Saturday, January 14, 2012

ELIZ BISHOP | Key West 1938-46

Friends of Libraries USA Plaque.
January 14, 2012 - Yesterday morning Alice and I went to the well-run (privately owned, partly for the benefit of Hemingway’s three sons and their families) Hemingway House. 

In the afternoon I went to pay my respects to Elizabeth Bishop at her house on 624 White Street. 

It was a downer. Alice made the better choice of going to the Butterfly Conservancy, which she reported to me later was wonderful.

The Only Resident in Sight
I was disappointed by the unkempt nature of the Bishop House. The door was wide open and the only living creature at home at 4 pm yesterday was a black cat that barely gave me a glance (see photo at right). 

The most positive thing I can say 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 was a disappointment because Bishop was such a careful craftswoman. Her reputation, like that of another Key West resident, President Truman, has grown as the years pass.

Front Door (open) at 624 White St.
For example, The Key West Reader [links to a site with free sample pages], edited by George Murphy, is deeply respectful of Elizabeth Bishop's contribution. The editor 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 on Flagler's newly built railway. He says: 
In the late 1930’s, 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 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.” He says Bishop
Do Pipes Mean Repairs on the Way?
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."

Higgledy Piggledy Chairs and Pillows
Another Bishop fan, Professor Barbara Page at Vassar, maintains the Elizabeth Bishop at Vassar College site, which sums up Bishop's reputation as follows:

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.
Bike, Ladder
For more links and brief excerpts from web sites that mention Elizabeth Bishop’s place in the annals of poetry and her time at Key West, go to the page with her name on my Time Travel site.