So, open Poems to Geography III, the last book published in her lifetime, and read "In the Waiting Room" and "Poem" — you will know at once whether Bishop is a poet of your heart. To me, her prose — her letters are an exception, especially those to Robert Lowell — is secondary to her poetry. I'm glad to have this much of it available, and I will look into it again in the hope that whatever fog I'm in lifts. I can report that she did not write interesting book reviews — which may be why she never reviewed poetry for the New Yorker. She wanted to, and Moss agreed, but she produced not a line. I can also report that her correspondence (appearing in Prose) with the poet Anne Stevenson, author of the first book on her work, illuminates her poetry because she opened up to Stevenson.
We are told that few read poetry today. Does it matter? Whitman's "great audiences" might not refer to multitudes but to the determined few who come along eager for the little we get for free, the art that shines bright in Elizabeth Bishop's work. Poems and Prose have it, attended to by editors who know and love her art.
"ELIZABETH BISHOP AT 100" | Jacob Sleeper Auditorium, Boston University, 871 Comm Ave, Boston | February 10 @ 7 pm | free | 617.358.4199 or bu.edu/cgs
An earlier published version of this story credited a quote to poet James Merrill saying that Elizabeth Bishop was “a poet’s poet’s poet.” Both the quote and the attribution are incorrect. In fact, John Ashbery called Bishop “the writer’s writer’s writer.”
, Elizabeth Bishop, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, More