Love Unknown: The Life and Worlds of Elizabeth Bishop

Marian Janssen at berfrois:

Bishop published only about a hundred poems during her lifetime, but won the most prestigious prizes for American literature: the Pulitzer in 1956 and the National Book Award in 1970. Brilliant, quirky critic Randall Jarrell described her poems as “honest, modest, minutely observant, masterly. . . . The poems are like Vuillard or even, sometimes, Vermeer.” Bishop was overwhelmed: “It has always been one of my dreams that someday someone would think of Vermeer, without my saying it first”—adding cheerfully, “So now I think I can die in a fairly peaceful frame of mind any old time.” Her life was tumultuous and tragic, but also filled with love and lust. Bishop’s father died when she was only a few months old, a loss her mother, mentally unstable Gertrude Bulmer, never overcame. Her loving, but simple, maternal grandparents raised Bishop in Great Village, a hamlet in Nova Scotia, Canada, during her infancy, while Bulmer was locked up in an insane asylum for long periods. When Bishop was five years old, Bulmer was put away forever, mostly in solitary confinement. She would never see her mother again. Soon after, suddenly, her father’s parents took her to Worcester, Massachusetts, and Bishop ended up in a world that was less austere, but much colder and more distant. Lonely and alone, she was plagued by terrible asthma and eczema; Travisano convincingly argues that these had psychosomatic origins.

more here.