A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
The robins are shrieking as they do before a storm
she wrote Lowell who wanted to marry her,
but she knew better. Come to Yaddo, he wrote.
There’s a Catholic girl, a real talent.
Instead, he married Elizabeth Hardwick
& Bishop sailed for South America where en route,
she ate fruit of a cashew tree (nearly killed her).
When the freighter dropped her in Brazil, she was
nursed by Lota de Macedo Soares. Always thought
‘One Art’ was about her Brazilian lover, but it was
written long after Lota’s suicide in New York City
about Bishop’s near break-up with Alice Methfessel
who’d helped her untangle her life. Someone said:
Bishop’s poetry is like an Alexander Calder mobile.
Every element in balance. Some poems took decades,
but not ‘One Art.’ Only 17 drafts. Bishop liked it
when people talked about anything—but poetry.
She liked Key West: no one was chasing fame.
What she loved: rivulets, moose & fog of Nova Scotia,
the waterfalls, toucans & palms of Brazil.
What he despised: capitalism, militarism, authority,
the Father, the rich & proper Bostonians.
For thirty years Dearest Cal, Dearest Elizabeth,
with letters chatty & tender, they buoyed each other
through doldrums, breakdowns, affairs & quarrels.
His ‘failure’ to propose: the might-have-been of his life.
As a boy, Lowell earned the nickname Cal for Caliban;
at boarding school, the other girls knew Bishop was
a genius. At Vassar, she studied Greek & Latin with
Mary McCarthy; he fled Harvard, followed Allen Tate
to Kenyon. In Brazil, where she wrote some of her
best poems, Lowell visited her, but after a crack-up,
was flown home, arms & legs bound. When he quoted
Hardwick’s letters in his poems, Bishop denounced him.
Their friendship survived. He died in a cab, returning
to Hardwick. Bishop, of an aneurysm, two years later.
Displaced orphan, drunk, long-suffering asthmatic,
Bishop never escaped her mother’s deranged scream.
What she never lost, her sense of wonder. I want now
that it’s too late, to learn the name of everything.
Copyright 2017 Joan E. Bauer