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

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year!

Wishing everyone a good turning of the year and all the best in 2018.

"...and these regions now have little to say for themselves / except in thousands of light song-sparrow songs floating upward / freely, dispassionately, through the mist ..." (EB, "Cape Breton"). (Photo by Brenda Barry)

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Brazil, Indiana: January 1, 1968

 "Brilliant sun and... what?! It's four below!
Steps bare, walk bare, road bare. Any snow
nowhere now in sight or even mind —
save for a pair of cardinals, who find
finding any food a larger chore
than once it seemed — at dawn the day before.
Mama is asleep, and Unk's asleep, —
I'm the only one awake to keep
the faith with baby-back-last-springtime birds.
I pull on day-old socks, mouth age-old words,
look for a coat or anyhow a sweater
but finding nothing closer serving better
head out the door to bait the railing, railing
now against the cold, and now the failing
of man and beast and bird to make provision
for mornings just like this one. 'Lack of vision!'
grumble I, 'or is it lack of gumption...'
— and so I freeze in shirt sleeves, the assumption
being, I assume, that even grapenut
cereal will do, from this old taped-up
dusty cardboard box from back last spring.
 Not my favourite breakfast fare — I take
a cup of them with eggs and milk to make
the grapenut pudding great-grand-daddy liked,
or so I was informed when still a tyke
— not because the fact was that important,
but that I was his namesake. Now this portent
means more to the cardinals than me.
I see them waiting there impatiently
out where the dogwood branches brush the board
the Amish carpenters replaced ("the Lord
be thanked!"), a half-a-dozen years ago.
I spread the nubblets thick on ice as thin
as when, the cream just come to boil, the skin
of grapenut pudding forms and barely trembles
beneath its weight of grain. The birds assemble
in strict pecking order, as if Francis
 never preached to them at all. The dance is
still to be distinguished from the dancer.
And though the Lord we've thanked gives them no answer
(Yeats tells us God has not appeared to them),
they are content with grapenuts now to stem
the rumble in their tummies.

                                               Fifty years
have passed sin-" ...but I see she is in tears!
Yes, tears — but not of sorrow: righteous wrath
as I make way for her (the narrow path
accommodating only one of us)
she's making what I'd once have called "a fuss"
— "You murderer of birds! You ignoramus!
Didn't you know, you fool, you dolt, you same-as-
the harm you caused by feeding them?" She twirled
around and like to gave my face a slap!
And then she undertook my Education:
"Grape nuts are like junk food. They're a trap
that keeps the birds from moving on to where
there's food enough for them, and not to share
with folks the likes of you — birds aren't aware
that grape nuts aren't calorie-dense enough
to keep them well and healthy, and they stuff
themselves, and then don't even try to find
the food that serves them better. So the blind
lead on the blind, I guess." She shook her head
and left me there behind, the way the dead
are left behind and out of things. Like bread,
or crumbs of it, or thimblefuls of coffee
served not to birds-on-board but to the lofty
1% who dread the thought of skim
milk or else skim ice, or all the prim
reproaches that the latest like to make
when contemplating all their sins the last.
She's right, of course. I give my head a shake,
as if I'm shaking off the snow. The past.

 Oakland City, Indiana, USA: January 1, 2018

Sunday, December 24, 2017

For Christmas Eve --

[From "At the Fishhouses."]

... Cold dark deep and absolutely clear,
the clear gray icy water . . . Back, behind us,
the dignified tall firs begin.
Bluish, associating with their shadows,
a million Christmas trees stand
waiting for Christmas. The water seems suspended
above the rounded gray and blue-gray stones.
I have seen it over and over, the same sea, the same,
slightly, indifferently swinging above the stones,
icily free above the stones,
above the stones and then the world.
If you should dip your hand in,
your wrist would ache immediately,
your bones would begin to ache and your hand would burn
as if the water were a transmutation of fire
that feeds on stones and burns with a dark gray flame.
If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter,
then briny, then surely burn your tongue.
It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Elizabeth Bishop House memoir -- An offer from Sandra Barry

I have once again written a rather unpublishable book, in part because, while I call it a memoir, it is a highly unconventional, non-linear narrative about my time as steward of the Elizabeth Bishop House in Great Village, Nova Scotia (2004 to 2015).

