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

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 138: A Work Report

The next section of Bishop’s 19/21 April 1963 letter commenced with a slightly incredulous acknowledgement: “I am very touched to think of someone’s [sic] actually going to the library to read me!” Who that reader was is of course not known, and makes me regret yet again the loss of Grace’s letters. Bishop had sent Grace and her maternal cousins her books – in 1963 this was North & South (1946) and Poems (1955), most of them now housed at Acadia University Archives – prompting Bishop to say, “you’ve got all the poems so far.” Bishop quickly added that “another book is coming out this year, if I get busy at it.” This book was Question of Travel, which did not appear until 1965. She noted that she had “a few stories – not really enough to make a book,” Bishop never published a collection of her stories, but she had sent Grace some of the journals and magazines in which they appeared, prompting her to add, “I thought you’d seen all of them.” Bishop reported that “they want to publish a book of stories,” but she felt there were not “enough good ones.”

Apropos of nothing, Bishop shifted gears mid-paragraph to describe an enclosure: “a snapshot of me with my friend Robert Lowell.” She remined Grace, as if she needed to after Bishop’s vivid letters about his visit, that Lowell was “the poet who visited me with his wife [Elizabeth Hardwick] & daughter [Harriet] last summer.” During that visit, Bishop’s nemesis “LIFE came & took pictures of us and then never used them (as usual – after annoying us a whole afternoon).” LIFE had given Bishop “a few bad ones like this [one],” but had “kept the best ones.” The photo in question has become famous. 
(Bishop and Lowell, Rio 1962.)
She explained, “We were supposed to be giving each other the Brazilian abraço, embrace, or hug – you do it when you shake hands here.” But the two New Englanders didn’t quite get it right, Lowell being “a bit awkward!” in Bishop’s  view. Bishop then observed of herself that she looked “exactly like Margaret Chase Smith (?0 – the lady-senator from Maine!” 
Then another quick shift – as though the picture explanation was a brief distraction, mid-thought, and back to noting that she was “making an index for my publisher this week,” presumably of where all her poems were published. She promised Grace the “list, too – but you’ll get the new book of poems when it does appear, of course.”

Still with writing, she next reported that she had “been doing a few translations of Brazilian stories & poems.” She was done with this effort and observed, “but no more – it’s not worth it.” She reported that “a big rich foundation in N.Y.” was undertaking “a huge series of poetry-translation.” Bishop was hooked initially because “they pay well – so I did a batch for them – 200 lines = $300.” However, if writing her own poems was hard, translating someone else’s was “next to impossible.” To explain the issues more particularly, Bishop told Grace that “someone here has translated some of me into Portuguese.” This unnamed fellow was due to arrive “to discuss it today – and what a mess!” Bishop knew he would “insist on being poetic & putting in ‘thees’ & ‘thous’.” Further, “when I say ‘stood up’ he’ll say things like ‘arose to his feet’ etc.” Bishop wanted to “tell him ‘please don’t publish them’, but don’t want to hurt his feelings.” Scribbled in the margin, Bishop added, “he’s worked so hard.”

The work report was just about done, but she added that “a long article about me” had appeared “in a Latin-American magazine – and all-South-America one.” Bishop’s assessment of this article was “not too bad.” Sending it to Grace was rather pointless, however, because it was “all in Spanish & the photographs are terrible.”

The next paragraph of this long letter takes up family matters, particularly Bishop’s concerns about Phyllis Sutherland’s daughter Miriam. The next post will unfold Bishop’s ongoing interest in this child.

Click here to see Post 137.

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