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

Friday, December 24, 2021


Saturday, December 4, 2021

New book about Elizabeth Bishop

Jonathan F.S. Post, UCLA Distinguished Research Professor of English, is the author of the forthcoming book Elizabeth Bishop: A ShortIntroduction from Oxford University Press.

Once it is officially on bookstore shelves, we will take note of it again with a review.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Marie-Claire Blais

It has been a great sorrow for us to have learned this morning of the death yesterday of writer, novelist, poet, and playwright Marie-Claire Blais, CC OQ MSRC. Ms. Blais served on the jury which awarded Elizabeth Bishop the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1976, and was a keynote speaker at the University of King's College 2011 conference "It Must Be Nova Scotia," held during The Elizabeth Bishop Centenary celebrations.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Henri Cole remembers a visit to the Elizabeth Bishop House

American poet Henri Cole spent some time at the Elizabeth Bishop House in Great Village early in July 2021, the first American visitor to stay there after the Canadian government opened the border to vaccinated Americans. The pandemic had kept international artists away for well over a year. Henri wrote a reminiscence of his time in the village and it has recently appeared online with The Paris Review. Exciting.

This past Sunday, CBC TV's program Land and Sea aired a program about the antique shops in Great Village. It can be viewed online on CBC Gem. Another exciting development. Great to have this focus on the village, which has become an antiquing destination. A good deal of attention is paid to Layton's Store and the former St. James Church.
(Great Village seen from the top of St. James Church)

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Evelyn White reviews new Elizabeth Bishop film

 I Like Negro Voices Anyway

 By Evelyn C. White

As a 1970s era scholarship student at Wellesley College (in Wellesley, Massachusetts) I found myself in the realm of two poets with ties to the leafy enclave about 20 miles outside of Boston: Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) and Anne Sexton (1928-1974).  The former had grown up in the town and in a turn of events worthy of The Twilight Zone television series, I’d once spent an afternoon visiting prison inmates with the late poet’s mother, Aurelia Plath.  I was a sophomore at Wellesley when Anne Sexton (who’d also been reared in the town) committed suicide in nearby (and equally tony) Weston.

At a time when Black authors such as Maya Angelou, Lucille Clifton, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker had begun their arduous ascent in the white, male literary world, I was hard pressed to fully understand why privileged white women writers such as Plath and Sexton had killed themselves.

Indeed in her poem “won’t you celebrate with me,” Lucille Clifton put it this way: “between sunshine and clay, my one hand holding tight my other hand; come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me and failed.”

Then there was Ntozake Shange who, in her milestone choreopoem “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf,” declared:  “I found god in myself & I loved her/I loved her fiercely.”  I was down with Shange, on the real (as Black folk say). I also empathized (then and now) with those whose sufferings deplete their will to live. 

As for Elizabeth Bishop, it was not until long after her death that I remembered the briny, cherrystone clams that I’d devoured at a seafood shack in the once low-rent Lewis Wharf area of Boston; a district that would later give rise to luxury condos such as the one Bishop purchased in 1973 and where her lover, Alice Methfessel, found her deceased on October 6, 1979 — forty-two years ago, today.

By the mid-1980s, I’d moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where I later crossed paths with  lesbian poet Adrienne Rich.  There, I learned that Rich (whose husband killed himself when their marriage began to falter) had failed to persuade Bishop to come out of the closet.

This brings me to Elizabeth Bishop and The Art of Losing, a documentary by John D. Scott that premiered last month at the FIN Atlantic International Film Festival in Halifax.  I suspect that Bishop scholars will present more substantive critiques.  However, for me, the 84-minute hodgepodge of re-enactments, eerie screams, talking heads, portraits of royalty with moving eyes, and a recurring replica of a dead, slip-clad Bishop sprawled on a floor, provoked an unexpected response: I soon found myself losing interest in Elizabeth Bishop.

And it was not lost on me that Scott, in a humblebrag-ish remark before the film began, shared news that a reviewer had pronounced the release “a masterpiece.” “But I don’t think it is,” he said, with a laugh. Well… 

My reaction to the film stands in stark contrast to my feelings about other Bishop-related offerings. Notably, Welcome to this House (2015) a documentary by Barbara Hammer (1939-2019); Elizabeth Bishop: Nova Scotia’s “Home-made” Poet (2011) by Sandra Barry and the Carmen L. Oliveira book Rare and Commonplace Flowers (1995).

The works are mercifully devoid of the rococo flourishes that, in my view, undermine Scotts effort. Granted, Im not among the Bishop experts whove immersed themselves in every aspect of her life and art. But as a cursory reader of the poet, Id venture that bling — as depicted in excelsis in Scott’s film — was decidedly not Bishop’s modus operandi.   

Consider the observations that Dana Gioia puts forth in his spectacular book: Studying With Miss Bishop: Memoirs from a Young Writer’s Life (2021). “[She] rarely attracted more than a dozen unenthusiastic undergraduates,” Gioia writes about his coursework with Bishop at Harvard University. “Her manner was at odds with the academic glamour of [the school], her conversation not designed to impress. She wanted no worshipful circle of students, and got none.”

