"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Elizabeth Bishop Fridge Magnet

The Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia presents a delightful new souvenir: The Elizabeth Bishop Fridge Magnet. Just in time for Christmas! Heartfelt thanks to artist Natalia Povalyaeva for giving her charming, uplifting image to the EBSNS for this fund-raising project. You can order your magnet (perhaps, order several for your friends) by going to the EBSNS website (PayPal): http://elizabethbishopns.org/eb-gifts/ -- or you can send a cheque to P.O. Box 138, Great Village, Nova Scotia, B0M 1L0, Canada.
Note: The magnet is 4"x4" -- it is just the image itself, not all the information attached to this notice. Go to the website to find out more.

Friday, November 13, 2015

First Encounter XLI: "The Elizabeth Bishop House" by Sarah Emsley

Recently, Halifax writer and scholar Sarah Emsley visited the Elizabeth Bishop House, more or less for the first time. She has written a wonderful essay, complete with lovely photographs, on her popular blog which focuses on Jane Austen and Lucy Maud Montgomery. It seemed like a perfect first encounter to me, so do have a look at Sarah's "The Elizabeth Bishop House."
One of Sarah's delightful photos

Sunday, November 8, 2015

First Encounter XL: "On the Ice" by Thomas R. Moore

I grew up in the 1940s and my father ran a construction company in Worcester. When I was eleven and twelve I played Peewee hockey at Webster Square Arena, just down the street from where the original Bishop house stood. One team sponsor, and one of my father’s competitors, was the contractor J.W. Bishop, so the Bishop name was familiar early on if still unconnected in my eleven-year-old self to the poet.

When I started teaching at Wachusett Regional High School outside Worcester, I always included two Bishop poems in my sophomore honors syllabus: “The Fish” and “In the Waiting Room.” I would ask each sophomore to memorize at least one poem. Jill Lepore, now a history professor at Harvard, told me she still can recite Stanley Kunitz’s “The Layers.” And I remember how Mathew McCabe quivered when he flawlessly recited Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” at fifteen. One student, whose name I cannot recall, chose “The Fish.” The “brown skin in strips/like ancient wallpaper” and “rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!” have been indelibly embedded in my memory since that moment.

I have worn eyeglasses since I was five. To have my eyes tested my mother would drive me to Worcester to Dr. Whitney’s office in the Slater Building on Main Street. Of course there were National Geographics in the waiting room. After my first reading of “In the Waiting Room” I have always associated my five-year-old self with seven-year-old Elizabeth waiting for her Aunt Consuelo. I can still hear the clicks the lenses made in the wooden box as Dr. Whitney raised and lowered his arm asking “Is this better or worse?” And I remember the cold slushy streets leading to the Slater Building past J.C. Freeman the optician on the corner, Ware Pratt the clothing store, and Barnard, Summer, and Putnam across the street.

I went on to earn graduate degrees in American Literature and taught English for forty years, but I have always prized those early connections to Bishop on the ice at the Webster Square Arena and at the eye doctor’s in Worcester in 1946. When my wife and I spent a week at the Great Village house in April 2014, I felt a unique intimacy with her from my Worcester childhood.

Thomas R. Moore
Belfast, Maine
November 5, 2015


After Tom’s visit to the Elizabeth Bishop House, he wrote the poem below, which was published in The Dalhousie Review, Autumn 2014 issue.


The house was oxen-rolled downtown
before its present fame, before Miss Bishop

led Nelly past the brook. Tin-roofed,
it sits on the corner across from

the village church. Starlings knock
the cornice trim askew. A crow hops

through blue scilla disturbing April
snow. Rhubarb nubs show.

