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This review is taken from PN Review 40, Volume 11 Number 2, November - December 1984.

NATURAL HEROISM Lloyd Schwartz & Sybil P. Estess (eds), Elizabeth Bishop and Her Art (University of Michigan Press) $8.95

This is the first book-length critical collection to focus on the work of Elizabeth Bishop. It is divided into three parts: 'Critical Essays', all of which date from the last decade; 'A Chronology', consisting of reviews, short articles, poems, memoirs and memorials, 1935-81; and 'In Her Own Words', a selection of (mostly brief) extracts from Bishop's prose (excluding the stories), together with the texts of two interviews. Harold Bloom contributes a lucid, personally-orientated foreword. Lloyd Schwartz, as well as contributing two essays, has compiled a useful bibliography.

Of the nine essays in part one, four are excellent, one is a particularly interesting failure, and one other, Helen Vendler's 'Domestication, Domesticity and the Otherworldly' is quite outstanding. In 'Questions of Memory, Questions of Travel' David Kalstone traces the development of Bishop's powers of 'heroic observation' as she came to trust in that 'self-forgetful, perfectly useless concentration' she found in Darwin, her 'questions of travel' finally modulating into those of the memory of loss. The story 'In the Village' he regards as a landmark, the one occasion in her writing in which 'losing hold of details is not an engulfment or a drowning, but a situation accepted'. This is a fine general introduction to the poetry.

Vendler's essay, which follows, doesn't begin altogether encouragingly: 'Elizabeth Bishop's poems in Geography III put into relief the continuing vibration of her work between two frequencies - the domestic and the strange'. But as if suddenly made aware of the threat ...


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