He continues: “By the second class, the dozen original students had dwindled down to five. … I remember one rainy afternoon when a flu epidemic had decimated [the campus]. Only one other student besides me showed up for class. … All of us were coughing … and especially Miss Bishop who would still not stop smoking … Had a stranger suddenly been transported into the room, he would hardly have thought this was a seminar at Harvard University. It looked more like three old people in a rest home playing bridge with a dummy hand.”

I’ve got no quibble with those who’ve built careers on the tragedies and triumphs of Elizabeth Bishop.  But set against the backdrop of so-called “racial reckonings” in Canada and the US, I’m hoping that the Bishop canon, as deified by predominately white voices, can begin to expand.

For example, in Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney (1998), author David Leeming discusses Bishop’s friendship with the Black, gay Harlem Renaissance painter that James Baldwin revered as a father figure. Noting that Bishop met Delaney at the Yaddo artists’ colony in upstate New York, in 1950, Leeming writes: “Bishop and Beauford shared an interest in the blues, classical music, conversation and drinks.”

He continues: “With Bishop [Beauford] was somehow ‘maternal.’ The two friends would sit in rocking chairs in the area between their studios each afternoon and have a number of drinks before joining the other guests for dinner. Both had symptoms of manic depression — Bishop more acutely so at the time — and they did a great deal of soul sharing.”

I would have had more patience with Elizabeth Bishop and The Art of Losing had the film dialled down on the hocus-pocus and included even a soupçon of info about the poet’s relationship with Delaney who predeceased her, by seven months, at St. Anne’s Hospital for the Insane, in Paris. I can’t help but wonder if they kept in touch.

As for the ongoing veneration of  “One Art” (an admittedly superb villanelle),  I’m mindful that poet Gwendolyn Brooks also delivered a stunning exploration of loss.  Found in her collection A Street in Bronzeville (1945), “The Mother” pre-dated the publication of Bishop’s poem by five years and reads, in part: “Abortions will not let you forget/You remember the children you got that you did not get …You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh/Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.”

Moreover, in May 1950, Brooks became the first Black person to win a Pulitzer Prize — for her collection Annie Allen (1949). As such, she bested Elizabeth Bishop on the Pulitzer front by six years. Two months before Brooks’ landmark achievement, Bishop rendered her views on the volume in The United States Quarterly Book Review (March 1950).  Her piece read, in part: “Like Miss Brooks’ first book of verse, this explores the life of the Northern urban Negro. … [T]he wildly colored images and symbols shake into a design both stirring and moving.”

Those inclined to venture beyond the standard Bishop tropes presented in Scott’s film should note that the Houghton Library at Harvard boasts a collection of the writer’s books that includes a copy of Annie Allen that Brooks inscribed: “For Elizabeth Bishop, excellent poet and personality, Gwendolyn.” 

Writing about the death of a cherished childhood friend in her acclaimed 1953 story “Gwendolyn,” Bishop declared:  “… Her beautiful name. Its dactyl trisyllables could have gone on forever as far as I was concerned.” In an April 2010 blog entry (“Nova Scotia Connections — Graves and Gwendolyns”), Bishop champion Sandra Barry recounted her discovery of the grave of Gwendolyn Patriquin at the Mahon Cemetery in Great Village, NS. The inspiration for Bishop’s story, Patriquin died at age nine, in 1922.

Brooks and Bishop. “The Mother” and “One Art.” To my mind, there’s a mountain of material that can replace “the scream” as the sine qua non of Bishop’s life — especially in the hands of seasoned writers of colour.  After all, this was a poet who claimed as her favourite line of iambic pentameter, “I hate to see that evenin’ sun go down,” as crooned by Bessie Smith in the W.C. Handy composition “St. Louis Blues.” And in a 1959 letter to May Swenson, Bishop raved about Black singers.

“I haven’t had the time yet to play Odetta all through,” Bishop wrote. “… [B]ut she certainly has an extremely beautiful voice, and of course, I like Negro voices anyway — have most of Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, etc. … I never heard of this girl before — please tell me what you know about her.” 

Two weeks after attending the premiere of Elizabeth Bishop and the Art of Losing,  I know that I’m grateful for having seen, earlier that day, Ruth Weiss: The Beat Goddess directed by Melody Miller. The exquisite documentary chronicles the life of a largely unheralded writer who, having fled Nazi Germany, melded jazz and poetry in 1950s-era San Francisco. 

Dismissed by the sexist literary honchos of the day, Weiss continued to write poetry and perform (with a jazz band) until shortly before her death last year at age 92. Among other highlights in the film, Weiss shares memories of  Gwendolyn Brooks whom she met, in the late 1940s, while living in a housing complex for artists in the author’s hometown of Chicago.

Dismayed but not surprised by the racial demographics at the screening of Scott’s film, I’d gotten settled in the cinema when a young Black woman took her seat in the row ahead of me. There, in the dim light, before the movie began, I took note of the woman’s face which was framed by beautifully coiffed dreadlocks. Leaning forward for a better glimpse of her features, I channeled a Bishop catchphrase (see: On Elizabeth Bishop by Colm Toibin) and, thunderstruck, thought to myself: “Heavens, could that be Amanda Gorman?”

