figure of an angel (not only in Bishop-related pictures, but in my drawing in general). I even don’t sure that it is really an angel. It is more like a representative of one of those many “other worlds” that overlap with our visible world. And I think that Elizabeth Bishop had this ability to reveal the presence of these “other worlds” in her poetry.

EBSNS: You clearly have a keen sense of humour. This quality is often overlooked in Bishop’s work. What is it about Bishop’s humour that resonates with you?

NP: Oh, that’s the subject for a good voluminous PhD thesis, I think! First of all, I’d say that Bishop’s humour is a rather rare type of intellectual humour (may be this is the reason – why it is often overlooked in her work). Her humour based on the constant observation, comparison, changing point of view. Even if she tells what one may call “an anecdote” (like the episode with photo session in Samambaia when Bishop got Pulitzer Prize and the only person who enjoyed the process was probably the cat), she made it not only “funny” but also a parable of something important – something essential to life. I also think that her humour is so powerful because it is based on a deep trauma. I think that for Bishop sense of humour was the only available weapon – to survive, to confront the life. The other weapon was, as we know, alcohol – but this weapon often betrays. 

EBSNS: What other poets have spoken to you? I think, for example, of Emily Dickinson.

NP: Yes, Emily Dickinson is my favourite number two after Elizabeth Bishop – but she’s the poet of absolutely different type; for instance, I can’t imagine myself creating a character of Emily Dickinson. She’s sort of “closed”, “sealed” person for me. Although, of course, I know her biography, etc. But I can’t say that I feel “like Emily Dickinson” – which is usual feeling about Elizabeth Bishop. What is great about Dickinson’s poems is absolutely incredible unity of surreal and exact, and – for me – every line of Dickinson’s poems is a motivation for drawing. I also love poetry of Ann Carson, her mixture of lyrical “feeling” and scientific analysis. And maybe I should name here British author Carol Ann Duffy, especially her postmodern sense of humour and intellectual deepness.

EBSNS: You are a translator. Have you translated any of Bishop’s poem (other than, of course, in your drawings)? If so, which ones? If not, why not? What are you translating these days?

NP: I made only one attempt to translate Bishop -- it was this poem about the hen, "Trouvee," but found it impossible to complete. Bishop's poetry seems to me untranslatable. It works only in English. You maybe know that there are very few professional tranlations of Bishop poetry into Russian -- and those are (in my opinion) not good. Maybe it's because the essence of her poetry lives not in the rhyme or rhythm, the sense of the words, the composition, the alliterations and rhetorical devices -- all these things could be translated, even if it is also difficult. But the essence of her poetry is in the unity of all that stuff, in the immediacy of the effect -- and this is exactly what I found impossible to translate.

Recently I am translating a lot from Swedish (poetry, prose, children’s books). Right now I’m translating a collection of essays by Sara Danius, who was the first woman to get the post of Permanent secretary of Swedish Academy. The collection called “The death of housewife and other texts” and is a very deep and at the same time funny, playful reflections about the classic and contemporary culture (literature, fashion, photography, etc.) I think that Elizabeth Bishop and Sara Danius would like each other.

EBSNS: How did you come across the EBSNS?

NP: When I started reading Elizabeth Bishop I searched all I can find on the Net about her – and this is how I came across the EBSNS.  

EBSNS: Elizabeth Bishop is known as a poet of geography and place. How does your own sense of place influence your response to Bishop’s work?

NP: This is one of the many aspects in Bishop’s poetry that resonate powerfully with me. I love travelling very much – and I fully understand Bishop’s keenness for changing places, along with the opposite keenness to have “a home”, a place where one belongs to. Travelling is a kind of treatment, a medicine, a way to become somebody else, to investigate, to observe, to find new motivations – but it’s always great to come home. So I see the point.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Two Arts -- EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 -- Part 2



Natallia Pavaliayeva (b. 1971, Minsk, Belarus) is a writer, graphic artist/book illustrator, and a professor of English Literature in BSU (Belarusian State University, Minsk, Belarus). She teaches modern and contemporary English Literature. She is also a translator from English and Swedish.

Natallia has been drawing since the age of two. She studied at an art studio under the Belarusian artist Vasily Sumarev and has taken courses in sculpture and art history. Her pictures have been sold in many countries around the world, including the USA, France, Germany, Norway, Finland, and Italy. She is doing a lot of book illustrations and book cover designs and graphic art in mixed media. 

