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

Thursday, January 6, 2011

"In Worcester, Massachusetts": Centennial Celebration Events

Starting January 3rd and throughout 2011, the Worcester County Poetry Association (WCPA) will celebrate the centenary of Worcester native Pulitzer prize winning poet, Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979). Although she did not live very long in Worcester, Bishop wrote two of her most compelling works about the city, works that helped put Worcester on the literary map of the U.S. Her well-known poem, “In the Waiting Room” begins “In Worcester, Massachusetts” and ends by again naming the city. And her long prose memoir, “The Country Mouse,” details her stay, at age 6 and 7, in her grandparents’ house on Main Street, when she went to Gates Lane School, explored the area and the house like a cat, and often felt lonely and out of place in the city—like the country mouse in the fable.

To honor Bishop in this, her centennial year, WCPA will sponsor, or co-sponsor, many events--readings by local as well as internationally known poets, talks by Bishop scholars, discussions , gatherings of poets, performances of new works, musical settings of Bishop’s poems, and a special, commemorative, birthday party—all open to the public, and most of them free of charge.

On Monday, January 3 at 7:30 pm, poet and scholar Bob Cronin read from his work and discussed Bishop’s influence on contemporary poetry. Francine D’Alessandro hosted this program of firsts: the first event in the Elizabeth Bishop Centenary, the first reading in the Monday Poetry Series, held at First Unitarian Church, Bancroft Room, 90 Main Street, Worcester

On Monday, January 10 at 7 pm, NOW at the Women’s Issues Book Group hosts “Elizabeth Bishop in Brazil,” an informal discussion of The More I Owe You, Michael Sledge's recent, highly-praised novel. Sledge imagines Bishop’s 17 years in Brazil with her friend and lover, prominent city planner Lota de Macedo Soares. This event is being held at the Barnes & Noble Bookstore, Worcester.

February events include a ceremony at Bishop’s gravesite in Worcester’s Hope Cemetery, a dinner at a Brazilian restaurant on Shrewsbury Street, a 100th birthday party at Anne Marie Lucci’s Street Beat venue, and at Carle Johnson’s 4th Saturday Poetry Night, an open mic and a featured poet, all of whom will start their reading with a Bishop poem.

During each month in 2011, WCPA will organize at least one Bishop event. In March, for example, WCPA collaborates with Master Singers of Worcester and the Worcester Women's History Project in a Tuckerman Hall program of choral music based on the writings of famous American women writers, including Elizabeth Bishop. Other months will bring musical settings of Bishop poems by composers Elliott Carter and JB Menides. There will be lectures by established scholars on a variety of topics, including Bishop’s prose writings, her dealings with editors of the New Yorker Magazine, and her correspondence with poet Robert Lowell.

Many events will feature talented local poets, especially those who have won prizes or have published a book. Michael Hood, for example, author of Cranberry Smoke, has written a new series of poems in the voice of young Elizabeth Bishop and will use the poems to show Worcester’s teachers how to introduce their students to the famous Worcester-born poet. There will be a day-long celebration of Worcester’s poets and poetry-- with readings, exhibits, music, chapbooks, and broadsides—at Worcester’s Hanover Theatre. Plans call for this day to culminate in readings on the Hanover Theatre stage by two or three nationally known poets with ties to Elizabeth Bishop.

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