As God is my witness, I pulled out my cell phone and excitedly dispatched a text to my partner: “Dead ringer for Amanda Gorman just sat in front of me. We are the only Black people here.”

About the Los Angeles-based poet who’d rightly garnered international praise for her crafting and recitation of  “The Hill We Climb” at the January 2021 inauguration of US president Joe Biden, Joanne responded: “And why would she be in Halifax?” Unspoken but inferred in her reply rested the rejoinder — at 9:30 pm on a Monday, during COVID-times? Get a grip, Ev.

Reluctant to risk disappointment, I resisted the urge to gently tap the woman on her shoulder and ask: “Are you …?”  Instead, taking a page from Elizabeth Bishop, I decided to write it!

Halifax resident Evelyn C. White is the author of Alice Walker: A Life. For research purposes, she longs to be driven in a vintage Rolls Royce.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Panel Discussion about Elizabeth Bishop

Please join us for a light-hearted virtual discussion on how Elizabeth Bishop’s writing has inspired personal journeys. Tues. September 21st, 7-8pm Atlantic (6-7pm Eastern.)

Each panelist, illustrator Emma FitzGerald, filmmaker John D. Scott, academic writer/biographer Thomas Travisano, journalist (and moderator) Lis van Berkel, and poet and writer Rita Wilson has produced work inspired by Elizabeth Bishop’s life and work. Each will share their journey and then we will invite the audience to share their responses to Elizabeth Bishop’s work and/or any of the works produced by the panelists. This event is organized in concert with the feature-length documentary Elizabeth Bishop and the Art of Losing, which has its world premiere as part of this years’ FIN: Atlantic International Film Festival, screening Monday September 20th, at Park Lane Theatre in Halifax, NS at 9:30pm, or virtually (for those in Atlantic Canada) anytime from Sept. 16-23. 

Tickets for the screening can be purchased here

Our hope is that the free and virtual discussion on Tuesday September 21st will have some people present who have viewed the film, though it is not required!

Discussion Starts Tues. September 21nd, 7pm Atlantic (6pm Eastern.)


Topic: Discussion on how Elizabeth Bishop’s writing has inspired a personal journey
Time: Sep 21, 2021 07:00 PM Halifax

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 928 0126 9587
Passcode: 979275 



Emma FitzGerald wrote and illustrated Hand Drawn Halifax, published in 2015, which has set her on a path of recording the stories of places and people in book form. Emma first visited the Elizabeth Bishop House in Great Village for a week-long residency in October 2013. This initial interest led her to travel to Brazil in 2015, and included visits to Bishop's homes in Ouro Preto and Samambaia. In 2019 she illustrated A Pocket of Time: The Poetic Childhood of Elizabeth Bishop (words Rita Wilson, Nimbus publishing).  For Elizabeth Bishop and the Art of Losing, John D. Scott's documentary on the life and work of Elizabeth Bishop, Emma delved into animation for the first time, using reference photos and John's instruction to imagine various moments in Bishop's adult life. 

John D. Scott is a Nova Scotian currently on sabbatical leave as a faculty member and program director for the Documentary Studies and Production degree at Ithaca College in New York. Elizabeth Bishop and the Art of Losing is his second feature-length project and pairs well with Scouts Are Cancelled, a documentary on Nova Scotian poet John Stiles. Scott’s ten-year journey making Elizabeth Bishop and the Art of Losing started with his fascination with Bishop’s search for home after leaving Nova Scotia, and her ultimately victorious struggle to be open and vulnerable in her work. Also, Scott relates a little too well with Bishop’s struggle to finish projects in a timely manner. 

Thomas Travisano is the founding President of the Elizabeth Bishop Society and the author or editor of numerous books and articles featuring Bishop. These include his recent biography Love Unknown: The Life and Worlds of Elizabeth Bishop, as well as Elizabeth Bishop: Her Artistic Development, Midcentury Quartet, and Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. Travisano is co-editor of the three volume New Anthology of American Poetry and of the essay collection Elizabeth Bishop in the 21st Century. He is Professor Emeritus of English at Hartwick College. 

Lis van Berkel (Moderator) has worked in radio and location sound recording, and taught English. She reported on the launch of the Elizabeth Bishop House for the CBC National Arts Report. Lis now lives in the Annapolis Valley where she is slow-writing her first book. 

Rita Wilson is a poet, writer, and teacher, who became absorbed with Bishop after belatedly encountering her work. The result is the children's book: A Pocket of Time: The Poetic Childhood of Elizabeth Bishop, (illustrated by Emma FitzGerald.)

Sunday, August 29, 2021

“Elizabeth Bishop and the Art of Losing” to premiere at FIN Atlantic International Film Festival

EXCITING NEWS! Nova Scotia film-maker John Scott’s documentary “Elizabeth Bishop and theArt of Losing” will premiere at FIN Atlantic International Film Festival on 20 September at 9:30 p.m., at Park Lane Cinemas in Halifax, N.S. You can find out more about the film itself and these important developments through its Facebook page.