(Natallia Pavaliayeva)

I had never heard about Elizabeth Bishop before I watched the movie “Reaching for the Moon”. This happened in 2015. And the poems from the movie struck me at once. So I started – quite predictably – with “One Art.” And I knew at once that that was “my” type of poetry. I liked the poem’s deceptive simplicity which covered deep reflection on love and loss and all those things. I liked this “ordinary” tone of speaking, definitely ironical, mixed with true tension. I liked the precise use of every word. And – most important of all, since this is my almost instinctive reaction to any text I like – I felt the desire to draw an illustration to this poem, which I did the next day – that was the first attempt (later I made another version, which has been represented here). But the character of Elizabeth Bishop that inhabits all the illustrations came a bit later – in the illustration to the poem “Dear Dr. Foster.”

Since that time, I have started reading Elizabeth Bishop’s poems almost every day. I liked her permanent interest in ordinary things, her ability to say a lot using only a few small details; I liked the “prosy,” narrative structure and tone of her poems. And of course I liked visual imagery of her poems. I think that Elizabeth Bishop is a poet whose texts address first of all to eyes, not to ears (and let’s not forget that she herself was a visual artist too). That’s why her poems are a real treasure for an artist, for an illustrator.

Soon just reading Elizabeth Bishop’s poems wasn’t enough for me, and I started reading Elizabeth Bishop’s biographies, her letters, and some academic materials about her. Somehow, very fast and in very natural way, Elizabeth Bishop became an important part of my life. And what was very motivating for me is that I’ve had encouragement and support from some people in Elizabeth Bishop’s world: Jonathan Ellis, Sandra Barry, and John Barnstead.

Recently I’ve read an essay about Swedish poet, Nobel Prize laureate Tomas Tranströmer. The author of the essay, Sara Danius, stresses the importance of “first places” – first room, first house or apartment, first street, first town, etc. – for a poet. These “first places” are the vessels for memory, and by this they are the forming power for poetry. And of course all this is very true when we speak about Elizabeth Bishop. And I am really happy that my illustrations are exposed in Elizabeth Bishop’s most important “first place,” Great Village.

My deep gratitude to everyone who made this exhibition possible!

Friday, May 1, 2020

Two Arts -- EBSNS Virtual Exhibit 2020 -- Part 1



From the time Natallia Pavaliayeva, from Minsk, Belarus, connected with the Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia in 2015, sending the first of her many charming, whimsical and expressive drawings, she generously offered them to the society to use in any way it desired, to help raise funds. The EBSNS created a fridge magnet that became highly popular and sent them all over the world (we sold out of them a few years ago).

(the magnet image)

From the beginning, the EBSNS wanted to mount an exhibit of some of Natallia’s images and finally, in late 2019, decided it was possible and began to organize the exhibit to coincide with the 2020 Annual General Meeting. Then covid-19 hit the world in mid-March and brought in strict public health measures, which forced the EBSNs to cancel the AGM. Still, the society wanted to present Natallia’s images and decided on a virtual exhibit through this blog and its Facebook page. Over the course of the next several weeks, background to the exhibit and the images themselves will be posted on both sites. The society hopes its members and the wider audience will take time to look at these posts as they proceed.

It was a difficult task to select only twelve images, but the ideas of “home” and “journey” anchored the selection. Bishop once said that the poet carries home inside, and her sense of home was comprised in large part of elements and memories of Great Village and her childhood. She also began her life-long journey, which took her to many places in Europe and South America, from her homes in Nova Scotia and New England. Most of the drawings chosen connect to her Nova Scotia poems, with a couple of Brazil images to add a southern perspective.

With these two ideas and the dialectic between image and word, Natallia has given this exhibit the title: “Two Arts,” with a nod to Bishop’s most famous poem, “One Art.”

The next post will be Natallia’s Artist’s Statement. Then an interview will follow. After this background we will present her images in the format as we would have hung them in the real world, if that had been possible, that is, photographs of the framed prints. Natallia is generously allowing the EBSNS to sell prints of these images and full information about this fund-raiser will also be forthcoming, once all the images have been presented. Keep checking in!

P.S. We have tweaked the look of the main page of the blog, putting the separate pages in a list on the right-hand side of the page, rather than in a banner on the top. We've added a "Two Arts" page where all the posts related to the exhibit will be collected, so you can check there as well, to see all the posts that will be coming in the next several weeks.

Saturday, April 25, 2020


…. Whatever there is, or was, of affection
may it be said.

