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Saturday, 6 October 2012

Elizabeth Bishop (1911 - 1979), Poet

b. 8 February 1911 
d. 6 October 1979

During her lifetime, poet Elizabeth Bishop was a respected yet somewhat obscure figure in the world of American literature. Since her death in 1979, however, her reputation has grown to the point that many critics, like Larry Rohter in the New York Times, have referred to her as "one of the most important American poets" of the twentieth century. Bishop was a perfectionist who did not write prolifically, preferring instead to spend long periods of time polishing her work. She published only 101 poems during her lifetime. Her verse is marked by precise descriptions of the physical world and an air of poetic serenity, but her underlying themes include the struggle to find a sense of belonging, and the human experiences of grief and longing.
-Poetry Foundation

Her father's death, when she was only eight months old, caused her mother a breackdown and hospitalization. Bishop was looked after by her mother's parents in Great Village, until 1917 when she was taken in by her well-to-do paternal grand-parents, who hoped to give her the material and social privileges they themselves enjoyed in Worcester.

The move resulted in stress-related illness for Bishop, leading to her being taken in by her mother's sister Maude, who lived in a Boston tenement. After little initial formal schooling due to her repeated moves and illness, Bishop attended Walnut Hill boarding school in natick, Massachusetts, betseen 1927 and 1930, and then went to Vassar College where she majored in English.

At Vassar she met the poet Marianne Moore who became her mentor and close friend. After graduation in 1934 Bishop lived off an inheritance from her father's estate and travelled widely. In 1943 she moved in with one of her travel companions from that period, Marjorie Stevens. Their relationship ended in 1947.

Bishop's depression and alcoholism led to her being hospitalized in summer 1949. She then moved to Washington, DC, where, through the auspices of a new friend, Robert Lowell, she obtained a position as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress for one year, after which she moved to the Yaddo writers' colony until 1951.

In March 1951 she won a Lucy Martin Donnelly Travelling Fellowship from Byrn Mawr College and embarked to Rio de Janeiro. Here she embarked on a long-term relationship with her Brazilian friend Lota de Macedo Soares. In 1956 Bishop won a Pulitzer Price. Her relationship with Lota ended with Lota's suicide in 1967. In 1970, she won the National Book Award.

Her alcoholism worsened; a new lover had a nervous breackdown in 1970, and in that year Bishop decided to return permanently in the USA. With her new lover, Alice Methfessel, she traveled extensively. She taught at Harvard and the Universities of Washington and New York.


North & South (also see below), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1946, reprinted, 1964.
Poems: North & South [and] A Cold Spring, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1955, abridged edition published as Poems, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1956.
Questions of Travel, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1965.
Selected Poems, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1967.
The Ballad of the Burglar of Babylon, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1968.
The Complete Poems, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1969.
Geography III, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1976.
The Complete Poems, 1927-1979, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1983.
Edgar Allen Poe & the Juke-box, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2006.

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