January 14, 2012 - Yesterday morning Alice and I went to the well-run (privately owned, and partly for the benefit of Hemingway’s three sons and their families) Hemingway House. In the afternoon I went to pay my respects at the Elizabeth Bishop House, 624 White Street. Alice wisely instead went to the Butterfly Conservancy, which she loved. I was disappointed by the unkempt nature of the Bishop House. The door was wide open but no one was at home at 4 pm yesterday.
The only thing I can say, hopefully, is that among the overgrown trees and plants and superannuated bikes were signs of equipment for repairs. Could someone be in the midst of making an improvement? It's a disappointment because Bishop's reputation, like President Truman's, has improved as the years pass. The Key West Reader, edited by George Murphy, gives Elizabeth Bishop a lot of respect. He says that Bishop drew people to Key West just as John Dos Passos lured Hemingway to Key West after Dos Passos made a trip there on a whim in the 1920s after Flagler built his ailway. “In the late 1930’s," says Murphy, "Elizabeth Bishop, on a fishing trip, found the island perfect for a new home and later, in turn, piqued the interest of other writers” (p. 18).
The Reader includes Bishop’s poem “A Norther – Key West”, which was in her first collection of poems published in 1946.
The Reader’s editor says that the poem “is, in part, a tribute to Winslow Homer whose painting of the same name graces our cover.”
Editor Murphy says Elizabeth Bishop “is considered the American poet’s poet, a genius, whose pure, inspired, and precise work has greatly influenced many other important contemporary poets. More, perhaps, than any other Key West writer, she fell in love with the tropics and, upon her departure from Key West, moved further out, to Brazil.
The Reader also includes a “Poem for Elizabeth Bishop”, called “something of a love letter from poet/biographer John Malcolm Brinnin who, when he first came to Key West, made a pilgrimage to the house of his friend and found himself inspired – and amusingly mistaken.
Here are some links and brief excerpts from web sites that mention Elizabeth Bishop’s place in the annals of poetry and her time at Key West.
Elizabeth Bishop at Vassar College [site maintained by Prof. Barbara Page]
Elizabeth Bishop now stands as a major mid-twentieth century American poet, whose influence has been felt among several subsequent generations of poets. Highly regarded by critics such as Harold Bloom and Helen Vendler, her rising reputation rests on the admiration of poets, including, among the Americans, James Merrill, John Ashbery and Jorie Graham, and, among world poets, Nobelists Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott. Her place in the canon of American poetry is secure.
At her death in 1979, Bishop's place among poets was less certain. True, she had won many prizes: the Pulitzer, two Guggenheims, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and Brazil's Order of Rio Branco. The author of four volumes of poetry and a number of distinctive short stories, she had translated poems in three languages, as well as prose, notably theDiary of Helena Morley, a memoir of a girl growing up in the inland mountains of Brazil. She had written a volume in the Life World Library on Brazil, and had co-edited An Anthology of Twentieth-Century Brazilian Poetry.
But the work came slowly. Bishop's first book of poems, North & South, appeared in 1946; the second, Poems (including North & South and A Cold Spring), in 1955; the third, Questions of Travel, in 1965, and the last, Geography III, in 1976. Although her poems appeared periodically in The New Yorker, in her lifetime Bishop was overshadowed by more prolific and public contemporaries, even though they held her in high esteem, as, in Ashbery's words, “a writer's writer's writer.”
After a brief time in San Francisco, Bishop moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, invited by Robert Lowell to teach his courses at Harvard while he was on leave.
[Robert Lowell was an honorary fellow of Quincy House at Harvard starting when it was created in 1959. I was at student residing at Quincy House during 1959-1962 and got to talk with Lowell over at least one meal in the Quincy House Dining Room, one of the luxuries of being an undergraduate there. Another poet I met in this way was W. H. Auden, the only person besides Edna St. Vincent Millay who made a living at poetry in the 20th Century, according to one source. Lowell, who was teaching at Boston University, where one of his students was Sylvia Plath, told me he was disappointed he hadn’t ever been offered a teaching position at Harvard, where he spent the first two years of his college career before going to Kenyon College. I told some faculty at Quincy House about this and maybe had a tiny part in the offer being made, to the benefit of Elizabeth Bishop! In 1967 Lowell was deemed by Time Magazine to be one of the greatest poets of his generation; Elizabeth Bishop was one of the few included in this designation. In 1972 Lowell married a Brit and moved to Britain. - JTM]
Poetry Landmark: The Poet Homes of Key West, FL By Poets.org. Among the writers and artists that Tennessee Williams met while living in Key West was Elizabeth Bishop. She came to the island in the 1930s and initially rented an apartment, then purchased a house [with Louisa Crane] and lived there until 1946.