The barn swallows belonged to
the barns, they went with the church's wooden steeple.
& they flew as fast as they did because the air was so still ---

"Syllables," Elizabeth Bishop

(Photo by Brenda Barry, 24 April 2020)

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Together Stronger

"Whatever there was, or is, of love, let it be obeyed."
"Syllables," Elizabeth Bishop

The board and members of the Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia extend deepest sympathies and offer profound condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of the victims of the terrible tragedy that occurred in Nova Scotia on 18-19 April. Nova Scotia has been traumatized by this "incomprehensible" "senseless violence." The loss is beyond words and the grief is acute. In this time of covid-19, it will be hard not to be able to gather to mourn and honour all those who have died. But there will come a time when we can do so, once the pandemic crisis is past. The EBSNS also extends deepest sympathies to those Nova Scotians who have lost loved ones from covid-19. Violence and viruses do not define us -- our own actions do so, and Nova Scotians are coming together in creative ways, in spite of the required distancing, and are expressing such love and support for each other that one can still believe there is good in humanity. Today is also Earth Day. May we all see the beauty in the natural world around us and protect it, may it bring solace and inspiration in these dark and difficult times. Like these crocuses, we emerge out of the past and reach towards the light.
(Photo by Brenda Barry)

Monday, April 13, 2020

Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia cancels its 2020 AGM

Due to the covid-19 pandemic and the strict public health measures in place in Nova Scotia and around the world, the EBSNS is cancelling its 2020 Annual General Meeting that would have taken place on 20 June. The Society will post its Financial, Nominating Committee and President's Reports on its website (elizabethbishopns.org) in late June. The society regrets that we will not be able to host our guest speaker Laura Churchill Duke this year, but she will join us in 2021. The society will issue its 2020 newsletter as usual, which will be emailed to members sometime in June. The EBSNS will also announce our plans to shift this year's "Echoes of EB" exhibit and the fund-raiser to one that is virtual. This year's artist is Natallia Povaliayeva. Stay tuned here and on the EBSNS website for future updates. The EBSNS hopes everyone stays safe and well and follows the instructions of public health officials, as we try our best to flatten the curve and mitigate the worst effects of the corona virus. Take good care. EBSNS Board

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 143: Babies and Birmingham

Bishop’s relatively short 16  May 1963 letter to her aunt wound down with four brief paragraphs, each dealing with a different subject. The first was an update on a recent development: Mary Morse’s “second daughter.” Bishop wondered if she had told Grace how it had happened. The infant ‘was about 30 hours old” when Mary got her. Bishop wished “she’d waited a bit but she wouldn’t.” the child’s biological “mother is supposed to be handsome,” Bishop reported. Bishop had already seen this child, named Martha, who “had a lot of hair and long eyes.” She could tell even at that early stage that this child “will be bigger than Monica.” These few details and suppositions were all Bishop “could tell at first look,” which had been brief. She and Lota were “going up to Petropolis tomorrow and see her again.” Her arrival was still very recent; Martha would “be a month old Monday,” Bishop noted.

Then Bishop shifted focus back to her aunt and asked, “How are all the grandchildren?” She wasn’t sure how many Grace had, “Is it six now, or about to be six?” Her greatest concern was for Mariam, and she declared that she felt “better about her since I saw the picture -- & she looked ‘alert’.” She stated unequivocally that “love and patience will work wonders,” and archly noted that “Phyllis is a bit more human than some other cousins I could name!” She probably meant cousins on both sides of her family, but in light of her earlier comments, she most likely meant Elizabeth Ross Naudin, in particular.

And then, as if just to make conversation, wanting to linger a bit longer, she remarked, “I’m glad you left Birmingham when you did.” Civil rights unrest in Alabama was making the news and bishop was following some of it, even at that distance. “Here’s the latest,” she wrote – about “the Negro writer [James] Baldwin,” who Bishop had “just met” (though she doesn’t say when and how) and who she admired “very much.” She observed that this “tiny man, rather timid” was “in an awful spot.” But that was it. Bishop didn’t elucidate, perhaps because she felt Grace might already have the background.
She shifted quickly to the final paragraph, reporting that there was “light rationing in Rio every night for half an hour or more.” She commented on how “strange” it was “to be eating dinner on the 11th floor with a candle – or an oil lamp.” They had brought two of the oil lamps they had in the country because “most stores are all sold out, of course.” The breaks in electricity were clearly not timed regularly because “people keep getting stuck in elevators.”

Before she signed off for good, she reported that “Lota hasn’t shown up for dinner yet.” As she typed these words the phone must have rung. Bishop scribbled an “Oh” in the left margin and typed right next to it that Lota had “just called from the governor’s palace and she’ll be home ‘late’.” That meant, as Bishop concluded, “2 A M probably.” Stuck home alone, she resolved to “try to do a bit of work.” There is one more sentence to this letter beginning “I do hope…,” but it is cut off the photocopy I have. I can just see the top of her scribbled signature.

Less than a month later, 10 June 1963, Bishop wrote to her aunt again. The next post will pick up the narrative.

