Fall 2018

Volume 23 Issue 1

Elizabeth Bishop in Paris:
Spaces of Translation and Translations of Space

Maison de la Recherche, Paris Sorbonne Université, June 6 – 8, 2018

Jo Gill, University of Exeter

For weeks – perhaps months – prior to setting off for Elizabeth Bishop in Paris, the anticipation of the conference was enough to bring a smile to my face. And from registration onwards, when we were greeted with Jonathan Ellis’s terrific map of Bishop’s Parisian places, my anticipation was rewarded.

Day One opened with Thomas Travisano’s illustrated overview of the Bishop editions. This provided a great foundation for the panels to follow and I suspect that I wasn’t alone in hastily adding a note to my own paper in response to Travisano’s insights (in my case, this related to the cover of the 1969 Farrar Straus & Giroux edition of the Complete Poems, designed by Roxanne Cumming, which Tom described as “the most boring cover” but which reminded me, with its bold swathes of saturated colour, of a Georgia O’Keeffe painting). In the next panel, Bethany Hicok, Vivian Pollak and Heather Treseler picked up one of these initial themes in their discussion of new approaches to Bishop’s archive, from Hicok’s exciting digital, multi-medial and multi-modal approach through Pollak’s reading of Bishop’s correspondence with her doctor, Dr Ruth Foster, to Treseler’s thoughtful evocation of the interplay of reading and writing processes in Bishop’s work.

In “Bishop and Creative Spaces,” Susan Rosenbaum gave us a suggestive account of Bishop’s various encounters with experimentalism and surrealism via, for example, her visit to André Breton’s surrealist gallery, attendance at Gertrude Stein’s lectures at Vassar College and in New York in 1934-5, and her reading of Marianne Moore’s review of Stein in The Nation. Bonnie Costello’s paper explored the significance of dreaming to Bishop’s writing process with particular reference to dreams about paintings that won’t stay still or that swim backwards and forwards into view, suggesting the “collapsing of opposites of near and far.” Lorrie Goldensohn also played with the exchange of binaries of near and far, and examined what she descried as Bishop’s “fastidious plainness.” The final panel of the day located us firmly in Paris with a discussion of “Bishop and French Architecture.” Lisa Goldfarb’s “Sky, Sea, and Shore: Bishop, Valéry, and Post-Symbolist Poetics” traced the shifting conditionality of Bishop’s poetry with reference to the influence of a Paul Valéry story. For Bishop, she proposed, a central – if tacit – preoccupation is how things arrive at their final shape, form, and order. Angus Cleghorn’s paper on “Bishop’s Stevensian Architecture in Paris” suggested a similar interest in the process of making. Cleghorn argues that Bishop’s (anti-monumental) Paris poems engage with Wallace Stevens’ monumentality and that, in the encounter, she begins to move from “architectural stiffness” to a more fluid poetics. Vidyan Ravinthiran shared his own visit to the Quai d’Orleans as a way of setting up his argument about Bishop’s “verbal drift” and about the “quiet drama of the poem.”

The second day of the conference opened with a panel on Bishop and translation, featuring papers on Bishop in Brazil and as seen through Brazilian eyes (Neil Besner); on Bishop’s “collaborative ear,” as evidenced in her personal and professional relationships with Lota de Macedo Soares and Octavio Paz, and on the question of whether Bishop could only truly listen in English (Katrina Mayson), and finally, on the implications of translating her poetry into Czech. Mariana Machova offered a superb reading of “At the Fishhouses” and “The Moose,” suggesting that translation picks out both the humor and the resonance of the poems. In Panel Five, “Reaching Out,” Peter Swaab’s “‘Oh, but it is dirty!’: Elizabeth Bishop’s Liking for Dirt,” like Travisano’s opening presentation, offered a reading that later speakers were to reflect on in their own papers. His sense of the alchemical properties of dirt in Bishop’s work suggests new ways of thinking about a number of poems. Myriam Bellehigue’s paper on Bishop and Flannery O’Connor drew our attention to the two writers’ correspondence and argued for their mutually productive intertextual practice. Fanny Beaunay focused on the spaces of reading and on the place (literal and figurative) of reading in Geography III.

