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

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. 

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