High tides and spring rivers can
urge Cobequid Bay beyond the berm,

but today the meadows unfold
to the aboiteau. Logging rigs rev,

downshifting for the turn, and upstairs
the scream echoes in the papered room.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

First Encounter XXXIX: My first encounter with Elizabeth Bishop by Natalia Povalyaeva

My first encounter with Elizabeth Bishop took place in the beginning of July, 2015. Actually I have the exact date (thanks to Facebook) – it was the fifth of July. I don’t remember why or how I came across this movie – “Reaching for the Moon”, but it was the fifth of July when I watched it for the first time.

I’d never heard about Elizabeth Bishop before that day, and I didn’t know who she was or what position she occupied in American poetry. And on my first watching the movie I wasn’t impressed by the Elizabeth Bishop character at all – mostly because Lota as performed by Gloria Pires sort of filled all the space with her powerful personality (later I did understand how wonderful Miranda Otto and her performance were). But the poems from the movie struck me at once. So I started – quite predictably – with “One Art”. And I knew at once that that was “my” type of poetry. I liked the poem’s deceptive simplicity which covered deep reflection on love and loss and all those things. I liked this “ordinary” tone of speaking, definitely ironical, mixed with true tension. I liked the precise use of every word. And – most important of all, since this is my almost instinctive reaction to any text I like – I felt the desire to draw an illustration to this poem, which I did the next day.

Then it was the “Close, Close…” poem. Again, I was impressed by how Elizabeth Bishop managed to do it: simple and deep at once. It’s a love poem with the image of two lovers in bed – and paradoxically it is not an erotic poem at all. It is about the metaphysics of love, about something eternal and unchangeable in love. And this quality somehow emerges not from the words, but from their background. It was amazing – and of course, I did an illustration

And then it was “In The Waiting Room” – that was a sort of final proof. It was the third poem in a row by the same author I liked so much, and I understood that “this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship”, so to speak. I liked Elizabeth Bishop’s interest in ordinary things, the small details in this poem, and its “prosy”, narrative structure and tone. I was impressed with how wonderfully Elizabeth Bishop reflected a specific child’s perception of the world – in the image of “different pairs of hands lying under the lamps”. The little girl was too shy to look at adult strangers’ faces, so she looked at their hands and saw them as if they were removed from their bodies or as if they were hollow gloves. I noticed that Elizabeth Bishop’s poems had a lot in common with poems by the  Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, and later I wrote an essay on the poetics of loss in their poetry. And of course, I made an illustration.
 Natalia's illustration of "Manners."

Since that time, I have started reading Elizabeth Bishop every day and  have produced an illustration or two every day. I have read Elizabeth Bishop’s biography, her letters, and some academic materials about her. Somehow, very fast and in very natural way, Elizabeth Bishop became an important part of my life. And what was very important for me is that I’ve had encouragement and support from some people in Elizabeth Bishop’s world – Jonathan Ellis, Sandra Barry, and John Barnstead.

I’ve learned that there were a lot of dark moments in Elizabeth Bishop’s life, but what was amazing about her personality was her ability to meet everything in life with wit and irony. In her letters she had endless funny stories and anecdotes about this and that. And in her poems – even in the most serious and dramatic ones – she sort of smiles or even laughs discreetly, just for herself. She really was “awful but cheerful”, just as her life was. She was interested in everything – in people, in places, in things, in life in general. This interest was the driving force of her writing, and her writing made her a winner

While reading “Remembering Elizabeth Bishop: An Oral Biography” I came across following words by John Bernard Myers: “I heard her reading at the YMHA. <…> She didn’t have either a Canadian accent or a New York accent; it was just a very pure way of speaking” [157]. I’d say that Elizabeth Bishop had no accent not only in reading her works, but more importantly in writing her works. She’s speaking not as a woman, nor as an American or Canadian – she’s speaking as a human being addressing another human being, and that is, I suppose, the most precious quality of her work.