A couple of years ago, I offered “A Poem A Week” for a year. A number of kind people subscribed to receive one of my poems, along with a short commentary, every Monday morning. This offering was gratis. I plan to do something similar with my memoir: The Gestalt of Old Wood: My Love Affair with the Elizabeth Bishop House.

This memoir is made up of about 90 short sections. If you choose to subscribe, I will send a section, as a pdf file, once or twice a week, starting in January 2018, and continuing throughout the year.
(My father, Herb Barry, and our friend Ivy Cross,
sitting on the verandah, 2008. Photo by Brenda Barry.)
I am not asking for any payment, but if you want, you can donate something to support the Elizabeth Bishop House, which is about to re-incarnate : the St. James Church of Great Village Preservation Society was given the house in November 2017 by the new owners. The society plans to resurrect the artist retreat by the spring of 2018. I am excited about this development — the house will once again be open to Bishop fans and artists, and it is only right that this memoir help in some small way with this endeavour. (See the post below this one for more information.)

The Preservation Society is a registered charity (CRA # 803519370 RR0001), so Canadians can receive a tax receipt if they request one.

Do not send any donations to me, but directly to the Preservation Society. Let them know that the donation comes because of the memoir.

At this time, the Preservation Society can accept only cash or cheque, payable to “St. James Church of GV Preservation Society.” The mailing address is: c/o Laurie Gunn, Treasurer, 178 Parkwood South, Truro Heights, Nova Scotia, B6L 1P3.

If you have any questions about donating to the Preservation Society, contact Laurie Gunn at ebishopretreat@gmail.com.

For Bishop House supporters from elsewhere (that is, outside Canada and the US), if you want to make a donation, you can do so through the Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia’s website (http://elizabethbishopns.org/), through PayPal. There are “Donate” buttons on several of the pages of the website. If you have any questions about donating that way, just drop me a note.

(my email is: slbarry@ns.sympatico.ca)

Thank you for your interest and support.

Monday, November 27, 2017


The following is just in from the St. James Church of Great Village Preservation Society:

The St. James Church of Great Village Preservation Society is very pleased to announce that the Elizabeth Bishop House has been generously gifted to them.

The 150 year old EB House sits in the center of Great Village and was the much loved home of Elizabeth Bishop’s grandparents. Elizabeth Bishop spent her early childhood in this house and wrote poems, stories and memoirs about the people and events she witnessed and experienced.

The S.J.C.G.V Preservation Society is planning to re-establish the artist retreat as a place for Bishop fans and artists who want to experience this wonderful old house and spend quality time working and relaxing. The S.J.C.G.V. Preservation Society is hoping to have this exciting project ready by May 2018.

Check us out on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ebretreat/ or email us at ebishopretreat@gmail.com.

Anyone wishing to donate to this project can do so by making a cheque payable to the “S.J.C.G.V. Preservation Society” or “The Elizabeth Bishop Society “ (memo: EB House).

A charitable tax receipt is available for Canadians if requested.

Mail to Laurie Gunn, Treasurer, 178 Parkwood South, Truro Heights, Nova Scotia B6L 1P3.
As a previous owner of the EB House, I want to express my complete delight with this development and to thank the Preservation Society, especially Laurie Gunn, for all the hard work done to make this happen. And to thank the previous owners, who took good care of it between my tenure and the new guard. It is wonderful that the house will again be available for Bishop fans and artists of all kinds, as well as the many visitors who go to Great Village every year to see Bishop's beloved childhood home. I have written a memoir of my time taking care of the house and I will be sharing it with interested people in the near future. I will be posting a notice about this offer on the blog early in December.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Halifax Explosion, 6 December 1917: events to mark its centenary

EBSNS board member Janet Maybee, author of Aftershock: The Halifax Explosion and the Persecution of Francis Mackay (Nimbus), is involved in a number of projects and events marking the centenary of the Halifax Explosion, which occurred on 6 December 1917. One of these projects is an exhibit at the Colchester Historeum in Truro, N.S., dedicated to the response of Colchester County in the hours, days and weeks after the disaster: http://colchesterhistoreum.ca/current-exhibits/

See more about this exhibit on the Hub Now site
The booklet Janet created (cover above) for this exhibit will be part of a new time-capsule about the explosion that is being created to mark the one hundredth anniversary.