The final panel of the day, “Works in Progress,” presented research by postgraduate and early career researchers: Matthew Holman spoke on abstraction and figuration in the context of Bishop’s engagement with New York school writers and artists; Christopher Laverty presented on Seamus Heaney’s “productive misreading” of Bishop, while Tymek Woodham discussed Bishop and Charles Olson’s shared fascination with cartography and the materiality of the map. The evening was spent at a different venue, the Old Sorbonne, for a six-handed poetry reading (Barry Goldensohn, Maureen McLane, Vidyan Ravinthiran, Deryn Rees-Jones, Heather Treseler and, making a special guest appearance, Lorrie and Barrie Goldensohn’s granddaughter!).

The third and final day of the conference opened with papers by Jonathan Ellis, Langdon Hammer, and Deryn Rees-Jones on the theme of “Opening Lines / Poetic Lines / Lines of Music.” Ellis cited Bishop’s 1959 letter to Howard Moss about “moving backwards” and offered an illuminating reading of transparency and opacity in her work. Hammer took us to the significance of the line in Bishop’s poetry and Paul Klee’s paintings, seeing in both cases an interest in play and in the possibilities of simultaneity. Rees-Jones’ “Clavichord: A Poetic Essay” reflected on the musical energies of Bishop’s work and on the relationship (and tension) between a study and a song. The penultimate panel considered Bishop’s relationship with various others: with Georgia O’Keeffe in my own paper; with May Swenson in David Hoak’s which drew on the poets’ extensive correspondence, and in the final paper by Maureen McLane, on Bishop in (and) parentheses. In this ingenious presentation, McLane took us back – in a move that Bishop would surely have enjoyed – to early modern and nineteenth-century scholarship on punctuation, taking from this the suggestion that the parenthesis “allows what is marginal to be central.” Finally, Axel Nesme and Lhorine François rounded off the conference with thought-provoking readings of the theoretical complexities of Bishop’s writing – Nesme with respect to Lacan and Lhorine on distortion and revision.

The calibre of all of these papers; the judiciousness of the chairing, and the quality of questions notwithstanding, it is worth also noting the value of the many informal discussions that took place throughout the conference, at coffee and lunch breaks and in the evenings.

I came away from the Sheffield conference (Elizabeth Bishop: Questions of Travel) three years ago so full of ideas that I missed my motorway exit to the South West on the drive home and was almost in London before I realised my error. Elizabeth Bishop in Paris proved at least as captivating and has confirmed my impressions of the warmth and generosity of scholars in the field. It goes without saying that huge thanks are due to all of the contributors, to the sponsors, to the team at the Sorbonne for so graciously hosting the conference and, of course, to the organisers, Myriam Bellehigue, Angus Cleghorn, Jonathan Ellis, and perhaps most of all, Juliette Utard; their hard work before, during, and after the conference is appreciated by us all.


Mariana Machova, Elizabeth Bishop and Translation.

New York and London: Lexington Books, 2017. 166 pp.

Review by Neil Besner, University of Winnipeg

Bishop’s interest in and practice of translation, as Mariana Machova shows us in this fine study, was lifelong – and not to be underestimated or dismissed as a pastime, incidental or sidelong to Bishop’s major work as a poet. Indeed, Machova’s major intention is to consider all of Bishop’s work – poetry, prose, letters, drafts, translations and more, published and unpublished – through the lens of Bishop’s abiding interest in the principles and processes that underwrite her understanding of translation. The most exciting promise of this study — the most thoughtful and wide-ranging work to date on Bishop and translation – is that it will open new avenues for Bishop scholarship. As Machova puts it:

My aim is to see Bishop’s translation from a new perspective, not as a marginal activity by which Bishop was occasionally and accidentally distracted from her real work as a poet, but as a recurrent presence in her creative life, which was not by any means dominant, but which was present there all along, sometimes more and sometimes less conspicuously, like a basso continuo beneath the main voice of her own poetry (2-3).