Natalia Povalyaeva (b. 1971) is a writer, graphic artist/book illustrator, and a professor of English Literature in BSU (Belarusian State University, Minsk, Belarus). She is teaches modern and contemporary English Literature. She has authored numerous publications on twentieth-century English women’s prose; among them are Polyphonic prose of Virginia Woolf (2003) and Jeanette Winterson, or Rebirth of Lying (2006). She also translated the novel Lighthousekeeping (2006) and several short stories by Jeanette Winterson into Russian. Currently she has completed a book on Victorian Music Hall as a setting and a personage in Neo-Victorian fiction (published in 2014).

Natalia has been drawing since the age of two. She studied at an art studio under the Belorussian artist Vasily Sumarev and has taken courses in sculpture and art history. Her pictures have been sold in many countries around the world, including the USA, France, Germany, Norway, Finland, and Italy. She is doing a lot of book illustrations and book cover designs (mostly for Russian publishing houses) and graphic art in mixed media. Among her works are illustrations to three-part bestseller “Porebrik iz bordurnogo kamnya” (“Pavement border made of curb stone” – a comic book on Moscow – Saint-Petersburg cultural differences by Russian writer Olga Lucas).

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"Perfectly at Home" by Moya Pacey: An Elizabeth Bishop House memoir

I was invited to stay in the Elizabeth Bishop’s childhood home in Great Village, Nova Scotia, when I won the EB Centenary Writing Competition in 2011. Coming to the house to stay for the EB Centenary Arts Festival was for me a rare gift. I was taken completely by surprise, when I received the email in May 2011 telling me I’d won, as I’d almost forgotten my entry posted off earlier in the year after I’d seen the competition advertised on the Internet. I came across the competition when I was surfing the net for a reference for a Bishop quote. I was working on a prose and poetry memoir I’d begun, as part of a thesis for an MA in Creative and Life Writing, from Goldsmiths College in London, the previous year.

When I arrived in Great Village, I came to a celebration, not to a writers’ retreat, and I was surrounded by people and social get togethers, so I think it was the very opposite of a typical writer’s experience of staying at the Elizabeth Bishop House. Writers normally seek a respite from the world of social activities and routines and welcome the solitude of the house and its environment to think and read and work alone. The visitor’s book, in the house, is full of comments from writers and artists thankful for the opportunity to get away and have the opportunity to do nothing other than focus on their own creativity. But my stay was completely different. The celebrations brought many, many people into the village to acknowledge Elizabeth Bishop’s Nova Scotian family ties to Great Village and its environs. People, like me, who knew her work well, but others too like Sterling Dick, who I met at the Great Village post office on my first walk around the village. He asked me who Bishop was and why all the fuss. And what a fuss and what a festival it was: evening musical concerts in St James’ church and in homes around the village, art shows and readings, buggy rides around the village, a build your own canoe and sail it race, a blueberry afternoon tea, poetry workshops, and suppers. Great Village was crammed full of visitors and lovers of Bishop’s work and the EB house was open to the public and filled every day with visitors who drank pink lemonade and ate delicious scones. 
 (Sandra and Moya in the dining room of the 
EB House, August 2011. Photo by Carmel Cummins)
But staying in the house also offered me another gift beside the invitation to celebrate the centenary of Bishop’s birth. It gave me the chance to feel very close to Elizabeth Bishop, the person not the poet, and particularly to immerse myself in her life-long preoccupation with the idea of ‘home’. In her Vassar Year book, kept in the EB house, she writes that Great Village, Nova Scotia, is her home.  It is where she lived as a young girl with her grandparents and her mother after her American father died. She stayed on there after her mother suffered a breakdown and was admitted to the hospital in Halifax. She visited the house frequently when she was sent to live with her American relatives and travelled back and forth over the border into Canada. Her poem “The Moose” was written on one of these journeys from Great Village via New Brunswick across the border into the US. Her words: “Home made, home made! But aren’t we all” are inscribed on the memorial tablet in St James’ church.