Janet is also involved in a re-enactment related to the aftermath of the explosion.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Suzie LeBlanc and friends’ opera premiere

EBSNS Honorary Patron Suzie LeBlanc is busy these days getting ready for the premiere of an opera. Recently, she wrote: “As you may know, I founded and co-direct with Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière an opera company called Le Nouvel Opera in Montreal. This fall, we are collaborating with Les Boréades de Montréal to perform and record a 17th century pastoral opera by Paolo Lorenzani: Nicandro e Fileno. This delightful work has not been presented on the stage anywhere in the world since its creation in 1681. It has never been recorded. Six singers, two dancers, actors and a small orchestra will perform the piece in a fully-staged production directed by Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière in Montreal on November 23rd, for one night only!

Le Nouvel Opera is involved in a fund-raising campaign for the recording of the opera on Indigogo. Check it out here:

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Lest We Forget...

To mark Remembrance Day, 11 November, Great Village resident Carole Pugsley Fisher has installed two banners next to the cenotaph, one to honour her grandfather Walter Perrin and the other to honour Neil Fisher, both veterans. Every year, as in nearly every community in Nova Scotia, a Remembrance Day service, organized and hosted by the Legion, is held at the cenotaph. This year will be no exception.
(Photos by Patti Sharpe.)
The EBSNS installed banners in 2011 for EB100, and has continued to put up banners every summer. These are taken down in the fall, but the society encourages other groups and individuals to make use of the brackets for other purposes.
(The Great Village cenotaph after a service,
15 November 2015. Photo by Brenda Barry.)

You can read more about Great Village and World War I on the blog here and here.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Brazilian Bishop scholar visits Nova Scotia

In the tradition of  “The Newsy Notes of Great Village” (which appeared regularly in the Truro Daily News) I offer a brief account of a visitor to Nova Scotia:

Recently, I had the great delight to meet with Tiago Barbosa da Silva, a Brazilian Bishop scholar who visited Nova Scotia this month. Tiago is working on a PhD dissertation at Universidade Federal Du Pernambuco.(https://www.ufpe.br/ ). He has been at the University of Ottawa working with Dr. David Jarraway. He and his partner Jalinson Jonas spent a couple of weeks in the province and we arranged to meet at Acadia University Archives, Wolfville, N.S., so I could introduce him to the material in the Bulmer-Bowers-Hutchinson-Sutherland Family fonds. We had a wonderful day talking about all things EB. What a true pleasure and privilege it was to share time and Bishop enthusiasm with Tiago. They spent time in Halifax, taking in the big Nocturne 2017 festival. They travelled to Cape Breton and then, of course, as they headed back to Ottawa, they stopped in Great Village, where EBSNS President Patti Sharpe and EBSNS board member Laurie Gunn met them and gave them a tour of the EB House.
(Tiago Silva, Patti Sharpe and Jalison Jonas at the EB House, October 2017.)

Tiago tells me that he will defend his dissertation in March 2018. We all hope that they will come back to Nova Scotia again!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Moya Pacey’s new collection of poems

We always like to make note of the activities of Bishop fans and devotees around the world. Recently, one of the creative alumni of the Elizabeth Bishop House, Australian poet Moya Pacey, published a new collection of poetry: Black Tulips (Recent WorksPress).

Moya was the winner in the adult category of the Elizabeth Bishop Centenary Writing Competition, 2011. Moya has been doing the usual launches and readings and has written about the book that she is “pleased with its shape” and feels that “the poems all sit together and have a conversation.” Check it out!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Update about Alfred Villeneuve's solo exhibit in Scotland

I recently received a photograph from painter Alfred Villeneuve (who donated a beautiful painting to the EBSNS to raise funds for our exhibit/gallery in St. James Church) taken at The Scottish Arts Club in August 2017. Alfred went for the opening of his first European solo exhibit, which coincided with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. We announced this exciting exhibit on this blog in July.

