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

Friday, April 29, 2016

Great Village colouring book available in May

Nova Scotia artist Andrew Meredith’s new colouring book, inspired by Great Village, will appear in Great Village at the Farm Gate Shop around 9 May, ready for Mother’s Day! It can be pre-ordered at:


Check out what the MooseJaw Times Herald says about Andre's project. Originally from Great Village, Andrew currently lives in Moose Jaw.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Elizabeth Bishop’s Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 7: Keeping track of Grace

Another detail evident in Bishop’s letter dated 19 December 1955, is that Grace was moving around — Bishop’s word for her aunt’s peripateticism was “galivanting” [sic: Bishop composed her letters on a manual typewriter, and they contain many misspelled words and typos, most likely because it was just too difficult to correct them — though often Bishop inked in corrections].

Grace trained as a nurse in the 1910s and before she was married held positions in Boston and New York. After her marriage to William Bowers in 1923, she nursed in Great Village throughout the 20s and 30s; but after she became a widow in 1947, with her children grown, she hit the road again, nursing in various places in Nova Scotia and New England. Grace was mainly an obstetrics nurse and helped to deliver many babies.
(Grace and her nursing colleagues at Boston-Lying-In Hospital, 1910s.
top image: Grace far right; bottom image, Grace centre back row, AUA)
At the time of writing this letter, Bishop had only just learned that her aunt had left a place where she had been working, a place called Crotched Mountain Hospital, in Greenfield, New Hampshire, which was established only a couple of years before, in 1953.

Grace had written to Bishop from this place earlier in 1955 and Bishop, believing her aunt still there, sent a Christmas gift to her, only to be informed by Grace of her departure too late to recall the gift.

Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center is a major institution now (its website is impressive). But in these early days, perhaps it was still finding its levels because Grace didn’t stay long and, as evident from Bishop’s letter, she had written to her niece about the issues that triggered the move (Grace was nothing if not capable, indomitable and determined, so she would have had good reason for leaving). What these issues were are lost with Grace’s lost letter, but Bishop’s response was: “I am glad you’ve left. I know I’m rather suspicious anyway, but I was very much so when you wrote me about the salary and their going to N.S. for employees — they thought they could get good hard-working women for nothing, I suppose.”

At the time of this letter, Grace was in Brookline, MA., perhaps nursing; but she was also thinking about going to Florida, where she had never been, and where her niece Hazel Boomer Snow, was living. Bishop’s response to this idea was: “I really don’t like the state much as a place to live — I just liked Key West, the way it used to be.” She refers to “competition” being “pretty stiff,” so perhaps Grace was looking into another nursing job there. Bishop suggested Grace go to St. Augustine, St. Petersburg or Sarasota to take “care of a nice rich old man!....if you don’t object to that kind of work.” Grace did spend time in Florida, though perhaps not at this point. There are images of her visiting her sister-in-law Mabel and niece Hazel, being a tourist, trips taken after she finally retired from nursing in the 1960s.

Bishop mentions that Marjorie Stevens was thinking about visiting Brazil. Bishop and Stevens had a relationship in the 1940s. Even after it ended, they remained friends. Stevens went to Nova Scotia with Bishop in 1947, where she met Grace. They, too, remained in touch, and Grace eventually visited Marjorie in Florida. Bishop knew that Grace would be interested in Marjorie’s plan. Bishop noted that “the flight is awfully expensive,” but since Marjorie worked for the air-force, and since one of Lota’s uncles “is now Foreign Minister,” they hoped to “be able to get her trip at a big discount for her.”*
 (José Carlos Macedo Soares, 1883–1968, Lota’s uncle)
Grace loved to travel as much as Bishop. When she turned 80 (1969), for example, she went to Chilliwack, British Columbia, to visit friends and her cousin Everal Bulmer. Everal had sent Grace photos of “The Cascades” as early as the 1910s, which perhaps inspired Grace’s desire to visit. Although it took decades, the trip finally happened.

(In the Cascades, 1910s, AUA)
Grace spent the early 1970s going back and forth among her childrens’ homes. Bishop and Grace kept track of each other in their letters during the 1950s and 1960s. When Bishop returned for good to New England in 1970, one of the first things she did was go to Nova Scotia to see her aunt.

In these days of more than instant communication, it requires some imagination to understand the pace of this correspondence, the patience required. By the time news arrived, it often had already changed. Yet, the leisure of letters allowed each correspondent real space-time to think and move freely with less insistent, pressing demands than, say, the Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or texting of today.

*Note: It appears that this proposed visit never happened, though Bishop was still talking about it as a possibility in early 1956. Brett Millier records no such visit in EB: Life and the Memory of It. Bishop did visit Stevens in 1957, when back in the US for six months.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Elizabeth Bishop’s Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 6: Christmas gifts

Bishop’s letter to Aunt Grace dated 19 December 1955 was prompted in part by the upcoming holiday season. Christmas was not Bishop’s favourite time of year. Until she settled in Brazil, Bishop spent her life struggling with increased depression during this season, one she avoided as much as possible. The reasons for this response could make a lengthy article, if not a book; though she was no different than many of us who hold at least an ambivalence about this sacred holiday turned family-obsessed, commercial extravaganza.

Even so, it is clear from Bishop’s letters to Grace that aunt and niece exchanged Christmas gifts more or less regularly, even when far removed. Indeed, Bishop endeavoured to send Christmas gifts to most of her closest relatives, even to Aunt Florence Bishop, with whom she had a fraught relationship. Perhaps Bishop made these gestures out of a sense of obligation, but with Grace, the impulse was more tender. Indeed, Bishop sent her aunt many gifts over the years, and not only at Christmas. Some of these gifts are now part of the family archive at Acadia University.

For this particular Christmas, Bishop enclosed “a small token” (that is, money), which she wished was larger, “but since it’s been a ‘poetry year’ rather than a ‘prose year’, I’m unusually impoverished.” The reason for this seemingly impersonal gift was because Bishop had already ordered “a large box of chocolates and bon bons” from S.S. Pierce’s in Boston, to be sent directly to Grace and her nursing friend at a hospital in Vermont, where they had been working. But Grace’s letter of 7 December (missing, of course) informed Bishop that she was no longer there (the “gallivanting” aunt was now in Brookline, MA — so the gift from Pierce’s was lost).
S.S. Pierce was a long-established business in Boston
For “Aunt F,” Bishop had ordered “some little quarter-bottles of champagne, enough for a glass for her & a friend, to cheer her up.” Florence, too, had been on the move. Bishop told Grace that Florence’s new address was “21 Fruit Street, Worcester.” Grace knew Florence well and Bishop asked Grace to “send her a card if there is time,” because “she is pretty wretched these days, I’m afraid.”
21 Fruit St., Worcester, MA (today)
As for Bishop’s Christmas, she told her aunt that it would “be very quiet — we hope.” They were expecting a friend from Rio and they had to “call on, & be called upon,” by the neighbours. Lota gave Bishop “a lovely pair of old earrings, gold, probably Portug[u]ese.” Bishop gave Lota “some books” and was painting her a picture, “when I have time to paint it.” Christmas in Brazil, at least during the 1950s, was a much more uplifting time for Bishop, though her modus operandi was, always, just to get through it.

The next detail I will discuss is Grace’s “gallivanting.”

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Elizabeth Bishop’s Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 5: “No detail too small”

The next file of letters from Bishop to Aunt Grace, held at Vassar (EBP I, 25.3), for the year 1955, indicates “2 letters.” In the next couple of posts, I will write about various aspects of the first of these letters, which is dated 19 December 1955. I am going to pluck out some elements and turn them over a bit, in the spirit of Bishop’s sandpiper’s gaze where no detail is too small.

By this point, Bishop was fully ensconced in Brazil with Lota. They were living mostly at Petrópolis (the relentless pull of Rio was still five years away). By December 1955, after a drought of several years, Bishop had in hand Poems: North & South/A Cold Spring (which would win the Pulitzer Prize in 1956). She had already sent Grace a copy, which now resides in the Acadia University Archives, inscribed: “Grace Bowers from Elizabeth Bishop with love.” (In my view, this formal-sounding inscription was Bishop thinking about posterity, and the importance of her full signature.)