The virtual box office for the festival opens on 1 September. Find out how you can get tickets by clicking here. It will be possible to view this film online if you are in Atlantic Canada and not able to attend in person on 20 September.

I am hoping to have someone write a review of the film for the blog, so stay tuned for that – and any other developments about this important project.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Elizabeth Bishop in Context officially released

The long-awaited Elizabeth Bishop in Context (Cambridge University Press), a collection of essays by a wide range of Bishop scholars across the world, edited by Jonathan Ellis and Angus Cleghorn, is officially out in August 2021. In the near future, we will post a review of this important collection by Bishop scholar Tristan Beach. Until then, you can find out more about this book on the blog set up by the editors by clicking here. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Ten Years Ago Today --

 "Heading to Great Village via Truro on the Acadian Bus early tomorrow morning -- for the three-day EB100 Arts Festival.  If you're within travelling distance you should come -- a play, two concerts, a boat-building contest, writers' workshops, and awarding the prizes for the Writing Competition -- the winner is coming all the way from Australia!... (well, via Europe -- but still...)"

Sunday, August 8, 2021

George Hutchinson painting: Sproughton Mill, Suffolk, England

I have been corresponding with Matthew Hutchinson, the great-grandson of George W. Hutchinson (Elizabeth Bishop’s great-uncle) for some years. Recently, Matthew sent me an image of a George Hutchinson painting I had never seen before.

(Painting by G. Wylie Hutchinson,

Sproughton Mill, Suffolk, England.)

Matthew writes of this image, “My sister Katherine moved to Suffolk a couple of years ago and on one of my visits there we had a look at Sproughton Mill depicted in one of George W.H.’s sketches. As you can see the mill looks much the same but the surrounding trees have grown considerably making it impossible to find the spot that he made the sketch – and with a view of the mill. The old wooden bridge appears long gone.”

(Sproughton Mill, Suffolk, England.

Photo by Matthew Hutchinson.)

When I looked online, I found many images of this picturesque spot, both contemporary and archival, including this lovely postcard image below, showing the wooden bridge still intact.

You can learn more about this building and site by clicking here.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 152: Life in the Village, 1947, Grace to Elizabeth 3

Grace continued her letter to her niece with a plea for her to visit: “I hope you like your new Maine Village better than the last. I wish you had come to N.S. first, but do try to come yet & bring Marjorie [Stevens], if she would like to come.” 

In fact, Bishop and Marjorie Stevens spent most of the summer in Nova Scotia, going first to Cape Breton, Breton Cove to be exact, for six weeks, according to Brett Millier (191), and then to Great Village for a month, until “the third week in September.” (Millier 194) 

To reinforce her desire to see her niece, Grace also noted: “Will [Bowers, Grace’s husband] says he will be looking for you both & will be very disappointed if you don’t come.” 

Phyllis Sutherland, who was married and away by this time, showed me the little house, a short distance from the busy Bowers’ farm, where Bishop and Stevens stayed. 

As further inducement, Grace boasted about a pride and joy: “We have a grand garden lots of peas, beans, carrots, beets, greens, lettuce, etc.” All this produce and more meant that Grace had “canned a lot & still am at it. I will soon have my 3rd box of cans used 50 to a box.” A special treat was “a few raspberries today to make a little jam & I’ve put down quite a lot of blueberries.” 

As with many letters, Grace’s now began to wander over various subjects. She noted that “Phyllis & Ern [Sutherland] are still on the Island (P.E.I.).” Ernest Sutherland was a contractor who built houses. She continued, “They want Will & I to stay in New Glasgow with them, next winter, but we haven’t decided what to do yet.” Will Bowers died in 1948, so it is unlikely that they followed through on this offer. 

(The main house at Elmcroft, the Bowers Farm, AUA)

The Bowers’s farm was a major operation and one of its biggest crops was hay, for all the cattle and horses: “We have a very heavy crop of hay this year, the barns are nearly full now & it is about half in I guess.” 

Another turn brought in a friend of Bishop’s whom she had met in New York City: “Dorothy Johnson Linkletter called me up the other day & wanted to know when you were coming home. She has invited your friend Zilpha [Linkletter] to visit her here at her home, but she wants to have her when you are here.” 

I had the great privilege of knowing Zilpha Linkletter, who lived in Halifax. Zilpha was a provincial civil servant for decades. I met her long after she had retired and had a number of very pleasant conversations with her about her memories of Bishop. She was in possession of Bishop memorabilia, including letters, which she highly prized. She had a strong connection to Dalhousie University and was one of the people responsible for helping to get the honorary degree for Bishop that Dalhousie conferred in 1979.

Grace knew that Bishop might need more context for the Great Village link: “Dorothy’s sister Elizabeth [Johnson] is being married in the big church [St. James Presbyterian] next Wed[nesday] (25th). Dorothy came home for it. Toronto I think she lives.” Weddings tend to happen in spring or summer, though middle of the week is a bit odd. This event makes me suppose that Grace’s letter was written sometime in May or June. Bishop was in Cape Breton by July, so this timing seems reasonable. 

