Grace Cavalieri has been a friend of many poets in the Bay area.  Jean Emerson (Jacaranda Press) introduced her to us many years ago.  Some of the writing ideas we use to give ourselves a jump start come from Grace.  She has read here, given workshops, and from her lofty position as interviewer for “The Poet and the Poem at the Library of Congress”, she gets to know many U.S. poet laureates and significant American poets.  I found this article on Elizabeth Bishop interesting.


If there is one adjective that describes Elizabeth Bishop, it is curious. How else can we explain the way she looked at the world’s detail as if with the lens of a camera? If we were to choose one verb, surely it would be observing, for Bishop’s poetry is about methods and ways of seeing, as a visual artist sees. Her gaze was an investigation of the physical reality of whatever country or character she described. There is no ego at the center of her poems. You will not find her in the middle of the landscape, although she lived at a time when confessional poetry was promising; she remains private, letting objects and scenes speak for her emotions. What we do see is a world translated into language. Sometimes a meditative line harks back to her honored metaphysical poets, who also spoke indirectly. She is called a “poet’s poet” because — in reading her– we know what she saw represented what it meant to her. The writing is in the tradition of the English lyric yet sounds completely American in tone and word choice. She is a combination of formal and colloquial, polished in craft and form, and yet spontaneous and surprising, for example using an exclamation in the middle of a line. Her work sometimes trails into the surreal which is understandable because of the 20 years she lived in Latin America, translating the work, immersed in the culture. Elizabeth Bishop was orphaned at an early age, and scholars track the image of the house and home throughout her poetry as representing longing — maybe the domestic image is notable because it is different from the male counterparts writing at that time — but it is true the house image recurs often and so does the sense of loss. She writes of time and timelessness with no regard given to life beyond. It is as if eternity is in her rivers and trees, the greens and yellows of speech.  Elizabeth Bishop lived at a time when women were slowly entering the literary establishment, yet she was an influence on Robert Lowell, and even her senior poet Marianne Moore. Many cite her as ‘what is best in the last century of poetry.’ I like her poem “ONE ART”, so different from her travel poems.  We hear her speak her feelings without objectifying them, we feel her inner life, and we hear her strength. “One Art” ends with these lines:

“–Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.”

You can hear Billy Collins read “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop.