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This article is taken from PN Review 187, Volume 35 Number 5, May - June 2009.

Geography IV, or The Death of the Author Revisited: Elizabeth Bishop Thomas Trevisano
Imagine, if you will… Elizabeth Bishop, at the age of 68, visits a brilliant Boston cardiologist and receives timely medical treatment and advice, thereby avoiding what might have been her sudden death from a cerebral aneurysm in October 1979, at the height of her poetic powers. She is induced by this cardiologist to adopt a healthier regimen, including fewer cigarettes and much less alcohol, and so Bishop lives on into the 1980s, increasingly frail physically, but artistically still vigorous. At last, in 1986, when she reaches the age of 75, her publishers, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, bring out what proves to be her final volume of poems. Let us call this notional book Geography IV. The reviewers send in notices that are almost universally admiring, and in a few cases, even reverent. But many of these reviewers, including several of the most admiring, admit to being startled by a new directness, sometimes even a certain rawness or indelicacy, emerging from the Vermeer-like surfaces of a poet they no longer refer to as Miss Bishop. These reviewers confess that in reading this new book, they have had to make adjustments to the expectations and preconceptions they had learned previously to bring to Bishop’s work.

Thus began a paper I gave more than a decade ago at the 1998 MLA Convention with a title identical to this one. At the time I thought of developing the paper further, but it seemed more appropriate to await the publication of Edgar Allan Poe ...


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