Here is the photo Alfred sent -- he is sitting in the salon where his artwork was hung. His comment about this photo is that he was tired but happy. His artwork is visible on the wall behind him and to the left by the window. His work was received with much interest and enthusiasm, which I, for one, do not find at all surprising. Congratulations Alfred!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Paul Dodgson’s new memoir

In 2007 BBC Radio producer Paul Dodgson and writer Lavinia Greenlaw spent a week at the EB House recording a documentary about Bishop’s Great Village, “As Big as Life,” which was broadcast later that year. Paul returned to Nova Scotia a couple more times for retreats at the house and has kept in touch, as have many EB House alumni. Recently, he told me about a new project and I am excited to pass on word about it. Paul is working on a new memoir: On The Road Not Taken, which he describes as his love story about the transformational power of music. Paul is crowd-funding on the publishing website Unbound. Check out the wonderful video that explains his project, and you can become part of the story by subscribing: https://unbound.com/books/on-the-road-not-taken. Good luck Paul! 

(Paul Dodgson and me at Field House, Spencer's Point,
near Great Village, September 2007. Photo by Lavinia Greenlaw.)

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Copy of Elizabeth Bishop’s North & South for sale

Elizabeth Bishop was in Nova Scotia when North & South, her first book, was published by Houghton Mifflin Company in August 1946. Her publisher sent her a copy while she was there. During this trip she visited her Aunt Grace Bulmer Bowers in Great Village, so her family immediately saw this début. Bishop was called back unexpectedly to the US (the famous bus trip with the moose encounter) and it was likely from there that she sent copies of N&S to her aunt and her cousin, Phyllis Sutherland. The latter copy is in Acadia University Archives (Bulmer-Bowers-Hutchinson-Sutherland family fonds). The copy Bishop gave to Grace is owned by Grace’s youngest son Rod Bowers, of Brantford, Ontario, Canada. Mr. Bowers has decided to sell this copy.

According to various online rare bookseller sources, only 1,000 copies of this book were printed. It was never re-issued in a second edition, but was incorporated into Poems: North & South—A Cold Spring, which was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1955 and won Bishop the Pulitzer Prize in 1956. Thus, stand-alone copies of North & South are rare. And signed/inscribed copies rarer.

This copy of North & South does not have its dust jacket (the copy at Acadia University has a jacket, but it is torn and fragile). Like the Acadia copy, this copy is both signed (on the title page) and inscribed, “For Aunt Grace, with love, from Elizabeth” (on the front endpaper — this page has rust spots from a paperclip). Except for the missing jacket, this hardcover first edition is in good shape with the binding intact, with slight wear at the top and bottom of the binding. There are a few small stains on several its pages. Otherwise, minimal discolouration.

Mr. Bowers is asking $7,000.00 USD for this copy. Mr. Bowers can be contacted at: rodbowers@rogers.com.

Below are images of this copy of North & South.
(Front cover)

(Signed title page)

(Inscription on endpaper)


Thursday, August 17, 2017

New: A setting of Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Shampoo”

Recently, California writer and musician Charmane M. Vaianisi wrote to tell us of a collaboration with Oklahoma musician and composer Beau Mansfield: a setting of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “The Shampoo.” They have posted a recording of this setting on YouTube. You can here it by clicking: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lc4hvM9eHY
Charmane has an incredible story, which you can read here.
Charmane's YouTube Channel.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Heritage Day Event in Great Village

The Great Village Community Association organized a Heritage Day event which took place in the school gymnasium on 7 August 2017. Approximately 75 people attended to hear three guest speakers talk about three different periods of West Colchester’s history. 1. Garrett Gloade — early Mi’kmaw settlement of West Colchester and the Cobequid shore. 2. Bill Casey — the Acadian presence in Colchester and Cumberland counties. 3. Richard Akerman — Great Village’s role as the port of Londonderry during the boom period of the iron ore mines in that community.

