by Elizabeth Bishop
(Chatto & Windus)
Two years ago, a film called Reaching for the Moon was released, depicting a part of the life of the American poet Elizabeth Bishop. However, I’m mentioning this as a warning: what I am suggesting for anyone wanting to learn more about this fascinating poet is to avoid that particular cinematic experience. It is not the shortcut you might be expecting, as it does Bishop no favours and is bound to lead you down the garden path.
On the other hand, the centenary Chatto & Windus editions of her poetry and prose are indeed the way to go. In the volume reviewed here you will get a great overview of her skills, from the early 1946 collection North & South all along to her fabulous Geography III, which contains her most celebrated poems, ‘One Art’ and ‘The Moose’ – both of which are guaranteed to blow any poetry lover’s mind – as well as unpublished poems.
For any of you that have yet to read anything by Bishop, these are the opening lines of ‘One Art’:
“The art of losing isn’t hard to master; / so many things seem filled with the intent / to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
“Lose something everyday. Accept the fluster / of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. / The art of losing isn’t hard to master.”
If this isn’t enough to entice you, please have a listen to Bishop reading the poem herself on the internet thanks to Annenberg Media (learner.org). That fabulous sound recording will really get your head around what Bishop is trying to say and achieve with this particular poem.
Finally, just this year Ireland’s own Colm Tóibín released a fascinating book named simply On Elizabeth Bishop via Princeton University Press. Here Tóibín recounts his own obsession with the poet and writer, as well as delve into the manner in which she can be read and understood. As such he offers a heartfelt and erudite way in, something which the aforementioned film very definitely does not.