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

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Memory of Congonhas

John’s Sunday “Today in Bishop,” which invoked Congonhas, triggered a vivid memory of my brief visit there in September 1999, that trip of a lifetime to attend a Bishop conference in Ouro Prêto -- a group of us went by bus to Rio afterwards and we stopped at several places on the way, including Congonhas. I went searching through my “Brazil trip” photo album and found pictures I took of the Twelve Prophets by Aleijadinho – pictures taken with one of those disposable cameras (I was no photographer!). I have scanned two and wanted to post them here.

It just so happens that today the heart of Bishop’s world -- New England, Maine and the Maritimes -- is in the grip of a serious blizzard. As I look out my window the snow is thick and “falling” horizontally on fierce wind. So, it is nice to contemplate that time sixteen years ago: the glorious blue sky, the quite powerful statues gazing off, seeing who knows what, the good friends who wandered around with me amazed that we were there. In the mid-1960s, after being in Brazil for over a decade, Bishop had a bout of “nostalgia for the North” – I think she’d have been glad to be in Rio on a day such as today, when you can’t see the nose in front of your face, as the saying here goes. Sometime soon, I will post something about my favourite Aleijadinho sculputure, which I saw in Mariana. Stay safe!

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Note from Our Friends Fox & Coyote

Constant readers from amongst the Patronage-at-Large will recollect with pleasure a recent "Today's Video" by the group Fox & Coyote, in which they performed a song inspired by EB's "Letter to New York." I wrote to them asking if they could provide a little background about themselves and their process of composition. Here is their reply:

A dear friend gave the poem to me. She lived in NYC at the time, and we had exchanged a number of letters -- so EB's poem was especially poignant because of that. I imagined my friend doing all the things that EB mentions in her poem, especially riding in a taxi through/around Central Park. The bookending lines stuck with me most, though:

In your next letter I wish you'd say
where you are going and what you are doing


nevertheless I'd like to know
what you are doing and where you are going

Those lines were so true to me -- that's exactly what I wanted to know: the details of my friend's life because that's what you miss out on when geographically separated.

I alluded to these bookending lines in my lyrics with "Desert sands beneath, could you tell me where you are and where you're going?" It felt so much like this NYC friend of mine was with me all the time -- the sands underneath my feet -- but it also felt like she was so fleeting, which is why I mention things like "Your heart beats under my feet; I want to be underneath" and "I had a plan for you and me. I drew it in the desert sands; it blew away so easily." It was most likely my own perceptions and context, but when I read EB's poem, I felt some desperation in her words. I tried to echo that in my song.

Fox & Coyote is made up of four semi-awkward and semi-hilarious people whose lives, like most people, are pulled in so many directions. One of those pulls is Fox & Coyote -- because we love creating with each other, and because we love each other. We're also pulled by romances, our jobs (which some of us like, and some of us don't), friends who live far away, families that live pretty close, and a bunch of other things like whether we should brush our teeth in the morning. These are the things that we write music about.

Somehow, and with much gratitude for each other, we make time to write indie rock songs played on folk instruments, meaning that we're an indie folk band. Or something. We like making dinner together and communicating over dinner with pregnant pauses, meaningful looks, weird jokes, crude hand gestures, and sometimes by talking. I guess that's what happens when you spend a lot of time with small group of people. 

[You can listen to some of Fox & Coyote's music at www.foxandcoyote.bandcamp.com].

Fox & Coyote - "Elizabeth Bishop,"
A Tiny(er) Desk Concert

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Four Years On, Thirteen After, Fifty-Five To Go...