Along with several other community groups, the EBSNS contributed a display, which was manned by April Sharpe, the summer student who is helping out at St. James Church. April kindly agreed to write a report for the blog, which follows: 

“Heritage Day was full of history, including the Elizabeth Bishop Display table set up for all to see. Many people came to the table, drawn perhaps by the Elizabeth Bishop doll more than anything. There were people who had no idea who Elizabeth Bishop was, but many more knew of her. Both groups were happy to see the display, to further their knowledge of the famous poet. The pictures of her maternal family members drew the most attention. The Vassar yearbook, citing Great Village as her home and showing her in her youth, made many smile. The display featured publications by and about EB, photographs, and various projects the Society had undertaken including our centenary and roadside banners. EBSNS pencils and walking tour booklets were free for the taking. It was an all around success. "
(A glimpse of Heritage Day and the EBSNS display --
our centenary and roadside banners are on the wall. Photo by Keith Pratt.)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Colchester Adult Learning Association’s new Little Free Library in Great Village

The Colchester Adult Learning Association (http://gocala.ca/) recently installed a Little Free Library in Great Village, Nova Scotia. See their Facebook page for photos (https://www.facebook.com/gocala.ca/). The library sits on the property of Wilson’s Fuel near the EBSNS/GVHS historical pergola. Wonderful to see reading being supported so enthusiastically and freely in the village. Congratulations CALA.

The Little Free Library is a world-wide movement. Read more about it here: https://littlefreelibrary.org/.

 (The new Little Free Library waiting for its books, 
Great Village, N.S. Photo by Patti Sharpe.)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Alfred Villeneuve’s first international exhibition

The EBSNS wishes to congratulate our long-time friend and supporter Alfred Villeneuve on his first international exhibition at The Scottish Arts Club (https://www.scottishartsclub.com/) in Edinburgh, Scotland, during the huge Edinburgh Festival Fringe (https://www.edfringe.com/). His exhibit runs through August 2017.

We are so pleased that Alfred’s amazing paintings will be showcased at this important venue, during this incredible gathering of international artists. We wish Alfred a wonderful trip.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Elizabeth Bishop documentary film shoot in Great Village

Nova Scotia film-maker John Scott (Magpie Productions) has kindly sent a note about a recent shoot (7-9 July 2017) in Great Village for his documentary film about Elizabeth Bishop. He has kindly sent along some images, which I am delighted to share. His little EB was Harley Spencer-Lowe and his “Gammie” (Bishop’s maternal grandmother) was Wanda Graham.

Here is John’s description of this part of the process:

“We shot some dramatic re-enactments in the Elizabeth Bishop house in Great Village for our feature documentary Elizabeth Bishop and the Art of Losing. We wanted to tell some of the story of Elizabeth Bishop’s time as a child growing up in Nova Scotia. This has been an ongoing project for six years but is nearing its completion. For more information go to the facebook page – and like it!”

We are cheering you on, John, and very much looking forward to seeing your documentary!

(John Scott, Wanda Graham and Harley Spencer-Lowe
in the dining room of the EB House.
Photo by Briony Carros.)

 (John and Harley in the back yard of the EB House. Photo by Briony Carros.)

(Harley as EB in front of the Great Village School. Photo by John Scott.)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Elizabeth Bishop’s Ancestry: A study in migration

In May 2003 I attended an American Literature Association conference in Boston. I was invited to present a paper on a panel about Bishop and her New England connections. My paper was entitled: “Elizabeth Bishop and the ‘Boston States’.” I had only fifteen minutes to say something on this subject, so I decided to write a poem exploring Bishop’s ancestry, which had deep roots in both the Maritimes and New England. Earlier that year, Muir MacLachlan, a dear resident of Great Village and a Bishop contemporary, had died. I took his death as the anchor for my talk. I have been wanting to post this talk on the blog for some time, but various things have delayed me doing so. The other day I began to read Kay Redfield Jamison’s Robert Lowell: Setting the River on Fire, A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character (Knopf, 2017). This well-written, nuanced, insightful book begins with a dive into Lowell’s ancestry, as so much of mental illness has a hereditary aspect. Reading Jamison’s insights brought me quickly back to my little poem, an attempt to summarize the impact of ancestry on Bishop’s life and art. So, I thought I would share that long ago conference paper now. Apologies for all the text, but sometimes pictures are not enough. There must be words.