This was the other reason Grace was writing to plead a visit: “I told her I didn’t know just when you were coming but perhaps you might be here the last of this month or the first of next.” Grace clearly wanted to see Bishop, even though she had seen her only the summer before: “So do try to come & don’t cut your visit short like you did last year.” Meaning 1946 when Bishop had to head back unexpectedly to sign papers for the sale of her and Louise Crane’s house in Key West.

Grace’s letter was winding down. She shifted again to a relative – a problematic one: “I think George [Shepherdson] goes away the 1st of Sept. & expects to be gone quite a while. George’s wife, Maud Bulmer, died in 1940. He moved back to Amherst, N.S. Perhaps Grace wanted EB to know his movements so she could time her visit to avoid him. Though he had told Grace that “he was coming over before he went, but I don’t look for him now.” 

(Phyllis Sutherland and Grace Bulmer Bowers,
early 1940s, before Phyllis married. AUA.)

The letter ends with a slight complaint, a rare expression for the redoubtable Grace: “Must stop & get ready for bed. I have to get up at 5 a.m. this week, as Rod [Bowers, Grace’s son] goes to work at 6. It’s terribly early to get up. I don’t like it.” The retired nurse who used to do night shifts on a regular basis, was getting older and one can appreciate her desire not to get up so early. 

She signs off with, “Will be looking for you & Marjorie. Love Grace” 

Click here to see Post 151.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 151: Life in the Village, 1947, Grace to Elizabeth 2

Grace’s letter continued to offer memories of Gertrude’s time as a teacher, “She [Gertrude] was teaching at Valley Road, a God forsaken place in Cum[berland] Co[unty] & she boarded with Aunt Hannah, Father’s sister, 3 miles from her school.” 

Aunt Hannah was Hannah Lee Bulmer Brenton Eaton, who was born 21 June 1837 in Williamsdale, N.S. She married Thomas Brenton in 1861 and then John W. Eaton in 1891. She was the third oldest child in the family, that is, one of William Bulmer’s older sisters. 

Even today, Valley Road is an extremely isolated area, the closest town is Oxford, N.S. I was in that area only once, taken there by Phyllis Sutherland (Grace’s daughter). It felt like we drove and drove for a long time through deep woods with few houses. One can only imagine what it was like at the turn of the twentieth century, before automobiles. 

Grace continued: “It was through the woods & I guess it was a lonesome walk, so she got the little dog King for company.” In “Homesickness” this male dog is transformed into Juno, “a big hound bitch, her coat just a few shades darker than the earth of the road.” (EAP 188) A female dog was not pure fiction, as Grace continued to explain in the letter: “Art had two [of] them ‘King’ the little black fellow & Queen* a little light bull dog.” These pets had their own story, “You probably remember Maud telling about them, how they would sit on each side of the organ & howl when she played.” 

The Bulmers always had dogs and cats and there were favourites during Bishop’s time in Great Village in the 1910s. King and Queen did not survive to Bishop’s time, as Grace reported in the letter: “Some dirty son of a so-so poisoned them.” 

Before leaving this part of the story, Grace observed, “I really don’t know much about that place,” meaning Valley Road. Travelling to those ancestral places was not something the Bulmers did often. Gertrude taught there for a couple of terms.

Grace had stronger memories of Gertrude teaching at Economy Point, which was her next job. For all readers of EB’s poetry, this place is iconic from “The Moose”: “Lower, Middle, Upper” Economy. There is also an Economy Point and Economy Falls. This cluster of Economies is to the northwest of Great Village along the road that runs through to Parrsboro. 

Grace gave an account of her memory of one particular event during Gertrude’s time there: “That was the year Mary was born [1900] & your mother took me down for a visit to ease the situation at home. We had a maid from Eastville at the time and I had been sleeping with her. Anyway after I had been there a few days, your mother discerned I was good & lousy. She got them in her long hair & I was kind enough to give them to nearly every one in the school.”

(Gertrude Bulmer, circa 1900,

standing in front of the Hill house

in Great Village, N.S. Ruth Hill was Gertrude's

best friend during girlhood. AUA)

Grace then recalled that “the next term she went to Mira in C[ape] B[reton] where she only stayed part of the term.” I was most interested to read this sentence. I knew Gertrude had taught briefly in Cape Breton, at a school where the children only spoke Gaelic. But I didn’t know the location. Mira is on the west side of the island and in the Gaelic heart of the region. 

Grace closes this part of her letter with a dose of encouragement for her niece: “I am glad you are going to write about N.S. Some of the old folks I remember are so original, they should be in a book. I would love to tell you all I know about them. I always wanted to write stories like [Joseph Crosby] Lincoln** wrote about Cape Cod. G.V. people are just as funny.” Bishop would likely have written her G.V. stories regardless, but how lovely that she had Grace’s urging. 

Grace then shifts gears towards urging Bishop to visit and tempting to do so by telling her more about home. More in the next post. 

Click here to see Post 150.