Fittingly, the book is divided into two sections: the first, “Elizabeth Bishop’s Translations,” opens with a thorough and astute synthesis of Bishop’s own perceptions of herself as a translator (she certainly never considered herself a professional translator) and of what Bishop perceived to be the proper aim of translation (faithfulness to the original work). Here Machova deftly summarizes the critical scholarship to date on Bishop and translation, singling out parts of Marilyn May Lombardi and Victoria Harrison’s work, and reminds us of Bishop’s instructive criticism of Lowell’s “translations” (sic) of Rimbaud and Baudelaire (4). After this useful introduction Machova guides us chronologically through Bishop’s translations from several languages. Her method is admirably crisp and succinct – no “chapter” is more than twelve pages long, and yet the discussion never feels rushed or abbreviated – beginning with Bishop’s serious work in her last year at Vassar on Aristophanes’ comedy The Birds. Subsequent chapters take us through Bishop’s work on Max Jacob; The Diary of Helena Morley; Clarice Lispector; An Anthology of Twentieth-Century Brazilian Poetry; “Sambas and Popular Songs”; and finally, Octavio Paz, whose poems Bishop worked on in her last years. Always, Machova reveals her deep but unobtrusive familiarity with the Bishop canon, ranging relevantly over her letters, unpublished drafts, her relationships close or distant, awkward or intimate with the poets and writers she worked with; one of the most attractive gifts of this study is how gracefully and unobtrusively it wears the scholarship and erudition that informs it on every page.

Having traced the constant “basso continuo” of Bishop’s translations throughout her career, Machova then moves to her second, more specific stage, “Translation in Elizabeth Bishop’s Poetry.” Here, her method becomes more particularly focused on several of Bishop best-known poems, and to fine effect. In a slightly longer chapter entitled “The Foreign” Machova offers, first, a careful and engaging reading of “Brazil, January 1, 1502” in which she subdivides her analysis into suggestively entitled subtitled sections – “January River,” “Landscape into Art,” “Nature as Sign and Fiction,” and “Us and Them.” This superb nine-page reading engages throughout the different forms of “translation” that inform this foundational Bishop poem. That reading is followed by another splendid and extensive discussion, of “Santarém and the Memory of It,” which, again, takes us through the poem via astutely subtitled subsections such as “Tempted to Literary Interpretations,” “Cathedral, Promenade, Belvedere,” “Names, Eyes, and Oars,” and culminating, of course, with “The Wasp Nest.” Any Bishop scholar will recognize how central these poems are in her work, and most Bishop critics have grappled with them; but no-one that I am aware of has given us this kind of extended analysis of the persistent and perennial presence of translation – as theme, as form, as (plural) voice, as foundation.

Chapters nine and ten, “The Familiar” and “The Unknown,” address other well-known Bishop poems – “In the Waiting Room,” “12 O’Clock News,” “The Map,” and “The Bight” among them, exemplifying Machova’s typically fine attention to Bishop’s language – to Bishop’s probing exactitude with words. By focusing so carefully on the many functions of translation in Bishop’s work, Machova gives us fresh but instantly familiar readings: it is as if we always knew these elements were there, but now they have been made more readily apparent, more constantly available to us. (One cavil: on far too many occasions, Machova writes run-on sentences that can obscure her meaning. This problem could be rectified in an instant and would greatly improve prose that is already a pleasure to read.)

In her brief but telling “Epilogue: Translation as Poetics,” Machova gives us a concise summary of where she has taken us, and why:

This book has attempted to show that translation can be seen not only as a creative process but as a creative principle. Translation is usually discussed and thought of in terms of the art or craft of translating from one language to another and mediating between two cultures. I believe we can also see translation in broader terms as a general aesthetic approach, as a way of aesthetic perception. It can be considered as a creative principle lying not only (and not always) behind the process of translating literature from one language to another, but behind the “original” work as well (149).