Another Art

So many times we misremember poems.
For years I thought Frost's "Mending Wall" had spelt
those upper, sun-spilt object lessons 'bowlders' --
at least that's how they were on page two twelve
of Untermeyer's sixth, combined edition.
Or take the different ways the high school students,
fulfilling arcane AP class requirements
in hopes of IBDs, the IV League,
and ABDs (or even Ph.D.s)
have mangled EB's villanelle "One Art."
I posted one the other day from Youtube:
"ThePrancingPainter" with her turtleneck
that matched her lipstick (not her horn-rimmed glasses);
a task she "had to do for English class."
She belted out the 'is': "IS no disaster,"
then "where it was you meant to visit" ['travel!'],
and worst of all the final line, when after
a "Write it" flaccid as a Kellogg's cornflake
(floating in a bowl and taking movies?)
the final overwhelming, universal
catastrophe was shot down with the "A"
her teacher (she feels certain) ought to give her
for memorizing such a dorky poem.
In short, she didn't really bowl me over.
And yet, and yet... I cannot look inside her,
or see the grandma fifty-nine years hence
remove her horn-rimmed glasses to look back
on losses yet unlisted, milk yet spilt,
and think of when she stood before the camera
and said the words, although she can't remember
 just how that poem went, or what the name was
that awful teacher had, who'd been so nasty
one January morning nine years after
 -- to the day it was -- he'd lost his Dad.

 January 17, 2011

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Our Toronto Correspondent Writes...

Los Angeles–based, German-born painter Silke Otto-Knapp comes to the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto this spring with Land lies in water, an exhibition of twenty-nine paintings, including a portrait of Elizabeth Bishop, in whom she has had an abiding interest. The exhibition opens on February 14, 2015.  Ms. Otto-Knapp will give a talk on her work at the gallery on March 18, 2015.  A selection of her work may be viewed here.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Lifting Yesterday – A Chapter Two Supplement: The Oral Tradition and Translation

In 1999 I attended a Bishop conference in Ouro Prêto, Brazil. A trip of a life-time for me, the memories of which remain vivid “after — how many years?” The paper I presented was about Bishop’s translation of Mina Vida de Menina (The Diary of ‘Helena Morley’). My focus was on how Bishop incorporated her own idiom, received in large measure from her childhood in Nova Scotia, into the translation, with special focus on her grandmother’s influence. Below is an excerpt from this paper, which was never published. If you are interested in reading the whole paper, I am offering a pdf of it gratis, part of the supplement to Lifting Yesterday.
Casa Mariana (Bishop's Ouro Preto house) with poinsettia tree. Photo by yours truly, September 1999
Excerpt from: “‘It Really Happened’: The Confluence of Elizabeth Bishop’s Nova Scotia and The Diary of ‘Helena Morley’

....What we read in the Diary is what might be called the first transcription of oral tradition to written language. Listen to how Bishop translated it: “She told us the story” (5), “telling stories about people” (9), “he told some very funny stories” (16), “one of my father’s stories” (19), “the story of her confession” (21), “the story of the owl” (27), “a story of the old days” (71), “the children tell stories” (73), “mama told a story” (95), “we begin to tell stories” (131), “make up some story” (138), “I like mama’s stories better than papa’s” (140), “Reginalda...knows the most stories” (140), “our aunts amuse us by telling stories” (158), “I like the stories about the old days better” (158), “he told me the story” (179), “mama tells stories of bygone days” (224), “sometimes she tells us stories” (275). And there are many more examples.

The Diary is also filled with a wonderful array of aphorism, one of the vital elements of the oral tradition which survives even in highly text-bound North American culture. Listen to how Bishop translated this element: “God helps more surely than getting up early” (265); “From day to day God smooths the way” (214); “Nothing comes free; money makes the mare go” (226); “The unlucky can’t cry forever” (108); “Marriages and shrouds are made in Heaven” (154); “A crooked stick can’t be straightened” (127); “What the eye doesn’t see the heart doesn’t feel” (43); “The fingers of the hand aren’t all the same” (37); “You must have been born with a caul” (103); “The place is a regular asylum” (188); “Those who have children will never have full bellies” (187).