Great Village was her home. But Bishop was a traveller and, like me, she moved continents. She felt deeply that sense of displacement common to all who move away from their birth places and countries. It was compounded in her case by the loss of both parents when she was a young child.  When I read her prose and her poetry and what has been written about her life, I get a real sense of a woman who was constantly searching to find that which had been lost and the pressing need to reclaim it again for herself.  Staying in the EB house was very important for me as I came to feel a deep sense of kinship with the child Bishop was and then the woman she became and this has given me a greater understanding of her writings and also a deeper insight to my own preoccupations with needing to reclaim my own childhood memories and write about them. 

Like Bishop, I lost a hemisphere too when I moved from England to live in Australia in my late twenties. Staying in Bishop’s childhood home, and being immersed in her childhood experiences, vividly brought to life during the Festival, took me back to my own childhood home. Even though the Bulmer House is very far away from the house I grew up in as a child on a post-second-world war housing estate in the north-east of England. I slept in Bishop’s childhood bedroom at the front of the house with the small bed pushed up close under the slanting blue wall and linoleum covering the floor, and a cotton quilt on the bed with carefully patched eight-pointed stars all askew like the room itself. Bishop remembered it tilting. Above the bed was a small skylight window. Through it I caught glimpses of the starry night sky outside and was transported back to my own childhood bedroom. Mine was a small boxroom fitted in behind the stairs and my casement window opened out on to a view of a small green field. I watched the moon from that window and it was the same moon Bishop watched. The same moonlight shone through the windows of both our childhoods.

My stay in the house illuminated my own childhood memories of home. And I’m sure that the friendship, hospitality and generosity of the people I met in GV helped me reclaim this strong sense of feeling so completely ‘at home’. Bishop’s maternal grandfather’s words came fully alive for me during my stay: “Speak to everyone you meet.” This is the real sense of the house for me because it seems to me that so many people who have come to the EB house over the years have experienced this warmth and nurturing and fellowship in Bishop’s childhood home. Even when the house was empty of people, as it was on the first night of my stay there — when I was alone for a couple of hours, I felt content and settled. I wrote in my journal:  

I can hardly believe I am here in Bishop’s childhood home and tonight, I am alone in the house sitting at the desk reading a manuscript of Bishop’s that Sandra Barry, one of the co-owners of the house, has left with me. The house quietly settles as I listen to a concert from Montreal on the radio. I feel perfectly at home…

Moya Pacey
Guest at the EB House September 2011

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Emma FitzGerald launches book about Halifax

Halifax visual artist Emma FitzGerald, who participated in The Elizabeth Bishop Festival on 8 August 2015, has recently returned from Brazil where she participated in an artist residency inspired by Elizabeth Bishop’s “Questions of Travel.” Check out a piece about this exciting trip in the Chronicle-Herald (http://thechronicleherald.ca/artslife/1304551-halifax-artist-heads-to-brazil-to-work-on-pieces-inspired-by-elizabeth-bishop).

While there, Quill & Quire (http://www.quillandquire.com/) published a page from her lively Brazilian journal.
On Tuesday, 27 October 2015, Emma will launch her book Hand-Drawn Halifax (Formac) at the Central Library at 7:00 p.m.
I am thrilled to say that Emma will be the guest speaker at the Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia Annual General Meeting on 18 June 2016 (we wanted to book her early, because we know she’ll be in demand!). She will speak about her Brazilian sojourn.

Congratulations to Emma for all her recent activities and achievements!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Elizabeth Bishop House Update – October 2015

Some time has passed since I last posted an update about the Elizabeth Bishop House and the progress of its sale. The five posts below break this silence.

In July 2015, I agreed to write an essay about the history of the house for an online academic literary journal in the United States. As things turned out, the editor of that journal felt that what I had written (which is the first account of the history of the house from Bishop’s time to the present) was too long for their purposes. Since I did not want to cut it substantially, I decided to withdraw it and post it as a multi-part essay on this blog.

The essay brings the story of the house to October 2015, at which time there had still been no offers for the house, even as the price had been substantially reduced to $69,000 (http://remaxtruro.ca/listings/571/8740-hwy-2).