Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Nature, and Politics

Joan E. Bauer: Lowell & Bishop — Letters from the Road

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

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4 comments on “Joan E. Bauer: Lowell & Bishop — Letters from the Road

  1. barbaraedelman1
    April 7, 2017

    Wonderful poem, Joan!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. barbara maloutas
    April 5, 2017

    So much I didn’t know – you got it right, Joan.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Charlie Brice
    April 5, 2017

    As usual, a spectacular poem by Joan Bauer. With every one of her poems, I get to learn something. This time about Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop. Thanks so much, Joan.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lynne Gawlas
    April 5, 2017

    Wonderful poem, flows like a river.

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on April 5, 2017 by in Opinion Leaders, Poetry and tagged , , , , .
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