*Arthur and Mabel Bulmer, like so many others in Nova Scotia in the late 1890s were strong anglophiles. Bishop’s “First Death in Nova Scotia” shows that the family hung elaborate chromographs of the royal family on their walls. So, it wasn’t surprising that their dogs were monikered with such regal names. 

**With her keen interest in and time spent at Cape Cod, Bishop undoubtedly knew exactly who Grace was referring to. More about Joseph Crosby Lincoln can be found by clicking here.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 150: Life in the Village, 1947, Grace to Elizabeth 1

When I began to write about Bishop’s letters to her aunt, Grace Bulmer Bowers, I did an initial, short backgroundpost about these letters, in which I discussed the fact that no letters from Grace to her niece appear to survive (at least I had never come across any). The fate of Grace’s many letters to Bishop is unknown, and will likely remain so. That they are missing is a sad reality in Bishop’s voluminous correspondence. Grace might not have been an important literary figure (such as Moore, Lowell or her New Yorker editors), but she was a central person in Bishop’s life and their correspondence meant a great deal to the poet.

Recently, to my utter surprise, Bishop scholar and editor Jonathan Ellis sent me a photocopy of an undated letter that Grace wrote to Bishop, which he found at Vassar College in Special Collections (Bishop Papers). I never knew it was there, but am thrilled that Jonathan located it. He tells me that it is the only such document that Vassar holds. As surprised and pleased as I was that something of this side of their decades-long correspondence exists, reading it made me all the sadder that the rest of that side is gone. From this one short letter, Grace’s epistolary knack is clearly evident. Besides, the letter also holds information that is directly relevant to something Bishop was working on at the time she received it.

Though undated, the letter was written sometime in early 1947, not long before Bishop’s trip to and stay in Nova Scotia in July/August of that year. This letter refers to Bishop’s trip to Nova Scotia the previous year (1946), also in July/August, so dating it can be done with certainty (though the precise day it was written, sent, received is not possible, just an approximation: late spring or early summer).

What is also important about this letter is that it was written before the bulk of the existing Bishop correspondence to her aunt, which in Vassar’s holdings begins in 1950. This letter was written to Bishop before she moved to Brazil. It means that their correspondence began earlier than what Vassar’s holdings indicate. What happened to Bishop’s correspondence to Grace before 1950 is another a mystery. I had thought their communication from this time was likely spotty, understandably increasing when Bishop ended up in Brazil. However, the letter from Grace suggests to me that they corresponded regularly, perhaps from the time Bishop went to Vassar.

Grace’s letter begins “Great Village. Thurs. Dear Elizabeth: -- Rec’d your letter & should have answered before….” (emphasis added) So, Grace had, indeed, received a letter from her niece, and no idle epistle, as will be seen when I begin to write about this communication directly.

It has been a long time since I last posted about Bishop’s letters to Aunt Grace. I am hoping to return to that pleasant project, and this letter from Grace to Bishop may be the spur I need.

Grace explained the delay in her response by noting: “I wanted to talk to Art [Uncle Arthur Bulmer] before I wrote you, as he was the one who went over to see your mother[,] he and [Bertram] Knight-Eaton*[,] & took the dog along.” Bishop would have known very well who Knight-Eaton was.

This consultation was important because Bishop’s letter asked Grace about the time when her mother was a teacher. The reason for her interest at this time in her mother’s life was because she wanted to write about it. The Bishop Papers at Vassar contain two files for an unfinished poem and a story, both titled “Homesickness.” They were attempts to write about what her mother experienced when she was a young schoolteacher in Nova Scotia in the late 1890s and early 1900s. In Edgar Allen Poe and the Juke-Box, editor Alice Quinn includes a draft of the poem (86-88) and part of the story (188-90). She places the poem in the section for 1937-1950. In the extensive note about these documents, Quinn dates both pieces 1948-1950 (294). She marshals strong circumstantial evidence for this dating. This letter from Grace actually extends this general date range.

In the story, Bishop changed the people who went to see Gertrude from her brother and his friend to her father, sister and brother. Bishop changed their surname (though she chose one that also belonged to Great Village). These slight alterations were meant to fictionalize, ever so lightly, the historical facts, and to distance the story slightly from herself.

Bishop never came close to finishing “Homesickness” (poem or story: the poem is very fragmentary, the story had a solid start but was then abandoned). Bishop began writing them during tumultuous years of her life, which included a stint as the Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress (1949-1950) and a visit to Sable Island (1951), a trip that helped prompt her to set off in November 1951 for South America. The subject of her mother remained active in her mind, however, and when she settled in Brazil she returned to it and the result was “In the Village.”

I am going to continue to share Grace’s letter in the manner I have written about Bishop’s letters to her aunt. There is much of interest and importance in this rare surviving communication by Grace; I feel it is vital that it should be noted in the context of Bishop’s letters to her aunt.

In the next post, Grace will give more of an account, based on her memories, of Gertrude’s time teaching, and of the dog who was transported to help her feel less lonely.

Click here to see Post 149.


