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

Monday, February 20, 2023

World premiere of new Elizabeth Bishop inspired choral work

Word just in from the Elizabeth Bishop Society in the US: We are pleased to announce the world premiere of a choral work titled The Unknown Sea by renowned composer David Conte. This new choral orchestral work is inspired by the texts of the poet Elizabeth Bishop and will feature mezzo soprano Lena Seikaly, chorus, piano, and chamber orchestra. Conte himself will be in attendance and participate in a pre-concert conversation led by the former Poet Laureate of California, Dana Gioia

The concert will be performed by the Washington Master Chorale and will be held on March 5, 2023, at 5:00 PM at Washington’s National Presbyterian Church, at 4101 Nebraska Avenue, NY in Washington, DC.

According to the Master Chorale, "The Unknown Sea will be paired with Ralph Vaughan Williams’s masterful cantata, Dona Nobis Pacem based on Walt Whitman’s poems, as well as texts from the Hebrew Bible and Latin Mass.”

This world premiere was originally planned for the spring of 2020, but the premiere was delay by the outbreak of Covid. We are very pleased that the event will now be held.

More information may be obtained by contacting Travis Hare: travis@kendrarubinfeldpr.com

Friday, February 17, 2023

Sable Island “Total Immersion”: A response to “Geographies of Solitude”

On Wednesday evening, 15 February 2023, at King’s Theatre in Annapolis Royal, N.S., I had the privilege of attending a screening of “Geographies of Solitude,” film-maker Jacquelyn Mills’s stunning documentary about Sable Island and its long-time “inhabitant” Zoe Lucas, who first arrived on the island in 1971, and who has spent time there every year since then.

“Geographies of Solitude” is a visual and sonic feast, an intimate and profound exploration of Zoe’s decades-long connection to one of the most mythical and historical islands of Canada. At once richly factual and breath-takingly lyrical, by turns earthy and ethereal.

I met Zoe about 20 years ago and thanks to her invitation, I had the even greater privilege of going to Sable Island in May 2008, with our mutual friend Janet Barkhouse. I was there only for a day, but it was a day I will never forget, a trip of a life-time. I was keen to see Mills’s film and was thrilled by its scope, from the microscopic to the celestial, the great sweep of the island and the ocean were the backdrop for an unfolding of Zoe’s remarkable work (research, recording, education, advocacy) that includes geology, meteorology, zoology, botany, etc. She has been involved in one way or another with all the research work that has happened on Sable Island in the past half-century.

(Photo by Janet Barkhouse. Sable Island from the air)

One of the many reasons I wanted to go to Sable Island was that Elizabeth Bishop visited there in 1951.  Her great-grandfather Robert Hutchinson had been shipwrecked out there in 1866 and she was keen to see the Ipswich Sparrow, which nests only Sable Island. Her intention was to write a piece about the island for The New Yorker, which she tentatively titled “The Deadly Sandpile,” an acknowledgement of its more famous moniker, “The Graveyard of the Atlantic.” Sadly, she never finished the piece; but her interest in the island remained with her for the rest of her life.

(Photo by Zoe Lucas. L. to r. Gerry, Janet, Sandra on the south beach)

Zoe’s first landfall there in 1971 overlapped for a few years with Bishop, who died in 1979. I like to think Bishop would have been as intrigued, as thousands are, about this young woman who ended up devoting her life to the place and the cause of Sable Island and environmentalism in general. Towards the end of the film, Zoe observes that there wasn’t an actual single decision she made that put her there, but a series of small decisions that in and of themselves didn’t mean much, but added up: then “something happens.” This idea about how life unfolds was one Bishop herself shared.

