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A day later, writing to Robert Lowell, she complained about the students’ poetic influences, in particular the influence of the poet she replaced, Theodore Roethke: “They are so wrapped up in Roethke, still, and he also left an anti-Pound, anti-Eliot heritage, but I go blithely on giving them things they look blasé about – even Tennyson and Keats. The eastern influence! – only here it’s west. One boy gave me 100 haikus – or haikai, as I believe the plural is” (WIA 599). One of Bishop’s students, the artist Wesley Wehr, made notes he later published on what Bishop talked about in the classroom. In her very first class, as if to dispel Roethke’s influence directly, she read Eliot aloud and told them to look up e.e. cummings and the rain poems of Apollinaire. For their first assignment, they were given A. E. Housman to read. “Some of you have very good ears,” she told them. “But your sense of rhyme and form is atrocious.”
A self-proclaimed “minor female Wordsworth,” Bishop is honest yet modest about nature’s centrality that endures through her writing. Her eye for natural detail is exhibited early in signature poems such as “The Fish,” then her nature writing develops sublime power in A Cold Spring with “At the Fishhouses” and “Cape Breton.” These Canadian maritime poems blend humanity with nature and machinery in unusual synthetic harmony mid-century. Bishop’s memoir “In the Village” demonstrates how, after family tragedy, nature works as a recuperative catalyst in her evolving artistry. This short story is the centerpiece of her oeuvre, and it displays her modus operandi with its unusual blend of genres used to begin the mostly poetic volume Questions of Travel; this title poem demonstrates the natural fluidity of waterfalls in rhythmically flowing language. Nature here, and in later prosaic breakthroughs such as “The Moose,” is integral to Bishop’s innovative use of genres and poetic forms.
Elizabeth Bishop is increasingly recognised as one of the twentieth century's most original writers. Consisting of thirty-five ground-breaking essays by an international team of authors, including biographers, literary critics, poets and translators, this volume addresses the biographical and literary inception of Bishop's originality, from her formative upbringing in New England and Nova Scotia to long residences in New York, France, Florida and Brazil. Her poetry, prose, letters, translations and visual art are analysed in turn, followed by detailed studies of literary movements such as surrealism and modernism that influenced her artistic development. Bishop's encounters with nature, music, psychoanalysis and religion receive extended treatment, likewise her interest in dreams and humour. Essays also investigate the impact of twentieth-century history and politics on Bishop's life writing, and what it means to read Bishop via eco-criticism, postcolonial theory and queer studies.