There was another little girl in Primer Class, besides me, and one awful day she wet her pants, right in the front seat, and was sent home. There were two little Micmac Indian boys, Jimmy and Johnny Crow, who had dark little faces and shiny black hair and eyes, just alike....Almost everyone went barefoot to school, but I had to wear brown sandals with buckles, against my will. When I went home the first day and was asked who was in Primer Class with me, I replied, ‘Manure MacLaughlin,’ [sic] as his name sounded to me. I was familiar with manure – there was a great pile of it beside the barn – but of course his real name was Muir, and everyone laughed. Muir wore a navy-blue cap, with a red-and-yellow maple leaf embroidered above the visor.” (CPr 9)

On January 3, 2003, Muir MacLachlan died in Great Village, Nova Scotia. He was 92 years old. If she were alive today Elizabeth Bishop would be 92 years old. What does Muir MacLachlan have to do with Elizabeth Bishop and the “Boston States”? Nothing directly, but he has a great deal to do with Elizabeth Bishop and Great Village and Nova Scotia; and Great Village and Nova Scotia historically have quite a bit to do with the “Boston States.”

Muir’s death marked the passing of an era in Great Village – he was perhaps the last person there who knew Elizabeth Bishop as a child. Muir’s advanced age and his death in January are linked in my mind to an article I read a short time later, which coincidentally was published in the January 2003 issue of Smithsonian. Written by Mary Duenwald, the article is entitled “Puzzle of the Century.” It examines the phenomenon of the large number of centenarians living in Nova Scotia. To explain why this article is a chain link in my thinking, I quote a passage:

“Yet the province’s cluster of centenarians has begged for a scientific explanation ever since it came to light several years ago. Dr. Thomas Perls, who conducts research on centenarians at Boston Medical Center, noticed that people in his study often spoke of very old relatives in Nova Scotia. (To be sure, the two regions have historically close ties; a century ago, young Nova Scotians sought their fortunes in what they called ‘the Boston States.’) At a gerontology meeting, Perls talked to one of [Dr. Chris] McKnight’s Dalhousie [University] colleagues {Dalhousie is in Halifax, Nova Scotia}, who reported seeing a centenarian’s obituary in a Halifax newspaper nearly every week. ‘That was amazing,’ Perls recalls. ‘Down here, I see obituaries for centenarians maybe once every five or six weeks.’ Perls says he became convinced that ‘Nova Scotians had something up their sleeve’ that enabled them to reach such advanced ages. ‘Someone had to look into it.’ (74)

In January 2003 Tom Travisano invited me to participate in this panel and speak about Elizabeth Bishop and the “Boston States.” Thus events, which might otherwise have remained discrete, became linked in my mind.

I have written at some length about the close historical ties between the Maritimes and New England, about the rôle this geo-political, socio-economic interconnection played in Elizabeth Bishop’s childhood and adolescence.1 The metaphor I have used most frequently is that of migration – the continuous toing and froing between both regions, so regular in certain eras that it seemed a force of nature, it seemed as regular as tide. It was so for Elizabeth Bishop:

“First, she had come home, with her child. Then she had gone away again, alone, and left the child. Then she had come home. Then she had gone away again, with her sister; and now she was home again....So many things in the village came from Boston, and even I had once come from there. But I remembered only being here, with my grandmother.” (CPr 252, 254)

The idea of the “Boston States” is inextricably linked to the Maritimes. It is a Maritime phrase. It has lost much of its currency and relevance in today’s globalization, yet even in my childhood I remember it being used. When I was three my parents took a trip (still frequently done then), to the “Boston States” to visit Nova Scotia friends who had moved to Worcester.

I decided the best way to convey the organic quality of this ebb and flow in Bishop’s life was to write a kind of litany. I have chosen to frame this litany impressionistically. The facts are multiple and highly intertwined, fascinating in themselves but too involved to recount here. So I offer a poetic version instead. Keep in mind that Elizabeth Bishop knew a great deal about each of the relatives I mention, knew their stories. The “here and there” of this litany was her earliest “total immersion.” She was a full participant (willing and unwilling) in the tide of life between these regions.  I dedicate these words to the memory of Muir, and my apologies to Elizabeth Bishop for my awkward narrative (as opposed to lyrical) lines.