With Elizabeth Bishop and Translation, Mariana Machova has contributed to Bishop scholarship in several major and complementary ways. First, she has shown, persuasively and eloquently, that translation – its functions, its aesthetics, its aims – formed an abiding principle in Bishop’s creative process and practice. Second, she has shown this process and practice in their multiform and many-voiced operations in Bishop’s poems. Third, and perhaps most importantly, Machova has generously opened the way for further work in this highly promising area for Bishop studies. One hopes that this invaluable continuing work – untidy and awful and cheerful as the activity might seem to be – will soon ensue.


ALA Boston 2017

Voice, Tone, and Music in Elizabeth Bishop’s Writings

Heather J. Macpherson, University of Rhode Island

Elizabeth Bishop Society Panels
American Literature Association Conference, Boston
The Westin Copley Place, 3rd floor, St. George A
Saturday, May 27, 2017, 2:10-3:30 PM; 3:40-5:00 PM

The Elizabeth Bishop Society featured two panels (six presentations) on the theme of Voice, Tone, and Music in Elizabeth Bishop’s Writings.

Panel One

In “Music of the Sea: Elizabeth Bishop and Symbolist Poetics,” Lisa Goldfarb (New York University) chronicles Bishop’s meditation on the sea by means of French symbolism, particularly the work of critic Ambrose-Paul-Toussaint-Jules Valéry (1871-1945) who composed his poetic works in traditional French forms while moving toward a prosaic musicality. Goldfarb’s presentation carefully examines the melodic and rhythmic movement in Bishop’s poems, including “Sandpiper,” “Song,” and “The End of March” with emphasis on Bishop’s “At the Fishhouses.” Goldfarb suggests that Bishop takes the reader from land (stanza 1) to sea (stanza 3) beginning with a conversational tone that, at first, defies music through “rich sensory images” and “materiality.” As Bishop’s poem crests into stanza two, the conversational tone becomes sonorous and descriptive, imitating Valéry’s use of assonance and consonance; repetition of sound and language become prominent musical devices for the “sensation of voice.” In a close analysis of the third and final stanza, Goldfarb concludes that vocal modulations, akin to Valéry’s poetics, guide the reader from land to sea and from conversation to song in this iconic poem.”

Yuki Tanaka’s (University of Texas at Austin) presentation, “The Music of Syntax in Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘At the Fishhouses,’” first considers the opening ten lines of Bishop’s “Giant Snail,” noting the snail’s “calm observation” through the rhythm of Bishop’s sentences. Tanaka’s exegesis of Bishop’s choice and arrangement of language provides insight into Bishop’s “interest in Baroque style.” Following a linguistic commentary on the slow-moving mollusk, he gracefully leads the listener to Bishop’s quintessential poem. Tanaka’s elegant syntactical inquiry focuses on the rhetorical organization and syntactic patterns in Bishop’s poem.” For example, Tanaka observes the “parallel structure of shared consonants and vowels” in lines 26 and 27:

Up on the little slope behind the houses,
set in the sparse bright sprinkle of grass,

which is followed by the contrasting sounds and concrete image in line 28: “is an ancient wooden capstan.” Tanaka’s investigation into the phonetics and rhythmic challenges of syntax provides a gateway into making sense of “what [Bishop] sees.”

In “Voice Control in Late Bishop,” Angus Cleghorn (Seneca College) playfully but precisely examines the shifts in poetic form and cultural identifications in Bishop’s poems such as “The Fish,” “Santarém,” “The Moose,” and “The End of March.” Cleghorn expertly weaves his way through Bishop’s work, noting the various crescendos and decrescendos in her resistance to “emotional excess in art” while reckoning with perspectives offered by Eleanor Cook (Elizabeth Bishop at Work), Alice Quinn (Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke Box) and George S. Lensing (Wallace Stevens, a Poet’s Growth). Cleghorn suggests that Bishop’s poetry, following North & South and A Cold Spring, is the story of an enlivened poetics, one in which Bishop increasingly used variations of tone, syntax, and rhythm to achieve her signature aesthetic.


