Elizabeth Bishop

(1911-1979) American poet. Bishop’s first book of poems was North and South (1946). In 1955 she reissued that book with A Cold Spring; the double volume was awarded the 1956 Pulitizer Prize for poetry. Bishop had close friendships with Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell; her work shares precision with the former and personal warmth with the latter. Her poems are written in a modern idiom with great stylistic subtlety. While she knew many of the confessional poets, she wrote about her own life with irony, humor, and detachment. Her Complete Poems (1969) won the National Book Award in 1970. Geography III (1977), a ten-poem picture of her life, seen through places she remembers, is meditative, but vivid, spare almost to the point of austerity. Bishop was an avid traveler, living in many parts of the world, including Brazil, where she lived with Lota de Macedo Soares for almost two decades. Bishop returned to the U.S. after Soares’ suicide. The end of Bishop’s life was darkened by ill health and alcoholism, which had long plagued her. Bishop was considered by many a “poet’s poet,” but her deceptively simple style carries with it an undercurrent of tenderness that also touches less-sophisticated readers. Bishop also wrote a number of travel books, including Questions of Travel (1965) and Brazil (1967). One Art: Selected Letters (1993) is a large selection of an ever more voluminous and interesting correspondence.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

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