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

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Elizabeth Bishop celebrations in Key West, Florida, 3-8 February 2020: A report by Kay Bierwiler

Before we get to Kay’s report, I want to thank her for sending it along with the photographs. I also want to mention that Judy Schuhlein, another correspondent, also attended some of the Key West EB events. In particular, she attended the birthday party/poetry reading, which she noted took “place in the ‘listening room’ behind the Key West theatre, a totally black room with round tables for two with black tablecloths and dim lighting.” She reports that “about 20 people read [Bishop’s] poems or poems they had written about her or inspired by her.” She notes there was “wine, and in the intermission there was a birthday cake … and we all sang happy birthday to” Bishop. Interestingly, Judy reports that she spoke “with one of the poets, who was from Halifax, Nova Scotia, but now lives in Key West. Her name is Janice Colbert, and she read her lovely poem entitled ‘Dear Elizabeth Bishop’.” Finally, Judy concludes, “It was great to hear so many local poets and to see the great enthusiasm for Elizabeth and for her poetry in Key West.”

Now to Kay’s report:

This has been a banner year for Elizabeth Bishop studies in Key West. The house Bishop purchased at 624 White Street in Key West was put up for sale and was purchased by the Key Literary Seminar in November 2019.  Arlo Haskell, the chairman of the Seminar, said the goal is to restore and maintain it as it was when Bishop lived there.

During the week of February 3-8 several events were held to honor Bishop. A talk by Arlo Haskell entitled “From the highest heron down to the weightless mangrove island: Elizabeth Bishop among the Birds and Beasts of Key West.”  Bishop was fascinated by the variety of birds and the natural surroundings of Key West. Photos of various birds were presented by Mark Hedden.

Thomas Travisano, a prominent Bishop scholar, presented a talk, “My Shelter from the Hurricane:  Elizabeth Bishop’s Search for Home.”  He discussed the various homes that Bishop lived in from Great Village, Canada, to Key West, running down the east coast of Canada and the United States and later,  Brazil. Bishop purchased her first home in Key West in 1938. Travisano spoke of the solidity of Bishop's poetry, similar to the solidity of the buildings her father's company built in Boston. He discussed how homes mattered to Bishop. He asked the audience to imagine Bishop peering into a worker's house and its sense of stability which she didn't have.

The next day, February 8, was proclaimed “Elizabeth Bishop Day” by the Mayor of Key West.

A panel discussion entitled “North and South: Key West in Elizabeth Bishop’s Life and Art,” consisted of  Bethany Hicok, Tom Travisano, Barbara Page. Emily Schulten, and David Hoak, moderated by Arlo Haskell.  It took place on 8 February in the backyard of Bishop’s house in Key West, 624 White Street. Palm branches rustled overhead, gently blowing in the breeze. Hoak discussed love and stability in Key West. When Bishop and Louise Crane bought the house at 624 White Street, it was the longest stretch living with someone yet. It was also the first of her beloved homes. Hicok spoke about Key West’s effect on Bishop’s views on race relations in the U.S. Bishop’s poem “Cootchie” discusses how a black servant, Cootchie, spent her life caring for her white employer, Miss Lula. Travisano spoke about Bishop’s poem “Seascape,” written in Key West, as central to her poetry. 
(Left to right: Emily Schulten, Tom Travisano,
Bethany Hicok, Barbara Page, David Hoak)
Later in the evening local poets gathered and read a variety of poems by Bishop, including “Filling Station,” “Florida,” “Questions of Travel” and “One Art,” as well as some of their own poems, which focused on Bishop in Key West. During the intermission all enjoyed a slice of the Elizabeth Bishop Happy Birthday cake. The Bishop birthday party was hosted by Malcom Willison. 
(Alas, I do not know any of the people in this photo)
Here are some more photos from the reading, just in from Kay. Thanks, again, Kay for sending the report and supplying the images.
(Arida Wright)
(Sheri Lori)
(Edgardo Alvarado-Vazquez)
(Arlo Haskell)

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