Panel Two

Andrew Eastman’s (University of Strasbourg) presentation, “Hearing Things,” examines a selection of Bishop’s poems and the reader’s engagement with her poems, focusing on both poetic and natural voice through a Lacanian lens. Bishop’s “The Bight,” “In the Waiting Room,” and “Large Bad Picture,” were included in Eastman’s exploration of how voice is “attached to places,” suggesting “[that] what is seen is inseparable from sound [and] hearing” because voice is both inside and outside language; moreover, “voice in poems must be seen as the echo of another and makes a place to come into.” In “Large Bad Picture,” Eastman discusses the role of sibilance creating an “auditory phenomenon” as the “fricatives bring breath into the poem by both reader and speaker.”


In “Elizabeth Bishop’s Causes for Excess,” Christopher Spaide (Harvard University) illustrates Bishop’s use of exclamation, particularly in her animal poems. The “loudness” or volume of the exclamations contribute to her “linguistic excess [which] morphs into emotional excess.” Spaide provides several detailed instances of what is sometimes a cry, bellow, or brouhaha among different species in Bishop’s “The Moose.” In the last line of stanza twenty-five, a bus passenger exclaims, “Look! It’s a she!” Similarly, in “Roosters,” Bishop’s male domestic fowls create a cacophony “each screaming, ‘This is where I live!’” (line 45). Spaide lends insight on the speech act of exclamation and its relation to sound in Bishop’s work.


Thomas Travisano’s (Hartwick College) “A Very Important Violence of Tone: Bishop’s ‘Roosters’ and Other Poems,” delves into Bishop’s employment of “the mechanisms of violence of tone” in several of her poems including “Roosters,” The Armadillo,” “The Fish,” her signature poem “The Map,” as well as the earlier Vassar poem, “Hymn to the Virgin,” among others. Travisano discussed the contentious correspondence between Bishop and Moore over Bishop’s poem “Roosters” and Bishop’s use of low-pitched diction to depict flashes of violence in the barnyard. With “The Armadillo,” Travisano focused on how Bishop moves from a “tone of subverted gentleness to violence” and claimed that the baby rabbit’s ears are short in the poem because they were burned away by the illegal fire balloon. Discussion ensued following Travisano’s paper as to whether or not the rabbit’s ears were in fact burned, or whether it is possible that there are short-eared rabbits in Brazil. Travisano brings to light the pervasive, often quiet brutality in the images and tones of many of Bishop’s poems.


ALA Boston 2019

The Elizabeth Bishop Society will feature two panels at the annual American Literature Association conference in Boston from May 23-26, 2019:

Bishop and the Literary Archive
Moderator, Bethany Hicok, Williams College, Massachusetts

1. “Elizabeth Bishop and Race in the Archive,” Marvin Campbell, the College of Wooster
2. “’I miss all that bright, detailed flatness’: Bishop in Brevard,” Charla Hughes, Louisiana State University
3. “’All the untidy activity’: Travel & the Picturesque in Bishop’s Writings,” Yaël Schlick, Queens University
4. “The Matter of Bishop’s Professionalism,” Claire Seiler, Dickinson College
5. “’Too Shy to Stop’: Elizabeth Bishop and the Scene of Reading,” Heather Treseler, Worcester State University and Visiting Scholar at the Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center
6. “Odd Job: Bishop’s ‘The Fairy Toll-Taker,’” John Emil Vincent, Montreal-based poet, editor, & archivist

Bishop and Humor
Chair, Angus Cleghorn, Seneca College, Toronto

1. “Luminous Frogs: The Wit of Words in Air,” Thomas Travisano, Hartwick College
2. “’A mystic three-legged carrot’: Comical Absurdities and Apologies in Bishop’s Manuelzinho,” Amy Waite, Roehampton University
3. “Love and Comical Inadequacy,” Rachel Trousdale, Framington State University
4. “’Humorous Elbowings’: Funny Turns in Bishop’s Poems & Stories,” Jonathan Ellis, Sheffield University