Mills’s film, shot on 16 and 35mm film, is a feast for the eyes and ears. The soundscape is especially rich and vibrant, even at times a bit overwhelming (which is saying a lot because the images are astonishing, one after another after another). One fascinating expression is the sound of invertebrates walking: beetles, snails, ants somehow Mills was able to bore down into what is inaudible to human ears (especially in an environment like Sable where the wind blows and waves crash continuously). And then somehow, using magical technology, the sounds of these creatures moving is transformed into music! Bishop was passionate herself about music and would have been awed by this wonderful gesture in the film. We also hear the horses, the seals, the birds (one newborn seal sounds hauntingly like a human baby – we are not separate from the natural world, though our daily, political and social realms often create walls/barriers that keep us from feeling the connections and to our peril).

And most importantly we hear Zoe talking about her connections to the island the history of her time there, details about her work, reflections on all manner of experiences. All the while we follow her on purposeful wanderings across the dunes and beaches, hearing that wind blow, while, pen and notebook in hand, she records everything she sees and finds; and we sit with her in her inner work spaces sorting and washing garbage, inputting data into colossal spread sheets that are searchable by dozens of categories.

There is so much glory and tragedy and mystery connected to Sable Island and Zoe has thought about all of it, noting at one point that after decades of living there, she still can come upon something and say, “Wow!” That actually happens in the film when she finds an especially large (terrifying) spider among some flora and puts it in a specimen jar. Exciting!

Of course, the horses are the great wonder of the island (even more so than the tens of thousands of seals that congregate there to have their pups) – and Mills gives us a great dose of them in all their splendor – in life and death. Mills does not look away from the natural cycle of life on the island, which is uplifting, rather than sad. What is sad and deeply troubling, however, is the garbage that Zoe has been collecting and documenting minutely for decades. Mills makes us look right into the heart of the results of our gross consumption and disposable society. Zoe has been recording this impact long before there was the global consciousness of the immeasurable amount of plastics in our oceans.

(Photo by Janet Barkhouse. Zoe and foal)

To account for all the elements in this intimately shot, intricately woven documentary is not possible it must be seen because it is immersive. But there are often distilled, crystalized moments, always thought-provoking, that shine. For me, one of the most delightful is the archival footage of Jacques Cousteau in 1981 landing on Sable Island in the helicopter from “The Calypso,” being greeted by a young Zoe Lucas, who takes him on a tour. How cool is that!

Bravo to Mills for doing her own “total immersion” on Sable Island, looking through her lens so directly and deeply at the wondrous scope (temporal, physical, existential) of this unique place on our planet. A few years ago, Zoe and other keen supporters of her work and of Sable Island formed the Sable Island Institute. I was glad to see the institute so directly mentioned at the end of this film. Check out its website and learn more; this site is also a “total immersion” among many things, it shares dozens of Zoe’s astonishing photos of the island. I suggest that Zoe has taken more photos of it, collected more diverse data about it, and has shared more knowledge and insights about the island than any other person on the planet. It was a good thing, for us all, that she just happened to end up there!


Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Long over due post

It has been some time since we last posted, and missed marking Bishop’s birthday last week (112th). The Bishop Society has been rather dormant recently and it is taking time to wake up and stir into action, but slowly it will happen. The society will be hosting it Annual General Meeting on Saturday, 17 June 2023, at the Elizabeth Bishop House in Great Village. The society is excited to welcome writer Rita Wilson and illustrator Emma FitzGerald to speak about A POCKET OF TIME: THE POETIC CHILDHOOD OF ELIZABETH BISHOP. There will be more information about the AGM on the society’s website and on this blog, as the date approaches.

The American Literature Association conference in Boston from 25-28 May 2023, will feature two Bishop panels of exciting presentations by scholars such as Neil Besner, Rebecca Bradburn, Vidyan Ravinthiran and Thomas Travisano.

Here are links to two fascinating Bishop inspired projects. It is great to see so much creative response to Bishop’s life and art continue. 



And, finally, here are two images of a needle art project done by Brenda Barry, inspired by the Elizabeth Bishop House in Great Village, N.S. (a petit point cross stitch rendition of this iconic and much loved house). I am happy to report that the artist retreat at the house is going strong, already well booked up for 2023.