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This report is taken from PN Review 176, Volume 33 Number 6, July - August 2007.

Archive Corner 5: Elizabeth Bishop Stella Halkyard

Elizabeth Bishop and the Carcanet Press

According to Seamus Heaney, the literary world prizes Carcanet Press because its 'commitment to publishing work in translation has been matched by an admirable concern to keep lines open to writing in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and America'. Using material from a secluded corner of the labyrinth of the Carcanet Archive, held in the John Rylands Library in Manchester, this essay explores the associations Carcanet cultivated with the American poet and translator, Elizabeth Bishop.

True to scale, Bishop's petite corpus (short stories, life writing and critical writing, poems and translations) has earned her a reputation as one of the twentieth century's enduring figures. Her influence extends beyond America across the English-speaking world. She makes 'radiant and marvellous that which is in danger of being overlooked and disregarded'.

Delving into Box 198 of Accession 3 of the Carcanet Archive, one encounters a green folder which contains a delicate heap of diaphanous, delphinium-blue, airmail paper covered in weightless typescript and holograph words. Poetry, after all, '= air transportation (in its present form)' .1 These letters trace Bishop's connection with Carcanet back to 1970. At this time the Press still operated from Pin Farm in South Hinksey, near Oxford, before it became a cornerstone of Manchester literary life. In its early days Carcanet did not adopt the practice of assiduously making, and keeping, copy letters so we hear only Bishop's voice in the correspondence. We have to assume, ...

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