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This article is taken from PN Review 37, Volume 10 Number 5, March - April 1984.

Elizabeth Bishop and others Michael Hofmann

Elizabeth Bishop was the poets' poet of her generation: an unlikely, and often unwelcome accolade, for as well as the conventional tribute of reviews and endorsements (though of a more than conventional warmth and sincerity), it also brought her two proposals of marriage, ten years apart, from Robert Lowell, and something very like the reverse from John Berryman:


Them lady poets must not marry, pal.
Miss Dickinson - fancy in Amherst bedding hér.
Fancy a lark with Sappho,
a tumble in the bushes with Miss Moore,
a spoon with Emily, while Charlotte glare.
Miss Bishop's too noble-O.
Dream Song 187


The good opinion of her peers collides almost alarmingly with the extreme modesty of Elizabeth Bishop herself. She must be the most charming and unassuming writer ever to be interviewed for The Paris Review (80, Summer 1981), taking as her model an interview given by Fred Astaire, in which the dancer, actor and singer confined himself to the subject of golf. It is no doubt through such reticence, and by the accident of her non-inclusion in the two most influential anthologies of American poetry (those edited by Donald Hall and A. Alvarez) that she is not more widely known and appreciated in this country. And yet, not only did her contemporaries admire her work, it also seems to me that it offers fewer obstacles to British poetic tastes: Bishop's work does not have the epic ...


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