Bishop had published during this stretch, most importantly, her stories “In the Village” and “Gwendolyn” in The New Yorker (both in 1953). But very little poetry had seen the light of day, so the book was a great relief. She told Grace that she had seen her book in the window of a bookshop in Rio and it had been written up in the newspapers: “Isn’t it amazing when its in a different language?” She observed that one article claimed she received $1,000 per poem: “God  knows where they got that.” She was quite sure that as soon as the local merchants read this extraordinary fact, Lota’s grocery bills would “probably be doubled.”

At the time of this letter, Bishop was in the throes of helping Henrique Mindlin (http://www.arquivo.arq.br/#!henrique-mindlin/c12eu), a Brazilian architect, translate his book Modern Architecture in Brazil (1956), a task she called “a hideous rush job” to Randall Jarrell (OA, 311). Mindlin was involved with Lota in the design of her house at Samambaia.
To Grace, she noted that she had been “too busy,” referring to “this job on the architecture book I think I told you about.” The deadline for it was 8 January. Then she told Grace a bit of information that was of keen interest to them both, that Mindlin’s wife was imminently due to have their first child. The couple had just spent the weekend, and they had been “slaving” from morning to, what Bishop could have said, in the tradition of Robbie Burns, “the wee sma’ hours.” She was worried that Henrique would have a “nervous breakdown” before this task was completed.

Bishop knew Grace would be interested in the approaching birth because her aunt had been an obstetrics nurse early in her career, training at the Boston-Lying-In Hospital. She had helped to deliver and care for countless babies. For a childless woman, Bishop had an active interest in children and her letters to Grace are full of details about the children who were part of her and Lota’s Brazilian household at this time (and there were several).

Brett Millier notes that Bishop and Mindlin worked well together and ended up becoming friends. (287) Curiously, Mindlin and Bishop were born in the same year. Bishop’s life-long interest in architecture would have been augmented with this project. As Millier also notes, this was one of only a very few “commercial” gigs Bishop did during her life. She was not one for deadlines.

This letter is the first full epistle in this particular collection. It is clear through the conversational style and wide-ranging subjects that Bishop and Grace had a well-established correspondence, which was integrated in and integral to Bishop’s larger epistolary practice. Perhaps there were not as many “literary” details as found in her letters to writer friends, but neither were they absent. Indeed, word for word, Bishop kept Grace apprised of all her Brazilian doings in ways that echo directly the rest of her correspondence.

The next detail I will discuss, which is central to this letter, is Christmas.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A Colouring Book Inspired by Great Village

The old bridge in Great Village, Nova Scotia. Drawing
 by Andrew Meredith.

Artist Andrew Meredith has created a new colouring book inspired by Great Village, Nova Scotia. He will be launching it in the village in May 2016. Check out his Facebook page to find out more. You can also learn about it on the EBSNS Facebook page. We will be letting you know the particulars of Andrew's launch when they are announced. Bravo, Andrew, on this wonderful idea.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Elizabeth Bishop’s Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 4: First from Brazil

The second postcard in the Vassar register’s file “1950–52,” of Bishop’s correspondence to Aunt Grace, does date from this time. The cancellation mark reads “21 I 52” (21 January 1952). Bishop is in Brazil. This postcard was not the first communication to Aunt Grace during what Bishop still, at this point, thought was a visit. Its purpose was to let Grace know as quickly as possible that she had decided to alter her travel plans, “I’m staying in Brazil until the end of Feb,” and confirm her address, so that Grace could write: “the Rio address will reach me.” Clearly, Bishop had written to Grace earlier, as the postcard contains no return address.

Bishop addresses this postcard to The Red Cross Hospital in Tatamagouche, N.S. By 1952, Grace was a widow (William Bowers having died in 1947) and her children grown. Grace returned to full-time nursing, taking positions at various hospitals in Nova Scotia and New England, before she retired sometime in the 1960s. So, Grace also informed Bishop of her whereabouts. With the death of Aunt Maude in 1940, Bishop’s connection with Grace became even more important. They kept tabs on each other.

