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

Thursday, May 12, 2022

A Riverside Reading of EB Poems as recalled by Emma FitzGerald

To mark the closing of National Poetry Month, LaHave River Books in LaHave, Nova Scotia, hosted an afternoon reading of Elizabeth Bishop poems on Saturday April 30th, 2022. 

There were 4 readers: Lisa McCabe, a poet based on the Dublin Shore; Janet Barkhouse (“Jannie B”), a self-described fan of the bookstore, as well as a writer of books from Clearland; Sandra Barry, my host here on the blog, as well as a Bishop scholar based in Middleton, and Black Point’s Carole Glasser Langille, a poet and author of the newly released collection of poems Your Turn. 

(The readers, left to right: Janet, Lisa, Sandra, Carole.

Photo by Brenda Barry. Click images to enlarge.)

The setting, as always when at LaHave River Books, was pinch yourself picturesque. The interior of the bookstore, so homey with its wooden bookshelves, chairs, floors and even a piano, with geraniums and cacti at the window, and of course, books upon books.

(Interior of LaHave River Books. Photo by Brenda Barry) 

Beyond the windowpanes the LaHave River, more ocean than river, lay flat and blue grey, and along the shore some small buildings surrounded by sparse trees were in view.

(River through the windows. Photo by Brenda Barry)

The room was full and after introductions from book shop staff member Marion, the poems were read: 

1. First Death in Nova Scotia (read by Lisa McCabe)

2. Filling Station (read by Lisa McCabe)

3. Sestina (read by Janet Barkhouse)

4. Poem (read by Janet Barkhouse)

5. At the Fishhouses (read by Sandra Barry)

6. Sandpiper (read by Sandra Barry)

7. The Moose (read by Carole Glasser Langille)

8. Don't Kill Yourself (a poem translated by Bishop, written by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, read by Carole Glasser Langille) 

This was followed by an encore: 

9.  Shampoo (read by Lisa McCabe)

10. The Bight (read by Janet Barkhouse)

11. Five Flights Up (read by Sandra Barry)

12. One Art (read by Carole Langille)

(Those gathered. Photo by Brenda Barry)

What followed was a lovely chat, a kind of volley back and forth across the room, of warm reminiscences. 

First there was a memory of hearing Bishop speak at the Guggenheim in NYC (Carole), which was followed by a memory of reading “Primer Class” for the first time and seeing her own early school days in the Maritimes described, hatching a lifelong thesis (Sandra). Then there was a discussion of that strange indrawn breath described in “The Moose” and finding its echo in Scotland (Carole), adding resonance to Lisa's initial sharing of visiting Bishop's grave in Worcester one cold day in “sloppy snow” and finding a vintage robin's-egg-blue typewriter on the grave, and Janet's declaration that Bishop wrote “The Bight” in Florida on her own birthday. The personal seemed so intertwined with each reader's experience of getting to know Bishop and her work, and you can't help but sense that it is a never-ending journey. 

It was a very satisfying time and was followed by the serving of a “Queen Elizabeth Cake,” big enough to feed everyone present. Andra, the owner of the bookstore, ever gracious and cheerful, had made it for the occasion. It provided a nice, sweet snack before we dispersed and made our way back to our respective homes on an appropriately cold spring day. 

(The cake, almost gone! Photo by Brenda Barry)


Emma FitzGerald is an illustrator living in Lunenburg, N.S. She illustrated Rita Wilson's A Pocket of Time, about EB's childhood. Her most recent book, with writer Andrea Curtis, is City Streets Are for People.

One of Emma's drawings of the riverside reading was of Sandra Barry.

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