Her ancestors sailed from England
for every reason imaginable,
sailed towards the future, which is now
the unreclaimable past.
Fosters trace to William the Conqueror.
Bulmers trace to before William the Conqueror.
Bishops and Hutchinsons trace beyond memory.
Somewhere, so far back,
hidden in the folds of Fales, Meade, Hooper and Black,
the lines diverged from the seven clan mothers.
Somewhere, not so far back, the codes held
in these bones and blood washed up
on nearby shores: colonies of wilderness,
colonies of hope, colonies of construction
and deconstruction, and every ancestor must account.
Fosters trace to Massachusetts.
Bulmers trace to Nova Scotia.
Bishops trace to Prince Edward Island.
Hutchinsons trace to New Brunswick.

The matrix is artisans – weavers, farmers,
carpenters, tanners; seamstresses, gardeners,
healers, cooks – crafting from scratch
(she once wrote “in a pinch”) new lives
“in unthought of ways,” new ideas forged
from molten iron (the too hot imagination),
cooled into judges, deacons and politicians
with obedient or not so obedient wives.

The circle constricts towards the centre;
the trajectories lie in closer proximity.
What force in nature brings together
disparate lives as though on purpose?
She would have said “wanderlust.”
It must be a gene.

The matrix set inside a vast historical pattern
because the sea is the first highway,
an element of motion older than all pilgrims
combined. Its paradigm is tide. Time.

The wanderlust kept alive by the Hutchinsons
– master mariners and missionaries who sailed
around the Horn, sailed to Egypt,
to India and back to England. Sailed and spoke
the journeys – this line was the artists: writers,
translators, painters, orators.
Her affinity was always with the artists,
who settled and never settled, who appeared
and vanished, because that is what artists do.

John Bishop emigrated from Prince Edward Island
to Rhode Island to Massachusetts. He married
Sarah Foster; their large family included William.

William Bulmer took a young man’s tour
of New England, then settled in Nova Scotia.
He married Elizabeth Hutchinson;
their large family included Gertrude.

All the ancestral inclinations converged here,
at the turn of the twentieth century,
in a moment (lost to the record)
when this William and this Gertrude met.
It all happened for this one reason
(why not?) – it all happened for every
other reason imaginable or unimaginable,
remembered or lost. Is there a reason
to choose a nexus, study it,
realize, as she did,
truth is an imaginary iceberg,
visceral, looming, cold?
Her study of the consequences
of this lost moment lasted a lifetime.

Begin again: to Boston to Boston to train
as a nurse; home again, home again
because she was ill. Back to Boston
where he was ill; she nursed him
back to health.

The bond can only be imagined: She fled
to Great Village afraid of the power
of her love. He followed her to Great Village
determined to declare the power of his love.
In 1908 they were married. They sailed
to Jamaica, to Panama for their honeymoon.
Back in Massachusetts they lived and loved
their only child into being.
1911 was a year of life and death (isn’t every year?).
1911 began the back and forth of her imagination;
life began like a cradle rocking. Rocking gently
on the sea between worlds, both worlds home,
neither world home. She said the poet
“carries home within.”

Is there a reason
to choose? Let the rocking continue
her whole life: aboard the North Star
(ponder all the shipwrecks); aboard
the Königstein, the Normandy, the Britannic,
the Exeter, the Bowplate, the Jarlsberg,
the Prince of Fundy. Life began en route:
steam back and forth between Yarmouth
and Boston, ride the “unk-etty” train
between Londonderry Station and Boston,
motor the to and fro in early Fords and Chevrolets,
sit in the long bus limbo on trips between
Great Village and Boston. Occasionally fly,
if you have to.

Great-grandparents did so.
Grandparents and great-uncles did so.
Maternal aunts and girl cousins did so.
Even Uncle Arthur, who never went anywhere
in his life, drove from the village to Boston
once or twice, to visit his daughters.
Look at him, he ended up in Brazil,
like she did. Willingly
and unwillingly she came to and left
Nova Scotia. Willingly
and unwillingly she came to and left
Massachusetts. Patterns as old as her ancestors,
as new as her own next breath.
Lost and found words were mantras,
she called them “first syllables,”
which vanished from her tongue
like her father and mother from her life.
Where does the historian, the biographer,
the critic, the artist locate the initial conditions,
the uncanny convergences, the accidents?
In her lines, in her vision (look, that is),
in her memory, which lift the weight
of uncountable yesterdays, as far back
as William the Conqueror,
and as close as old men named Muir.