Bishop left New York City on 26 October 1951. She arrived in Brazil on 26 November, and in Rio on 30 November. She became ill (the infamous incident with the fruit of the cashew) sometime after 12 December and was nursed back to health by Lota de Macedo Soares. Millier writes, “By February 10 [1952], she had admitted that the idea of continuing her trip, or of going back to the United States, was further and further from her mind.” (245)

The image on the verso of this postcard is a vista showing a precipitous curving road in the mountains, which Bishop admitted was “terrifying the 1st time.”
Is it just me, or is this image rather symbolic of what was then happening to Bishop — the journey on this road took her further into Lota’s life. They took the risk of a partnership that had immense and powerful consequences, Bishop called it “precipitate” in “The Shampoo,” for them both. But, of course, Bishop was just showing her beloved aunt some of the wonders of Brazil, an image she knew would resonate with Grace. After all, Nova Scotia had its own narrow curving roads, threading through mountains, and some of them not too far from Great Village.
This photograph was taken in 1958 by my parents during a Cape Breton vacation they took with friends, on the famous winding Cabot Trail. Bishop’s one trip to Cape Breton occurred in 1947. Not much would have changed in the following decade. Even if the mountainous roads in Brazil were grander (most things are grander in Brazil!), it is not stretching reality to suppose Bishop thought of Nova Scotia when she first drove to Petrópolis, and she knew Grace would appreciate what she experienced, as undoubtedly, Grace had visited the Cabot Trail, too.

Bishop wrote, “Thank you so much for your letter. & I’ll write soon.” That letters exchanged between 1942 and 1952 do not survive does not mean they did not exist. Likely, there were many. We are fortunate that so many of Bishop’s letters to Aunt Grace, from the 1950s to 1970s, did survive.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Elizabeth Bishop’s Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 3: In the beginning

According to Vassar’s register of the Elizabeth Bishop Papers, the first file in the correspondence to “Aunt Grace [Bowers]” contains “2 postcards 1950–52.”  The first of these, however, is clearly from a much earlier time. The stamp says “Mexico.” The cancellation indicates it went through the U.S. Censor, a wartime measure. Bishop went to Mexico in 1942. In the very brief note this format allowed, Bishop acknowledges a letter from her aunt and describes the image of a family of potters on the verso, “they…have been doing it exactly the same way for 1,000 years or so.” Brett Millier discusses Bishop’s sojourn in Mexico at length (165–69) and quotes a passage that echoes this note, probably from a travel diary Bishop kept from 1938 to 1942 (EBP, VII, 77.3): “Elizabeth…contemplated the town’s primitive pottery works: ‘They have been making it for thousands of years the same way...’.” (169)
(the verso of the postcard Bishop sent to Grace)

Bishop was keenly interested in what she called “primitive” art, what we would now call “folk art,” of various forms and genres. This emerged early in her life, undoubtedly in her childhood, through experiences in Great Village. While this postcard might be dismissed as mere “tourist” gaze, there is a context for Bishop’s choice. She engaged with these artists and wanted to share that encounter with her aunt.

What this seemingly slight document also reveals is that Bishop corresponded with Grace for a very long time. Bishop made a visit to Great Village in December 1929–January 1930. That fall she entered Vassar. She did not return to Nova Scotia for sixteen years. Grace was fully ensconced at Elmcroft by that time, raising her own family. It is safe to assume that their correspondence began in earnest from that point, when separation and distance made writing a necessity.

Postcards are perhaps the most unrevealing of all correspondence, partly because they are public, their messages viewable to all who handle them. So, the correspondent is circumspect. Combined with limited space, what is generated often seems trivial. However, Bishop chose to send her aunt an image of people doing the work they had done for centuries. To herself, in her diary, she commented that while the pottery had some redeeming qualities, “It seemed to me to be the dreariest artistic tradition I’ve ever seen.” To Grace, however, she noted that the father made her two figures, a nanny and billy goat. Well, one might ask: Are these the parents of the baby goats in “Crusoe in England”?

Bishop went to Mexico with Marjorie Stevens. Grace eventually met Marjorie, when she and Elizabeth returned to Nova Scotia in 1947. Grace not only corresponded with Marjorie but also connected with her in Florida years later, when Grace spent winters there with her niece Hazel.

Thus, one tiny postcard should not be dismissed as slight. I am sure I have gleaned only part of its significance.