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

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Key West Sketches now available

The folks of the Key West Literary Seminar have some news to share:

We are thrilled to announce the publication of Key West Sketches: Writers at Mile Zero, a new anthology out today from Blair. Edited by Carey Winfrey, the former editor-in-chief of Smithsonian magazine and longtime KWLS board member, the 250-page volume tracks Key West's extraordinary and eclectic literary history. The book's many treasures include Thomas McGuane's account of a long-ago dinner with Tennessee WilliamsElizabeth Bishop's description of Key West folk painter Gregorio ValdesJoy Williams on Ernest Hemingway in Key West; and Judy Blume's real-life story of becoming a bookstore owner-operator at the end of the road. There are poems by Billy Collins and James Merrill; heart-rending recollections of Harry Mathews by Ann BeattieRichard Wilbur by Phyllis Rose; and David Wolkowsky by William Wright. And so much more, with contributions from Pico Iyer, Philip CaputoDaniel MenakerBrian AntoniAlison Lurie, and many others.

Not since the beloved Key West Reader, published by the late George Murphy more than 30 years ago (and long out of print), has a book so deftly captured and conveyed the literary culture of our island city. This book has enough genius and wit to fill a volume ten times its size. Carey Winfrey has made an enormous contribution to Key West's rich life of letters.

If that weren't enough reason to go out and buy this wonderful book, Winfrey has generously donated 100% of his royalties to support the Elizabeth Bishop House. Click on any of the images or links below to buy your copies of Key West Sketches from Books & Books.

Friday, September 8, 2023

A stay in the Elizabeth Bishop House

My sister and I were fortunate to spend a week at the EB House from 21 to 26 August. What a privilege it was to be back in the village for a sojourn that included lots of company and visiting with friends, who we see seldomly these days, and to sit for long stretches on the verandah and watch the big sky, the lush green meadow. We saw lots of birds and deer. We are deeply grateful to Laurie Gunn and the St. James Church of Great Village Preservation Society. They are looking after the house so well and it is wonderful to know that writers and artists from all over still get to stay there. 

I will admit that my heart aches whenever I drive into the village and see that the piercing steeple of the church is gone. Well, it now sits quietly beside the building which once it topped, anchored by concrete blocks, its beautiful lightning rod so much closer to the ground. Life is change, but some changes are  harder to come to terms with than others. How I wish that the funds could be found to replace and restore it, but that would require a significant effort and expense, I am sure. I am glad to see that the steeple is still appreciated, and occupying a prominent spot under a canopy of trees. 

Here are a few photos taken by my sister, Brenda Barry, during our visit.

(View from the look off on Hustler Hill.)

(The anchored steeple.)

(An evening view from the verandah.)

(Sitting on the verandah with a friend, Greg Riley.)

(Canada Geese in the evening sky.)

(Waxing moon.)

(The EB corner in the library of the house.)

Saturday, September 2, 2023

“Out of the Ninth-Month Midnight” 

In memoriam, Flight 111 (2 September 1998)


Late afternoon, wind off the land.

Mountainous clouds backlit by sun.

The water is quicksilver.

Systaltic ─ now and then, now and then.

The harbour is a heart, whole

and shattered, held together,

torn apart by its own pulse ─

the circle of sun, the season,

the millennium.

Suddenly, two quivers of light

as though far away has epitomized.

Plovers, a pair, semipalmated,

winter-ready, rare

on this bit of beach at the Point.

My gaze caught on their bright white

airborne bellies;

I follow them to the shoreline.

They become stones.

Have they come to answer the question

I ask of the Atlantic?

They have come to rest in the midst

of their imperative ─

the space between them

is the moment between contractions

when eternity relaxes

and the chambers of the world

fill with silence.


With my binoculars I see their dark

brown eyes keeping watch,

the single dark breast bands,

the nearly all dark beaks.

So still, so alert

they are perfectly aware of survival’s

fragility. They simply know

the temperature of tomorrow.

It is me who holds us

inside a compass,

a dial; but there is no circumference

except what I need to cradle

my desperate longing.

Time is broken and mended

in every breath, and the ocean

ticks strangely in the blood...

Here, on a September littoral,

where late afternoon sun slants seaward,

with a warm wind blowing off the land,

on a long journey between now and then,

these two together pause

because life and death will not.

(I wrote this poem years ago and had forgotten it until I was reminded that today is the 25th anniversary of the crash of Swiss Air 111 off the south coast of Nova Scotia. Much has happened in the world since that terrible night and its aftermath, but it behooves us to remember. The photo was taken by Brenda Barry in late August in Great Village, the waxing moon, several days before it became the Blue Super Full Moon on 31 August.)