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

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

In memoriam: Donalda Nelson (1915-2014)

One of Great Village's most beloved residents, Donalda Nelson, died on Sunday, 27 July 2014. I met Donalda many years ago when I began my work on Elizabeth Bishop. She was one of the most gracious and generous people I have ever known. Whenever I visited Great Village, I was always welcome to visit and, invariably, we had tea and cookies -- tea made in "Margaret's teapot" -- the best tea ever. As I got to know her, and witnessed and benefited from her keen and compassionate insights about life, I began to say, with sincerity and conviction that I wanted to be like Donalda when I grew up. She was a shining light in this troubled world. I always came away from a visit with Donalda feeling uplifted and grateful, wiser and inspired. Her service will be in Great Village on Friday, 1 August 2014. Her obituary is viewable here: http://www.mattatallvarnerfh.com/obituaries/90222

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Binnie Brennan reflects on the Elizabeth Bishop House

Writer, musician and photographer Binnie Brennan has spent time at the Elizabeth Bishop House. She posted a lovely essay of reflection about the house on her blog today. Check it out at this link:

Evidence of Binnie's writing at the EB House

Sunday, July 20, 2014

"The next to next to last..."

The realtor.ca listing for the Elizabeth Bishop House,
Great Village, N.S.:

Friday, July 18, 2014

Masterwork Arts Awards finalists on YouTube

Check out the link below and see video profiles of the five finalists for the Lieutenant Governor Masterwork Arts Awards for 2014, which includes "I am in need of music," the Elizabeth Bishop legacy recording and our own Suzie LeBlanc. The field is strong this year, the works are all amazing. We wish all the artists and their works the best. We will let you know the outcome of this award as soon as the winners are announced.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

In the Village Cafe opened in Great Village, N.S. -- A review by Laura Sharpe

Set in a beautiful, historic church, in Great Village, the In the Village Café is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon. As someone who grew up in Great Village, I can honestly say that the crew behind the café (the St. James Preservation Society) have done a splendid job revamping the once dreary basement into a welcoming and homey atmosphere. Gone are the days when I would compare the downstairs level of the church to Ms. Hannigan's Orphanage for Girls, the walls are now a cheerful yellow hung with beautiful paintings and photographs by local artists, Joy Laking and Laurie Gunn.

Not only does the café have a welcoming atmosphere, but it also offers a wide range of tasty snacks and meal options.  The menu includes soups, chowders, salads, sandwiches and home-made desserts all made from locally grown ingredients. The staff is friendly and very hospitable.  It's obvious that they truly enjoy running the café and meeting their customers.  For the visitor, the upper level of the church offers a collection of ship-building artifacts and a display of photographs and ephemera focusing on Elizabeth Bishop.

Take the time to come to Great Village (Hwy 2 along the Cobequid shore) this summer.  The area offers beautiful scenery, multiple antique shops, historic buildings and an exciting new cafe.

Laura Sharpe is a currently and has always been, a resident of Great Village, Nova Scotia; the only place in the universe that could rival Gallifrey. She enjoys writing, but often spends more time coming up with story ideas than she actually does writing them; which leads to file folders full of partially written stories and pleas from friends to continue with some of the seemingly forgotten. Laura has an interest in all things vintage which has caused her to become the proud owner of two typewriters, a box camera and numerous other oddities. She can often be found lounging around a record player listening to classic rock music and cuddling with her two cats, Tabby and Luna.

 Photographs by Laurie Gunn

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Evelyn C. White reviews The Cambridge Companion to Elizabeth Bishop

The Cambridge Companion to Elizabeth Bishop
Edited by Angus Cleghorn and Jonathan Ellis
Cambridge University Press, 2014, 216 pages.
(Review appeared first in the Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia Newsletter, Summer 2014)

The Cambridge Companion to Elizabeth Bishop
New and long-time admirers of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author who proudly proclaimed herself “three fourths Canadian and one fourth New Englander” will rejoice in the release of The Cambridge Companion to Elizabeth Bishop.

The engaging volume features a wide range of essays that explore the life and literature of the Massachusetts born writer who was indelibly shaped by her family roots in Nova Scotia and long sojourn in Brazil with her lover, Lota de Macedo Soares.

In “Bishop, History, and Politics,” University of California, Riverside English professor Steven Gould Axelrod examines the “understated” complexity of Bishop’s writing and personal liaisons. He notes her friendship (albeit brief) with Beauford Delaney (1901-1979). Bishop met the Black, gay Harlem Renaissance era painter when they were both residents at the Yaddo artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, New York. Delaney would die, the same year, as did Bishop, in a mental hospital in Paris.

In 1951, an art critic offered observations about Delaney that speak volumes about the qualities that likely drew Bishop to the artist (and vice versa).

The critic wrote: “[His] paintings seem to say, ‘I may be suffering, but what an experience this is.’ ... Though Beauford was often depressed, he could say yes to life in spite of the fact that life was kicking him in the ass.”