In a letter to Marianne Moore, Bishop describes her surroundings: "I have one Key West story that I must tell you. It is more like the place than anything I can think of. The other day I went to the china closet to get a little white bowl to put some flowers in and when I was rinsing it I noticed some little black specks. I said to Mrs. Almyda, 'I think we must have mice' – but she took the bowl over to the light and studied it and after a while she said, 'No, them’s lizard.'
Elizabeth Bishop: The Poetry Foundation 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. Her time at Vassar was very important. There she met Marianne Moore, Mary McCarthy and others. In 1938, she moved to Key West, where she wrote many of the poems that eventually were collected in her debut (1946) Pulitzer Prize-winning North and South. In 1944 she left Key West, and for fourteen years she lived in Brazil, where she and her lover, the architect Lota de Macedo Soares, became a curiosity in the town of Pétropolis. Larry Rohter in the New York Times, has referred to her as "one of the most important American poets" of the twentieth century.
THE ALCHEMIST'S KITCHEN: Elizabeth Bishop in Key West. Feb 7, 2011 [100th anniversary of Bishop’s birthday - JTM] – Elizabeth Bishop first came to Key West in the 1930s. She lived in [a] nineteenth-century clapboard eyebrow house at 624 White Street off and on from 1938 to 1946. In a letter to Marianne Moore she wrote: “It is very nice here; I wish so much that you and your mother could come here sometime, I am so sure you would like it. The sea is so beautiful– all spotted and striped, from dark black-blue to what my aunt calls ‘lettuce’ green.”
Key West is the site of a wonderful writers' conference: Key West Literary Seminars each January. There was a session on Bishop at AWP.
Wendy Call Comment: Visited house [that Bishop] bought in 1938. [She] lived there with her lover [Louisa Crane] for several years. She did not just live and write on this block of White Street, she observed it deeply. She painted the Old Armory that now houses TSKW. For the last two weeks, I've been Writer in Residence at The Studios of Key West (TSKW), [teaching] a two-day workshop to a half-dozen Key West writers [at] the lovely Mango Tree House [close to the Bishop house].Bishop left the island in 1944 and headed south to Brazil. In [a] poetry workshop I took, more than a decade ago, the brilliant and generous Mark Doty looked at my terrible poems and said, "Study Elizabeth Bishop." In the first writing class I ever taught, in the fall of 2006, we read and savored "The Fish" -- sans the final three lines. I asked my students to come up with their own final three lines, before we looked at the trio that Bishop had created. I was struck by how close my students' endings were to Bishop's. Half of them had Bishop tossing the fish back, as she actually did in the poem. The sign of perfect craftswomanship, I think. [M]any of my poet-friends worship "One Art."
[Wendy Call site has links to the poems.] Elizabeth Bishop in Key West from "The Queerest Places" Mar 6, 2009 – Key West, Fla. Elizabeth Bishop home 624 White Street. Poet Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) was born into a wealthy family from Worcester, Mass. After her graduation from Vassar, she used a family inheritance to live a nomadic life in New York City, Europe, Florida, and other places. In 1938, she and her lover at the time, Louise Crane, purchased a house in Key West. Bishop lived at this residence off and on for the next nine years, first with Crane, then with a subsequent lover, Marjorie Stevens.
In letters to friends, Bishop described her island home this way: “It is very well made, with slightly arched beams so that it looks either like a ship’s cabin or a freight car.” The house was located right on the beach and was to Bishop “perfectly beautiful…inside and out.” Bishop’s first volume of poems, North and South, was published during the time she lived in Key West.
It may sound idyllic, but Bishop battled alcoholism throughout her adult life, and the relationship with Stevens did not last. After they broke up, Bishop sold the Key West house and returned to an itinerant life, eventually being hospitalized for both depression and alcohol-related problems. In 1951, with the help of her mentor, Marianne Moore, Bishop secured a fellowship from Bryn Mawr College that enabled her to travel around the world.
But Bishop never got farther than Brazil, where she met the wealthy Lota de Macedo Soares, who became her lover and tried to nurture her away from alcoholism. Bishop kept postponing her return to the States, until her stay in Brazil had lengthened to 16 years. At her home, Lota built a studio for Bishop that was separate from the house and had a stream running beside it. In that peaceful setting, Bishop was very productive and composed some of her greatest poems. But Bishop eventually returned to the United States after Lota committed suicide in 1967 and her own alcoholism worsened. Elizabeth Bishop on Wikipedia Elizabeth Bishop House is an artists' retreat in Great Village, Nova Scotia. In 1938, Bishop purchased a house with Crane at 624 White Street in Key West, FL.
Key West Literary Seminar on Elizabeth Bishop The 1993 Key West Literary Seminar was devoted entirely to Elizabeth Bishop. A series of readings-in-tribute offered her fellow poets the opportunity to discuss Bishop and her influence.