*Bertram Knight-Eaton was a painter from England who lived for some years in Colchester County, N.S. He was a good friend of George W. Hutchinson, Bishop’s great-uncle. He came to Nova Scotia with Hutchinson in May 1896 and both taught painting that year in Great Village. Hutchinson returned to England in December, but Knight-Eaton remained in Nova Scotia and set up a studio in Truro. He became a well-known landscape painter. Maude Bulmer took painting lessons from him, as did many people in Great Village. For several years, Knight-Eaton was a fixture in the columns of the Truro Daily News:


Mr. Knight Eaton has just opened his Art Studio in one of the rooms over Blanchard, Bentley & Co.'s, Inglis St., where he will be most happy to meet any persons who may wish to inspect his work any time during Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday of each week, and will be pleased to give all information concerning classes, etc. Truro Daily News, 1 March 1896, p.5. 

(Painting Class in Great Village, circa 1898. Bertram Knight-Eaton

on far right. Maude Bulmer on far left.)

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

A Poem

for Sandra Barry

Tears, clouds, tides, crumbs, birds -- 
disturbed, crossbred, simulcast --

29 June 2018

[For some years now I have been exploring the possibilities of anagram haiku.  In this one the title is a quotation from Elizabeth Bishop's poem "The Moose." So is the third line. The first line of the poem is a quotation from an unpublished piece by my senior partner in crime for this venue, Sandra Barry; hence the dedication. The second line is an anagram of the first one. -- JAB]

Sunday, June 20, 2021

A Poem --

Last Year on the #8 Bus

Never to be seen
again the woman berates
the stolid driver. 

The boneset veneer
of resigned solicitude
is showing its seams:

her anathemas
meanwhile begin new eras --
two entirely new

ones, but short-lived, tired,
much-tried,  yellow divider 
lines for throstle beaks,

like the two now left
half-open in the asphalt
behind the stopped bus.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Breaking news about Sarah Ruhl’s play Dear Elizabeth

On Thursday, June 17, at 8 PM, EDT, none other than Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline will be playing Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell in a livestream and on demand performance of Sarah Ruhl’s play Dear Elizabeth, which is based on Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell (Thomas Travisano principal editor). As Travisano writes: “Meryl Streep has always been my dream Elizabeth Bishop and Kevin Kline is also one of my favorite actors, so this is very exciting indeed.”

Information on how to get tickets—with proceeds benefiting the Actors Fund—is in the link below. Tickets purchased before June 15 receive a discount. If you can’t watch when the event goes live, it can be viewed on demand (or re-watched) until 6 PM, June 21. The online performance appears in the streaming series Spotlight on Plays.


Friday, June 4, 2021

Exhibit at Fraser Cultural Centre

In April, I posted a note about Nova Scotia artists Joy Laking and Susan Paterson’sresidency at the Elizabeth Bishop House in Great Village in February, and the lovely paintings they did during a wintery week. I am excited to report that these paintings will be exhibited at the Fraser Cultural Centre in Tatamagouche, N.S., from 18 June to 7 July. It is wonderful that these beautiful images of this beloved house and village will have an in-person airing, to be enjoyed and admired directly, not just virtually. By the end of June, Nova Scotia will be further out of lock-down, so I hope lots of folks will get out to visit the centre and see these paintings.

(Joy Laking, Bells in the window, EB House)

(Susan Paterson, Front Hall, EB House)


Sunday, May 16, 2021

A Pocket of Time update

 (Tulips at the back door of the EB House,

Great Village, N.S. Photo by Janet Maybee)

Author Rita Wilson has sent me several links, all of which go to a video of a reading of her wonderful book A POCKET OF TIME: THE POETIC CHILDHOOD OF ELIZABETH BISHOP (Nimbus Publishing), done by Rita and her granddaughter Rose. You also see many of the brilliant illustrations by Emma FitzGerald. This delightful video has been posted by the Halifax Regional Library on its virtual library site. I think it is absolutely wonderful to have this version of Rita’s lively, tender, insightful story of Bishop’s childhood in Great Village. Thank you, Rita. Thank you, Rose.

Here are the links:


Facebook (you need to log in)

Instagram (the Halifax libraries virtual library – again, you need to log in)

Almost at the same time, EBSNS board member and author Janet Maybee sent me the above photo, and the one below, of tulips in bloom right now at the EB House in Great Village. Spring is finally here.

(Tulips by the barn, EB House, Great Village,
N.S. Photo by Janet Maybee)

Janet also sent this photo below of the feat of engineering at the back of St. James Church in Great Village. The new owners will have a café and a concert venue that will be bustling, I am sure, once the covid-19 public health restrictions are eased. Let us hope for a busy summer of gatherings. Perhaps Rita Wilson will be able to read in that venue sometime in the future. Hope so!

Monday, May 10, 2021

Elizabeth Bishop’s House in Key West, Florida

Illustrator, friend and EB fan Emma FitzGerald recently shared a link to a site with photos of Elizabeth Bishop’s Key West house taken by Florida photographer Mark Hedden. You can check them out by clicking here. This house is now owned by the Key West Literary Seminar. You can learn more about their good work with this important house by clicking here.

