Elizabeth Bishop: Poems Background

Elizabeth Bishop: Poems Background

Elizabeth Bishop was born to become a poet. Like so many of the greatest names in American poetry, Bishop is a New Englander who came into the world in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1911. Almost immediately commenced a series of events of that would throw her life into tumult and thereby serve to shape the style and content of her poetry. Before her first birthday Bishop had already lost her father and four years later she would see her mother for the last time before the older woman’s commitment to a mental institution. She bounced back and forth between Nova Scotia and Boston before graduation from Vassar and the meeting in New York that would change her life.

That meeting was with the noted poet a quarter century her senior, Marianne Moore. With the publication of some poems in Moore’s anthology Trial Balances, Bishop turned her back for good on pursuing medicine as a career and devoted herself to becoming a full time writer.

This decision did little to bring to an end the lifestyle of alienation, disconnectedness and dislocation that marked her formative years. Three years in Europe was followed by residence in Key West where compiled poems for a collection titled North and South which was routinely rejected until finally being accepted and published in 1946. One year later came yet another introduction that would change her life: one of the deans of New England poetry descended from a passenger on the Mayflower: Robert Lowell.

In 1951, the tumultuous life of Elizabeth Bishop took its least like turn yet when a trip to South America turned into eighteen year stay. After falling ill, Bishop found herself stranded in Brazil. While there she fell in love with Lota de Macedo Soares and the two women lived in Rio, Petropolis and Ouro Preto until Soares committed suicide. Bishop moved back to the U.S. following this tragedy, eventually becoming poet-in-residence at Harvard University in 1969, the same year she won the National Book Award for her collected Selected Poems. This honor allowed Bishop to join the club of those poets who had won the two big awards: Poems: North & South—A Cold Spring had previously earned Bishop a Pulitzer Prize in 1956.

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