This collection is a magnificent confirmation of Lowell's prediction. From several thousand letters, written over fifty years - from 1928 when she was seventeen (and already a poet) to the day of her death, in Boston in 1979 - Robert Giroux, her editor during her lifetime, has selected over 500 and has written a detailed and informative ...
This collection is a magnificent confirmation of Lowell's prediction. From several thousand letters, written over fifty years - from 1928 when she was seventeen (and already a poet) to the day of her death, in Boston in 1979 - Robert Giroux, her editor during her lifetime, has selected over 500 and has written a detailed and informative introduction. In one sense, Elizabeth Bishop's letters constitute her autobiography, including the story of her love for Lota Soares in Brazil, which ended with Lota's tragic suicide fifteen years later. They also record her intense relationships with her early mentor Marianne Moore and later with Robert Lowell. For Bishop, letter-writing was a joy and a necessity, an embodiment of the links between people, but also a facet of her art, conjuring the world in words. Some letters are carefully composed, elegant in style; some are spontaneous and witty, alive with unexpected detail; some contain poems sent as gifts; others are cries from the heart. Sometimes she ponders on her childhood, on her struggle to create, or to resist drink, but more often she responds fully and vividly to the immediate moment, the color of the sky, the books she has been reading, the friend she misses, the meal she is cooking, the toucan or cat she is observing, the room she is painting in a "Harlequinade" pattern of big colored diamonds. One Art takes us behind Bishop's formal sophistication and reserve, displaying to the full the gift for friendship, the striving for perfection, and the passionate, questing, rigorous spirit that made her a great poet.
Publishers Weekly, 1994-02-28 This selection of poet Elizabeth Bishop's (1911-1979) letters is, as Giroux observes, a virtual autobiography. And though large, the book contains only a fraction of her correspondence. Among the most interesting letters are those to literary friends, including Robert Lowell, Randall Jarrell and Marianne Moore; among the most disturbing are the anguished letters concerning personal tragedies, letters she asked the recipients to destroy but which the editor has printed because they ``have remained extant.'' The letters show a continuity with the character presented in Bishop's poems: apparently, she really was a brilliant, modest and kind person. They also show the poet's eye and ear for detail (``Someone asked my landlord . . . if he didn't have an `author' living in his house, and he replied, `No, not an author, a writer' ''). There is also a disarming, even dogged sense of humor, striking given the fact that much in the letters is dark: the poet's struggles against alcoholism, loneliness and a 15-year relationship that ended in the suicide of her lover, Lota Soares. Bishop's correspondence may have been a bulwark against emptiness; the letters engage the reader not with startling revelations, but with everyday acts of courage. Thus Bishop pleads with Lowell in 1960, ``Please never stop writing me letters--they always manage to make me feel like my higher self.'' (Apr.)
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