1. See Sandra Barry, “Invisible Threads and Individual Rubatos: Migration in Elizabeth Bishop’s Life and Work.” In “In Worcester, Massachusetts” Essays on Elizabeth Bishop. ed. Laura Jehns Menides and Angela G. Dorenkamp. New York: Peter Lang, 1999, pp. 59-73.

Works Cited
Bishop, Elizabeth. The Collected Prose. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1984.
Duenwald, Mary. “Puzzle of the Century.” Smithsonian (January 2003), pp. 72-80.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

EBSNS AGM, 17 June 2017 -- the final glimpses

One more go of photos of our lively
Annual General Meeting last Saturday.

The Great Village Fire Brigade Auxiliary always puts
out a delicious spread for all the hungry folks. John Barnstead (l.)
is usually one of the first to line up for the treats.
Our special guest, Alexander MacLeod.

One of the lovely aspects of our meetings is
the deep conversations that happen afterwards.
The assembled in beautiful St. James Church.

The EBSNS has become involved in a new project, a "Little Free Library," being set up in Great Village by the Colchester Adult Learning Association. Stay tuned for an update about this exciting endeavour.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A few more photos from the EBSNS Annual General Meeting on 17 June 2017

Another round of photographs, courtesy of Susan Kerslake, showing glimpses of the artwork in the "Echoes of EB" gallery. We hope you have a chance to stop by St. James Church and see what the EBSNS and our contributing artists have done.
(Artists l. to r. Janet Guinan, Laurie Gunn, Andre Meredith).
(Laurie Gunn's "Awful but cheerful" hooked rug.)
(Artists l. to r. top: Christene Sandeson, Joy Laking,
Catherine MacLean. Bottom: Bruce Gray)
(Not technically part of the inaugural art exhibit, this beautiful
painted chair by Halifax artist Tayia Barss
used to belong to the EB House.)

Stay tuned for more AGM photos.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Another successful Annual General Meeting

On Saturday, 17 June 2017, the Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia held its Annual General Meeting at St. James Church in Great Village, N.S. Around forty members and guests gathered for a lively event which saw the opening of "Elizabeth Bishop's Beginnings" exhibit and "Echoes of EB" art gallery. What follows are a few images from the day, courtesy of EBSNS member Susan Kerslake. Minutes of the meeting will soon be posted on our website. The EBSNS thanks all those who attended for their support, as well as all the people who helped to make the exhibit and gallery possible. Heartfelt thanks to our guest speaker, Alexander MacLeod, for sharing his powerful words. And a special thank you to the St. James Church of Great Village Preservation Society for offering us part of the beautiful sanctuary.

The first thing on the agenda was our usual business. Here Patti Sharpe presents her first President's Report. That's past president Laurie Gunn on the left and secretary Sandra Barry in the centre.
Then the exhibit and gallery were officially opened, with time for those gathered to look at the displays and art work.
A half dozen local artists had contributed the inaugral gallery exhibit, including this beautiful carving by Deverne Rushton, his interpretation of Bishop's famous poem "The Fish."
Our guest speaker was Nova Scotia writer Alexander MacLeod. After reading mesmerizing us with a compelling read of one of his short stories, I had the honour to ask him some questions.
Before making our way across the road to the legion for our reception, we drew for two prizes. The first was a door prize (a lovely hooked rug seat cover done by Laurie Gunn). Binnie Brennan was the lucky winner.
Then the big draw for the raffle prize (Alfred Villeneuve's wonderful en plein air painting of Algonquin Park, which had been on display during the meeting). Alexander did the honours. The winner was Halifax resident Mary Blanchard, who was not at the meeting.
Then it was time to indulge in the delicious sandwiches, sweets, coffee, tea and punch that the Great Village Fire Brigade Auxiliary had prepared for us, set up at the Royal Canadian Legion across the road. Lots of lively conversations took place and folks were slow to leave all the conviviality.
Here is a glimpe of the hard working auxiliary ladies taking a well-deserved break in the kitchen.
I will share more photos from the AGM over the next few days. We hope everyone enjoyed this gathering as much as the EBSNS board did presenting it to our members and guests.