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

Saturday, September 26, 2020

MANNERS: Natallia Povaliayeva -- a response from Moya Pacey

Even though the “Two Arts” virtual exhibit is officially closed, below is a delightful response to one of Natallia’s drawings, “Manners,” by Australian poet Moya Pacey. The exhibit is still in the blog’s archive and you can click onto the “Two Arts” button in the menu on the right to see the images and to learn more about the fund-raiser. There are still prints for sale.


Speak to everyone you meet: Receiving the print in the mail today returns me to my time spent at EB House in Great Village as a guest during the EB Centenary Festival, 2011, and the people I met there.

I leave the EB House and cross the iron bridge on my way to the Post Office, thinking of the five-year-old Elizabeth crossing it clutching a carefully wrapped brown paper parcel, addressed to her mother at the Infirmary in Halifax. Inside, the almonds her mother loved, and a letter from Gammie asking the Superintendent to please take Elizabeth’s mother, Gertrude, out for a drive. Elizabeth pushed the parcel through the post office grille with the quarter coin and left quickly, not waiting for change.

Unlike the young Elizabeth, I linger, and Bev the Postmistress introduces me to Sterling Dick a ninety-two-year-old WW2 veteran. He fought in the Pacific and was in Australia and New Zealand and then at Okinawa. He tells me he’s looking for a wife. Sarah is there from the Blakie House. She’s baking butter tarts for her guests who include Carmel Cummins, the Irish poet, who brings salmon from Kilkenny. It rivals Willy Krauch’s smoked salmon that I eat at the picnic in the grounds of St James Church at the kind invitation of Jane Kennedy, from Economy, and her sister Esther.

I meet Maxine Ryan, another local, on the horse and cart ride around Great Village. We follow the route Elizabeth took with her grandfather that Natallia Povaliayeva the artist captures in her print, “Manners.” April Sharpe dresses as the young Elizabeth and recites some of her poems along the way. I was artist in residence at the EB House in 2018, and was invited to Maxine and Bryden’s Thanksgiving Dinner. I also met up with Sandra Barry and spent a wonderful day with her looking through the Elizabeth Bishop archives at Acadia University, and met Laurie Gunn again at my poetry reading. She has worked tirelessly, with others, to get Municipal Heritage status for the EB House – all this and more returns to me – so many faces, so many memories of my time spent in Great Village @ the EB Centenary Festival.

-- Moya Pacey, September 24, 2020

(Moya and me in EB House dining room, 
looking at EB's 1934 Vassar College yearbook, 
during the EB Centenary Arts Festival in Great Village, 
August 2011)

Monday, September 14, 2020

Anne Stevenson (1933-2020)

 A short time ago, I learned from U.K. Bishop scholar Jonathan Ellis that the poet, biographer and literary critic Anne Stevenson died today (14 September). Stevenson was a “pioneer” in Bishop studies, publishing a book about EB’s poems in 1966. She subsequently published two collections of essays about Bishop’s work. Her final book of poems came out recently with Bloodaxe Books and the publisher has posted a moving tribute to her, complete with a video of her reading some of her poems.

I first met Anne Stevenson in 1995 – September I think – when she and her lovely husband Peter Lucas visited Nova Scotia (it was her first visit to the province). I remember the year because the second Quebec Referendum was happening and she was quite interested in this event. She and Peter stayed at the Lord Nelson Hotel in Halifax and I remember walking around town with her. I can’t remember if I went to Great Village with her, but I might have. Even though I was a total stranger to her, in a most generous gesture, before she left, she handed me a folder containing copies of the correspondence between her and EB in the 1960s. I was stunned and profoundly grateful. This correspondence, some of which is finally published in the Library of America's Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose, and Letters, has been mined by many scholars over the past decades, including myself. Bishop was remarkably forthcoming with Stevenson in this correspondence and revealed all manner of things both personal and poetic.

Anne Stevenson and Peter Lucas, September 1998, 

Acadia University, Wolfville, N.S. (Photo by Laura Menides)

Then I spent a bit of time with Anne and Peter in 1998. Anne kindly agreed to be the keynote speaker at “Divisions of the Heart,” a Bishop symposium at Acadia University (the repository of the Bulmer family archive) in September of that year. I remember an afternoon sitting in the Blomidon Inn interviewing Stevenson about Bishop. I wished we had recorded her keynote talk, which was lively, even feisty, and especially the Q&A afterwards. Subsequently, I had my own exchange of letters with Anne, until the beginning of the new millennium, when our communication dwindled and ceased. I would hear about her now and then from U.K. friends, but our contact became just a pleasant memory. Curiously, this past week, I had been writing about Stevenson to Walter Smart, a friend in Michigan who has become quite interested in Bishop. In the course of our lively correspondence, he mentioned Stevenson (he’s been delving deeply into all that has been written about Bishop in the past 40 years – and Stevenson is important). I wrote him some of my memories and even observed that she was still living but would be elderly by now (Stevenson was 87 – she was born the same year as my mother). And then to hear of her death earlier today – well, I wondered about this interesting convergence. I am grateful for the brief contact I had with her and immensely grateful for her sharing of such vital correspondence. My deepest sympathy goes out to her family and friends. Her passing is a loss to the world of poetry and scholarship. 

Monday, September 7, 2020

New journal to be published

Jonathan Ellis, our correspondent in the UK, has just alerted me to a new development out of Penn State University – the publication of a new journal, Bishop-Lowell Studies. It was only a matter of time before such a project manifested and with its stellar editorial board, this journal will attract the top Bishop/Lowell scholars writing today. As was observed to me from our correspondent, Bishop has become “iconic” – and then some, and not only in the academy. My hope is that there will be a wide definition for contributions, so that not only the hard-core literary criticism will be included, but also deep explorations of the wider interest in Bishop among artists of all disciplines (for example, a serious look at the film treatments of Bishop to date, especially since a new documentary film by Nova Scotian film-maker John Scott, who teaches at Ithaca College, is due out in the near future; also, I was recently asked by poet and playwright Malcolm Willison, of Schenectady and Key West, if anyone has looked closely at how Bishop has been treated in plays and fiction – and I wonder if Lowell has received this kind of attention from the wider artistic community). It will be interesting to watch this endeavour unfold and evolve.