Click here to see Post 142.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 142: A leaving and a returning

Bishop’s next 1963 letter to her aunt is dated 16 May. By this time, Joanne Ross Eartly’s wedding had happened and Bishop began with the hope that Grace “had a gay time” and “that you’ll write me all about it.” It appears that Elizabeth Ross Naudin and her family did not actually make it back in time for the ceremony, which led Bishop to wonder if Grace would “still be there” when her niece arrived. Bishop was still not sure how Grace got to Montreal from Florida: “Fly? Not more bus trips?” Grace’s toing and froing was so regular it caused Bishop to ask: “How are you? Where are you –and are you going to stay put for a while now, I wonder?” Her title for Grace: “The Flying Grandma.”

Bishop reported that “E sailed on the 11th.” She had seen her cousin “about a week before they left but not again because I had that horrid ‘flu’ or whatever it is that everyone has here.” Whatever it was, “a bad cold – I’m not sure” (not covid-19!!), she stayed away, of course, so as not “to give it to the babies.” After weeks, if not months, of agonizing over a wedding present, Bishop finally settled on “a luncheon set … mats & napkins,” which would have been light and easy to pack. As promised, too, she also sent small gifts for Grace and Mary, “two boxes of soap,” which she left “at the hotel” before the Naudins departed. She admitted that they were “not a very thrilling present,” and moaned once again that it was “so hard to find things here.” For Bishop, the best part of the gift was not the “nice soap,” a kind “I like myself”; but rather the “wooden box, old-fashioned, with hinges,” in which she place the “three cakes each.” Bishop loved these little boxes, useful “for odds & ends, sewing things etc.”

Then Bishop reported that she had spoken “to E on the telephone to day goodbye” and was told by her cousin that “she’d unwrapped everything and mixed them up with her clothes, because of customs.” Bishop was flabbergasted, concluding “the poor girl is absolutely nuts.” She explained to Grace that one was “allowed to bring in $100 worth of shopping, each, to begin with.” She noted she had “never had a bit of trouble with customs coming from here – taken all kinds of groceries, antiques, jewelry.” I was puzzled by these observations, and perhaps Grace was, too, because one of Bishop’s complaints about Brazil was its slow customs process. In any case, she averred, “Lota even took all her own flatware – silver – once!” To where, she does not say. Bishop wondered if “E thinks Canadian customs are tougher, I don’t know.”

The end result of this dismantling was, Bishop assumed, that Grace and Mary “won’t get the little boxes … the only nice thing about my gift,” a feature for which she “even paid extra.” Bishop was exasperated, declaring to Grace that she was “somewhat fed up with my cousin, as you can see,” a feeling she quickly added was “no doubt mutual.” Bishop felt that Elizabeth Naudin “is just too aggressive, really.” One can hear the sigh as Bishop typed: “Well – I certainly tried – all along, I mean since she came to Brazil.” These last few words were scribbled in the right-hand margin in her tight, indecipherable scrawl.

She was not entirely without sympathy and compassion, though. She reported to Grace that “they had had a bad night before they left because Patricia had another attack of asthma.” Bishop understood al about this condition and one can hear the empathy in her “poor baby,” who she described, curiously, as “like a little mountain.” Bishop hoped that once they got back to Montreal that “maybe Mary will be able to do something about her [Patricia],” and if nurse Grace was still there, she would undoubtedly be a help, too.

As if to shake off this generally frustrating, unsatisfying family subject and experience, Bishop suddenly declared: “Well – Cooper made it – I just heard on the radio – hurray.” Bishop was talking about Gordon Cooper. As Wikipedia reports: “In 1963 Cooper piloted the longest and last Mercury spaceflight, Mercury-Atlas 9. During that 34-hour mission he became the first American to spend an entire day in space, the first to sleep in space, and the last American launched on an entirely solo orbital mission. Despite a series of severe equipment failures, he managed to successfully complete the mission under manual control, guiding his spacecraft, which he named Faith 7, to a splashdown just 4 miles (6.4 km) ahead of the recovery ship.”
The rest of this rather short letter, which will comprise the next post, addresses a number of family matters and a couple more news-worthy subjects.

Click here to see Post 141.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Pandemics: 1918-1919 / 2019-2020

With the coronavirus in just about every country in the world and covid-19 infecting tens of thousands and killing thousands of people so far, governments and medical authorities across the globe have been using words like “unprecedented” and “uncharted” to describe this pandemic. But this assessment is not true. Some historians and scientists are regarding this crisis in the context of the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic, a crisis that had immense impact just a century ago. In the Maritimes there is a small but still significant number of centenarians who might have some recollection of this crisis. Certainly, they lived through its aftermath, the major affects it wrought and the changes it triggered;* but for the most part this pandemic has been completely forgotten, except by a few specialists in the humanities and sciences.