While she tried to remain true to the tone and texture of the original, Bishop incorporated a good deal of her own colloquialism and idiom into the translation. I offer only one interesting example — there are many. One of Bishop’s favourite words was “awful” (and its variations). Listen to how many ways Bishop brings it into the translation: “awfully sorry,” “awfully funny,” “perfectly awful,” “how awful,” “awful things,” “something awful,” “an awful lot,” “this awful fault,” “that awful dentist,” “it’s awful,” “the rice is awful,” “it must be awful,” “so awful,” “awful uproar,” “really awfully bad,” “too awful,” “an awful shock.” And, again, there are many more examples.

The reason these forms of expression (story, aphorism, idiom) appealed to Bishop was because they went straight back to her own childhood. Great Village at the turn of the twentieth century was a world where written language and texts played major roles, but this place and time remained in many ways a highly oral culture — itself structured around storytelling and aphorism as the medium for education, entertainment and individual and communal creativity. People, places and events were known through what was said about them — the past, present and future were contemplated in the kitchens, parlours, churches and schoolrooms not only through words on a page, but through monologue, dialogue, experiential and expressive oral tradition.

Perhaps the most important nexus of oral tradition in Bishop’s and Helena’s childhood worlds was grandmother. In 1958 Bishop wrote to her maternal aunt, Grace Bulmer Bowers: "'The Diary' is doing pretty well, I think....It was hard to make it sound natural and quite often when I got stuck about how to translate some of the grandmother’s remarks or expressions, and I couldn’t translate them literally, I’d try to think of what Gammie would have said! I think it worked pretty well." (12 March)

Victoria Harrison has pointed out the way Bishop merged one of Gammie Bulmer’s favourite phrases, “Nobody knows,” with Dona Teodora’s way of speaking (176) — there are several examples of this particular confluence in the Diary: “Grandma said that all that is a mystery, that we never really know these things for sure” (102); “Nobody knows what it was” (199); “Nobody knows what she wants” (132); “God knows what he’s doing” (211). Helena herself adopts the phrase, “Nobody knows what a person is like inside” (65).

However, the link between these two grandmothers is apparent almost every time we encounter Dona Teodora in the Diary. Though Gammie Bulmer was not a wealthy widow with a houseful of ex-slaves, she was the matriarch of a large family, the arbiter of family disputes, the hostess of a regular stream of visitors (relatives and friends), a participant in the charitable activities of the community, a devout practitioner of her faith and a partly rational, partly credulous believer in the mysteries of life and death. Though smaller, Gammie Bulmer’s home was in many ways similar to Dona Teodora’s chácara, “a house with extensive gardens, or even a small farm, but not necessarily in the country” (Diary xxxv). These homes were the centre of family life. Moreover, besides “Nobody knows,” both women had a store of other aphoristic utterances. And with one of these, we see directly the practice Bishop described to Aunt Grace. One of Dona Teodora’s favourite exclamations was, “Forte coisa!” which Bishop tells us in a note literally means “Strong thing” or “Fine thing.” Bishop chose to substitute the literal English translation — which diminishes the complex connotation of the Portuguese — with one of Gammie Bulmer's actual phrases, “I never in my born days!”
Again, if you would like to read the entire paper, let me know and I can send you the pdf. I also want to reiterate, you can subscribe for Lifting Yesterday at any point. The cost is $25.00 for ten pdfs, which can be sent all at once, or once a month. Contact me at slbarry@ns.sympatico.ca.
A Great Village Update
 Our Great Village correspondent Patti Sharpe sent these photos the other day. Earlier this week, the old Great Village bridge was finally completely dismantled. The iron structure was lifted, impressively, and set on the ground, where the beams were cut up (we all assume for scrap). The end of an era, as this dear old bridge has been on this site for well over 100 years. As Bishop might say, “Good-bye to the bridge.”
Photos taken by Harold Sharpe

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year! Exciting News from the EBSNS

The Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia was thrilled to learn that our Honorary Patron Suzie LeBlanc has been made a Member of the Order of Canada! Check out this link for the full list of recipients:

The EBSNS Board and members congratulate Suzie for this much deserved recognition. We are so proud of her.
Suzie will be singing some of her Elizabeth Bishop songs in Victoria, B.C., on 18 April 2015 (http://victoriasymphony.ca/concerts/a-celebration-of-poetry-i-am-in-need-of-music/ ). Before that, in mid-February she will sing some of these songs and her popular Acadian songs in New Brunswick. For details of Suzie's 2015 schedule, see her website (http://suzieleblanc.com/site/ )


The other exciting news: On Saturday, 8 August 2015, the EBSNS will present The Elizabeth Bishop Festival,” a one-day arts extravaganza, in Great Village, N.S. Inspired by Elizabeth Bishop’s eclectic interest in and love of all the arts, this festival will draw together artists of all disciplines from across Nova Scotia who will participate in a wide variety of activities. This festival is a celebration of Nova Scotia’s rich cultural heritage and artistic practices.
Planning for the festival is underway and the EBSNS will make regular announcements on the blog about the artists who will participate and the programme over the next seven months. Mark THE ELIZABETH BISHOP FESTIVAL “In the Village,” 8 August 2015, on your calendars!!

Join us for a day of celebration, inspiration and fun. We’ll have the banners up and the welcome mat out – we look forward to seeing you there! 
April Sharpe is the young Great Village artist who created the permanent banner that is displayed in Great Village every summer. She is wearing a t-shirt with the image used for the EB100 banner in 2011.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

An Elizabeth Bishop House Resolution

2014  is waning and it is time to reflect on another busy year. I often have people ask me what is happening with the EB House, have we had any offers? We have had some interest in the house since announcing early in the spring that we intended to sell, but no firm offers yet. When we decided to put the house on the market, we recognized that there were many factors involved in this process, factors affecting the outcome we want, many beyond our control. So, our modus operandi has been patience. Most good things take time.
EB House, December 2014 (photo by Brenda Barry)
The primary outcome is to sell the house to the right person(s), someone who will love and take care of the house as we have endeavoured to do for the past decade. The EB House, as an artist retreat, emerged organically out of our desire to share this dear old place with as many people as we could, in a manageable way. Its next chapter will emerge, I believe, equally organically, whether it remains a retreat or becomes a private home again. The house will decide.

So, as the turn of the year rapidly approaches, the EB House resolution for the coming year is to continue to be as attentive and thoughtful as we can in our efforts to find this “right person.” We will certainly let you know when that happens.
 Elizabeth Bishop House dining room with photo of EB on the wall (photograph by Brenda Barry)

(Note: Check out the link at the top of the News section for a recent article about the house written by Robert Everett Green and published in the Globe & Mail.)

Elizabeth Bishop knew well enough that life was an “untidy activity” – and there is always surprise, the unexpected. For example, the exceptional equinoctial flood in September – a deeply distressing event, yet, in the end, the EB House came through it just fine, and in some ways in better shape as a result of the repairs.

The EB House has always been the centre of a real community: the owners, our family and friends, the artists who have stayed, the people of Great Village who have supported it steadfastly. This community, the “EB network,” rallied in September and helped with the post-flood restoration in a remarkable way. The link below, an earlier post from November, gives a list of the contributors to the EB House Yard Restoration effort.

I want thank these people, again, for their tremendous support. So many have given so much in many ways over the years. Whoever buys the EB House will learn quickly what wonderful a place Great Village is and how much good will surrounds this dear old place.

My final visit to Great Village and the house for 2014 happened yesterday. Below are two photos of that visit, taken by my sister Brenda Barry.
When I saw this photograph, I immediately thought of Bishop’s description in “In the Village,” “…the church is dazzling. It is high-shouldered and secretive; it leans back a little.” I am looking forward to the opening of "In the Village Cafe" in the spring.
Layton’s store, now an antique shop. Note the "Esso" sign in the window! Windows like mirrors!

Stay tuned, I will be posting some exciting Bishop news and further updates about my Bishop book as 2015 begins to roll along. Happy New Year.