Remembering Elizabeth Bishop: An Oral Biography

Remembering Elizabeth Bishop: An Oral Biography

Remembering Elizabeth Bishop: An Oral Biography

Remembering Elizabeth Bishop: An Oral Biography

Synopsis

This book interweaves more than 120 interviews with relatives, friends, colleagues, and students of Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), one of America's finest poets.

Excerpt

Peter Brazeau began this oral biography of Elizabeth Bishop in 1984. A handsome man of medium build, with curly hair, a thick mustache, and an open, engaging face, Peter was passionate about literature, particularly modern poetry, and people. He was my wife's favorite colleague at St. Joseph College. Peter died in 1986, leaving numerous interviews and notes for this book, and his companion and executor, Jim Harrison, turned to me some time later to pull the pieces together and complete the project.

Although Peter never met Elizabeth Bishop, he did hear her read her poetry once. Peter completed a well-received oral biography of Wallace Stevens (Parts of a World: Wallace Stevens Rernernbered, 1975) before turning to a project on Elizabeth Bishop, but I like to think that the genesis of this book occurred at that reading, when the poetry and the person met before him. Bishop would not have been comfortable with a biographical study of this sort. She was not at ease in public, disdained academic and literary conversation, and, as one of her friends expressed it to me, had a ferocious sense of privacy. She deflected even the most obvious biographical interpretations of her poetry and evoked in many of her friends a desire to protect her. Bishop would be appalled that her unguarded letters to her doctor, Anny Baumann, are now available for others to read. The interviews that Peter conducted for this project demonstrate how adept he was at earning the respect and trust of those who knew Bishop.

The rending and mending of personal ties, in a systolic and diastolic rhythm, is the plot of Elizabeth Bishop's personal life. Bishop gathered friends and lovers to her at various times in various locations, ranging from her childhood in Great Village, Nova Scotia, and Worcester, Massachusetts, to New York City, Key West, Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco, and Boston. Her . . .

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