Elizabeth Bishop: The Art of Travel

Elizabeth Bishop: The Art of Travel

Elizabeth Bishop: The Art of Travel

Elizabeth Bishop: The Art of Travel


Kim Fortuny argues that Bishop's travel poetry reveals a political and social consciousness that, until fairly recently, has largely been seen as absent from her poetry and her life. Fortuny argues that questions of travel bring up questions of form in Bishop's poems. Moreover, because Bishop knows much about both travel and form, yet is particularly well versed in the latter, Bishop's poetry sheds light on the ethical and political problems of modern travel from a vantage gained by a scrupulous and hard-won artistry. The book will appeal to Bishop scholars, literary scholars, and those with an interest in Modernist poetry.


David Hamilton

The soul of Kim Fortuny's study is her extended treatment of three challenging and moderately lengthy poems, “Questions of Travel, ” “Over 2,000 Illustrations and a Complete Concordance, ” and “Crusoe in England.” These fine poems, which are difficult to describe in any formal way, and of which there is as yet far from enough critical writing, “extend the personal into the realm of the poetic, ” to paraphrase Fortuny herself, a poetic always fraught with social-political awareness. For if Bishop was a traveler, which we all know, she traveled, too, along and within the lines of poetry in English, testing and extending them, tilting them toward prose, in these cases especially, as in others toward a blues song or a nursery rhyme. the negotiations of nuance and of just what, in her ear, “would suffice” to make a line, then another line and another, became the constructions of her few but prized collections. Yet at the same time, and at least equally, she traveled by constantly testing her awareness of her web of relation to the material world: places, houses, the people she found along the way: servants, employees, neighbors, shopkeepers, lovers, and friends. Again and again Bishop made herself aware of individuals, paid close attention to them, and would labor—since her poems often took years to complete—to portray them in lines as individual as the persons she knew and observed.

The material of the world demands prose for its close observation, Bishop would seem to say. Yet observation itself and the attention that requires, slightly heightened, confirmed and reconfirmed by steady, incremental revision, lead toward poetry, that is they lead toward the visionary realms of creative understanding and interpretation.

It may not take a traveler to read a traveler, but one can understand the affinity. Fortuny too thrives on travel. Turkey for her is the Brazil of Bishop, a country that extends and tests the margins of a North American consciousness, both socially and aesthetically. a country that places another language on the tongue and so reshapes the mind some as skill in the second language increases.

None of this may be necessary, but these experiences influence and inform the understandings of this book. “I knew nothing firsthand about . . .

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