As a student of Canadian history, I remember studying this event in undergrad and graduate courses, but the particular work that brought it more fully to my attention was my research and writing on Elizabeth Bishop, who was 7-8 years old when the pandemic raged. She and all her immediate family survived the sickness – no small feat since around 500,000 Canadians and over 679,000 Americans succumbed.** When I looked back to my accounting of this event in Bishop’s life in Lifting Yesterday: Elizabeth Bishop and Nova Scotia, I discovered that I gave it only a passing reference. Here are the few sentences I thought it warranted:

Bishop spent most of 1918 recovering from the serious illnesses of the past winter. In the later part of that year the world, and of course Massachusetts, was hit with a “terrible epidemic of Influenza.” Grace Bulmer, who had been living in New York, working for the Red Cross, returned to Boston at this time to work at the Massachusetts General Hospital and helped nurse Bishop back to health (the Shepherdsons’ apartment had three bedrooms and they often accommodated family and friends from Nova Scotia). It appears that Bishop did not contract the Influenza. Ironically, her illness probably protected her, isolating her from the outside world.***

When the current pandemic really began to register with me, I immediately thought about the 1918-1919 event and started reading a few things online about it. I quickly realized that Bishop’s survival might be seen as miraculous. Bishop had been removed from Nova Scotia in October 1917 by her paternal grandparents and taken to live with them in Worcester. By the winter of 1918 (the winter of her famous poem “In the Waiting Room”), she was seriously ill with what she described in “The Country Mouse” as “eczema, and then asthma,” as well as a host of allergies. By May, the Bishops realized they were not the people to care for her, so she was taken to Revere, MA, to live with her Aunt Maude and Uncle George Shepherdson.

The first wave of the influenza, a relatively mild strain, washed over the US in the summer of 1918 (some historians, such as John Barry, trace its origins to Kansas). The second wave, more like a tsunami, hit in October-November. By this time the virus was spread across the globe and was killing millions. There was a third, less lethal (though still severe) wave in January 1919, after which the virus, having used up so much human fuel, petered out.

(Bishop in 1916, a year before her removal
from Nova Scotia. Photo by J.E. Sponagle.)
Bishop slowly recovered during this same stretch (she was taken back to Nova Scotia in August 1919), but Massachusetts, and Boston especially, were hot spots for the virus. Because World War I was still underway for a good part of the pandemic (ending only on 11 November 1918), government censoring meant the truth about what was happening was suppressed. Indeed, newspapers everywhere except in neutral Spain reported that things were fine and under control, only adding to confusion and distrust as the evidence in front of people was the opposite.

Bishop was cared for by the adults in her family, particularly Maude, but also by Grace. As I mentioned in passing in Lifting Yesterday, Grace was nursing with the Red Cross in New York City. (I remember Phyllis Sutherland telling me that her mother had wanted to go overseas immediately after graduating as a nurse in 1914, but her parents objected, so she and her Great Village friend Una Layton, settled for service with the Red Cross as their war effort.) When Bishop was taken to Maude’s, Grace left New York City and returned to Boston to work at the Massachusetts General Hospital (from where she graduated in 1914), to be nearer Bishop and help with her care. Well, Maude, George and especially Grace would have been exposed to influenza. Yet, they survived and brought Bishop through this terrible pandemic, too.

*Note: Writer Gerry McAlister published a short piece about the pandemic in New Brunswick in NB Media Co-op on 21 March 2020. In 2018, Dr. Alan Marble delivered a lecture about the 1918-1919 pandemic and its impact in Nova Scotia to the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society.

**Note: The estimates of how many died as a result of the influenza – and H1N1 virus -- and corollary diseases range anywhere from 20 to 100 million. It will never be known exactly how many died because of poor recordkeeping in that era. Even so, at the lowest end of the range the death toll was profound and one of the worst, if not the worst, pandemic in human history, rivalling or surpassing the Black Death in Europe in the Middle Ages.

***Note: One of my objections to Thomas Travisano’s characterizations of Bishop’s early childhood in Love Unknown: The Worlds and Life of Elizabeth Bishop (2019) is his repeated assertion that it was isolated – the word he uses most often to describe it in general. His implication is that she was essentially alone, bereft and confined until the age of 13 or 14. Bishop’s childhood was highly complex, not only one unrelenting state. However, during her illness in 1918-1919, she was probably more or less confined in her aunt’s home. And thank goodness for that because, in all likelihood, it helped to save her life.