 (Elizabeth Bishop in Key West, late 1930s)

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Clacton remembered for different reasons

I follow a blog, Ernest Blair Experiment, presented by Bob Maher – with a wide range of subjects, including a special focus on geography and the idea of place. In a recent post, which you can see by clicking here, Bob shared a photo of Clacton on the east coast of England, taken in 1938. It was quite a bustling resort community and this photo shows some of the attractions that drew people there in gret numbers. Bob was born and raised in England, but lives now in Nova Scotia. I am always interested in what Bob offers, but this post intrigued me because Elizabeth Bishop’s great-uncle, the painter George Wylie Hutchinson lived in Clacton. George was born in 1852 and died in 1942. During the last couple decades of his life, Clacton (I have also seen Clacton-on-sea and Greater Clacton, which is where George is buried, in the Bulmer family archive, housed at Acadia University) was his home.

In any case, I was delighted to see the image below of this community, where I have never been, at that time, a time when George was very much alive. He was still painting, but also had become a photographer. He and his second wife, Lily Yerbury, lived in a snug bungalow that they had named “Thelma,” and George also grew roses. Indeed, roses were a passion for him. You can see a photo of George, circa 1921, standing in the yard of Thelma, by clicking here. I know it is well over a decade before the photo Bob shared, but George was a stalwart of Clacton in his day, long retired from the active illustrating career he had at the turn of the twentieth century. I asked Bob if I could post his photo and he kindly gave me permission. 

(Clacton, England, 1938)

Saturday, April 10, 2021

At the Elizabeth Bishop House Great Village, Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia artists Joy Laking and Susan Patterson sent a week together at the Elizabeth Bishop House in early February 2021. In their own very distinctive styles, they captured the week in paintings. They painted out of the windows, as well as the interior of the historic old house. To learn more about both painters, go to their websites.


Susan Paterson (https://susanpaterson.ca) obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Mount Allison University in 1980 and has been a practicing artist ever since. She has exhibited extensively across Canada, is represented in private and corporate collections around the world, and has won many awards for her work, including a Purchase Award in Art Renewal Center’s 15th International Salon; second place, Still Life, in Art Renewal Center’s 14th International Salon, and second place, as well as finalist in several BoldBrush online art competitions. She was awarded an Elizabeth Greenshield grant, several Artist‘s Residencies, Nova Scotia Arts council grants and a scholarship to study at the Academy of Realist Art in Toronto. She is a juried member of the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour and has been featured in various publications, including International Artist magazine. Her work was included in “Terrior, a Nova Scotia Retrospective” at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in 2016; ‘Capture2014, Nova Scotia Realism’, juried by Tom Smart, and ARC 14th Salon Live Exhibit in Barcelona, Spain, 2019. 

“I was so pleased to be able to spend a week with my good friend Joy Laking at the Elizabeth Bishop House last winter. We were quite lucky to arrive just before a major snowstorm which provided us with beautiful views from the house. We painted from inside looking out, because it was extremely cold that week, too cold to work outside. Besides the landscapes I was very inspired by the house itself. Early in my career I did a lot of paintings of my grandmother's house and being in the EB house reminded me of that. It brought back memories of the warmth, coziness and history of an old, well-loved home. I loved the light in the house and painted it coming through lace curtains, reflecting off glass, hardwood floors and papered walls. Joy and I worked long hours and the week went by quickly, but it was such a joy to spend time in the home and, through drawing and painting it, come to know it better.”


Joy Snihur Wyatt Laking (www.joylakinggallery.com) graduated from the University of Guelph with a Fine Art Major in 1972. Since that time, she has lived and painted professionally in Nova Scotia. Joy has had a solo exhibition at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia which subsequently toured for a year and was an instigator and a part of Capture 2014, an exhibition of realism curated by Tom Smart at Dalhousie Art Gallery 2014. She has exhibited nationally and internationally. She received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal 2012, the Halifax Woman of Excellence Award 2009, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Marigold Centre 2020/2021.She has been featured in many magazines and books, Including International Artist.
In 2020, Joy’s book The Painted Province, Nova Scotia through an artist’s eyes was published. Joy’s play “Invisible Prisons” has been performed around the world, and in 2020 was performed virtually by the Zucker School of Medicine in New York. ““The Elizabeth Bishop House in Great Village is a cultural treasure, and I am proud that I am a volunteer on the committee to help make it sustainable. Although it is only ten kilometres from my home, it was an absolutely wonderful experience to spend a week there painting with my friend Susan Paterson. We started early and painted late and enjoyed the surrounding of the old house, the window views and the friendship. Artists are generally solitary people, and it is always a special treat for me to have time to chew the fat with Susan.”

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Nova Reads Elizabeth Bishop

The Writers' Federation of Nova Scotia will host a Zoom reading of Elizabeth Bishop's poetry by Nova Scotia writers on 14 April. You can find out more and how to register and attend by clicking here. One of the principals involved is Brian Bartlett, well-known and prolific Halifax writer and big EB fan. Nice to see the WFNS doing this for National Poetry Month.