In a provocative close to the piece, Axelrod ventures that Bishop outed herself, intentionally, through the use of the final word, “gay!” in “Sonnet.”  Generally taken as Bishop’s last poem, “Sonnet” was published in The New Yorker (October 29, 1979), three weeks after the author’s sudden death. 

Axelrod writes: “[Gay] is an old word for Bishop, one she used so many times before, but it is new here, with its multiple valences of happiness and homosexuality clearer than ever before.”

At a time when the practice of letter writing is in dramatic decline (note To The Letter: A Celebration of The Lost Art of Letter-Writing by Simon Garfield), Siobhan Phillips presents a mesmerizing essay in “Bishop’s Correspondence.”

The Dickinson College English professor details the writer’s near-obsession with the collected letters of figures such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles Darwin, Henry James, Flannery O’Connor, Anne Sexton, and Horace Walpole.  In doing so, Phillips underscores the respect with which Bishop held the epistolary tradition and embraced it as a vital component of her creative process. 

She writes: “Bishop’s interest in epistolarity helps to demonstrate the still-underappreciated breadth of her reading, as she ranges across categories of time, style, and type of writer in her admiration for the genre of correspondence.”

Phillips also suggests that for Bishop, the writing and receipt of letters served as a stabilizing counter to the emotional anguish the author suffered (early and often) in her life.  “Togetherness was particularly important to Bishop, since she endured the loss of many people close to her and often felt the lack of any permanent home,” Phillips writes. “Bishop’s focus on correspondence supports a critical emphasis on her orphaned, outsider status.”

As editors Angus Cleghorn and Jonathan Ellis aptly note in their introduction to The Cambridge Companion, independent scholar Sandra Barry delivers a landmark discussion of the relationship between Bishop and her mother, Gertrude May Bulmer, who was admitted to a psychiatric hospital when the future writer was age five.

Indeed, Barry’s “In The Village: Bishop and Nova Scotia” stands – in its craft, compassion and intelligence -- with Alice Walker’s 1983 essay “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens,’” as an exquisite exploration of the gifts that mothers  (victorious or vanquished) can bequeath to their daughters. 

In a deft weaving of Bishop’s ancestry (her father died when she was eight months old), and rigorous analysis of her Nova Scotia-inspired work, Barry observes: “The most important influence … during the first decade of [Bishop’s] life is the one least acknowledged … that is, her mother. … If it was only a matter of ignoring Gertrude, that would be unfortunate; but when she is mentioned at all, it is generally to dismiss her as an insane, absent woman who played no active (certainly no positive) role in her daughter’s life, let alone her art.”

Through the skilful execution of her arguments, Barry goes on to refute the expert scholars (emphasis mine) who’ve disregarded the myriad ways in which the grief-stricken soul that was Bulmer shadows (and shines) as a powerful force in the real and imagined world of Bishop.

As such, the piece highlights the need for a thorough examination of the factors that prompted Bulmer’s 1916 admission to the Mount Hope Asylum for the Insane (now the Nova Scotia Hospital in Dartmouth, or NSH) where she’d die, in 1934, without ever seeing her daughter (and only child) again.

Barry writes: “It must be remembered that no one could foresee that [Gertrude] would remain [in hospital] for the rest of her life. … The family hoped for her return for years. … [Bishop’s] efforts to understand what happened to Gertrude and herself, and to come to terms with its impact was lifelong. … Bishop learned about ebb and flow, now and then, sound and silence from her mother. … Their relationship was complex, fraught, contradictory, and mysterious; it cannot be reduced to a vague speculation or reductive conclusion.”

Recent revelations about the forced institutionalization of residents at the NSH (see the April 2014 newsletter, Canadian Mental Health Association – Kings County Branch) emphasize the importance of research on patient care at the facility, first opened in 1858.

The Cambridge Companion also includes (among other pieces) reflections on Bishop’s romance with Lota (“Home, Wherever That May Be: Poems and Prose of Brazil”) and her abiding appreciation of art (“Bishop and Visual Art”).

In “Bishop’s Posthumous Publications,” literary critic Lorrie Goldensohn offers insights on the author’s struggles with alcohol. “She tried out the topic of drunkenness in a variety of poems, sometimes in glancing allusion and sometimes head on – with mixed success,” Goldensohn notes.

The absorbing collection joins the acclaimed CD I Am In Need of Music: Songs on Poems by Elizabeth Bishop and the film Reaching for the Moon (both released in 2013) as recent contributions to the ongoing study of the writer.

And its not been lost on me that The Cambridge Companion cover design features a photo of Bishop (set against the backdrop of one of her paintings) in which she sits, twinkly-eyed, on the steps of the Square Roof brothel in Key West, Florida.

On 28 July 2013, Evelyn White, the author of Alice Walker: A Life (W.W. Norton, 2004), gave a talk at the Elizabeth Bishop House in Great Village, N.S. A wonderful storyteller, Evelyn kept a small but enthusiastic audience spellbound with her account of how she came to write a biography of one of America’s most recognized writers. Here is a glimpse of that wonderful afternoon.

Evelyn White (r) with writer Binnie Brennan (l),
at the Elizabeth Bishop House, Great Village, N.S.