Love unknown The life and worlds of Elizabeth Bishop

Thomas Travisano, 1951-

Book - 2019

"Poets of the twentieth century Elizabeth Bishop's friend James Merrill once observed that 'Elizabeth had more talent for life--and for poetry--than anyone else I've known.' This new biography reveals just how she learned to marry her talent for life with her talent for writing in order to create a brilliant array of poems, prose, and letters--a remarkable body of work that would make her one of America's most beloved and celebrated poets. In Love Unknown, Thomas Tr...avisano, founding president of the Elizabeth Bishop Society, tells the story of the famous poet and traveler's life. Bishop moved through extraordinary mid-twentieth century worlds with relationships among an extensive international array of literati, visual artists, musicians, scholars, and politicians--along with a cosmopolitan gay underground that was then nearly invisible to the dominant culture. Drawing on fresh interviews and newly discovered manuscript materials, Travisano illuminates that the 'art of losing' that Bishop celebrated with such poignant irony in her poem 'One Art'--perhaps her most famous--was linked in equal part to an 'art of finding,' Bishop's art and life having been devoted to the sort of encounters and epiphanies that so often appear in her work"--

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BIOGRAPHY/Bishop, Elizabeth
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Subjects
Genres
Biographies
Published
[New York, New York] : Viking [2019]
Language
English
Physical Description
422 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages [391]-409) and index.
ISBN
9780525428817
052542881X
Main Author
Thomas Travisano, 1951- (author)
  • Between two worlds
  • The country mouse
  • Were we all touched by Midas?
  • Wading in the mud of the celestial gardens
  • Walnut Hill
  • Con spirito
  • This strange world of travel
  • The state with the prettiest name
  • As our kisses are changing
  • The prodigal
  • Too many waterfalls
  • Samambaia
  • "O Prêmio Pulitzer!"
  • Apartment in Leme
  • No coffee can wake you
  • Breakfast song
  • The rainbow-bird
  • All the untidy activity continues.
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* As founding president of the Elizabeth Bishop Society, it is not surprising that Travisano has an intimate grasp of Bishop's life and poetry. What is surprising is how utterly captivating his biography is, let alone his illuminating, interwoven analysis of her work. Travisano considers Bishop's writing in the context of each life event, from the childhood trauma of her father's death and mother's subsequent mental breakdown to the loneliness of being shuttled from Nova Scotia to Massachusetts, one family member to another, and school to school. Other key elements include attending Vassar and acquiring Marianne Moore as a mentor, Bishop's friendship with Robert Lowell, extensive travels, love affairs, and life in Brazil. Despite Bishop's knowledge of abandonment and loss, she found a sense of home in different places, a sense of family with lovers, friends, and devoted correspondents, and understanding and acceptance in artistic and gay communities. Just as a young Bishop's reading of a book about the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley inspired her to seek simultaneous immersion in his writing, so too, will Travisano's biography spark desire to engage with Bishop's extraordinary poems. Though not prolific, Bishop perfected her craft and left the powerful body of work so well explored here, assuring her place among the best of twentieth-century poets. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Drawing on a lifetime of scholarship, founding president of the Elizabeth Bishop Society Travisano (emeritus, English, Hartwick Coll.; Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell) crafts a masterly biography that explores the enduring tension between the "mannerly correctness" and passion characteristic of the life and work of the Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning poet Elizabeth Bishop (1911–79). Taking its title from a George Herbert poem, the volume unfolds the many layered interconnections between Bishop's poetry and close relationships with fellow writers, artists, friends, and lovers, with sympathy, subtlety, and acute attention to detail, especially when revealing Bishop's quests for meaning in her extensive travels, illuminated through her words—always alongside what she had lost or feared to lose. Focusing on literary influences such as Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell, as well as the Brazilian writers who captivated Bishop later in her career, Travisano securely positions his subject in conversation with major literary figures without losing sight of her more intimate, quieter relationships. VERDICT This definitive account of Bishop's contributions to American letters will attract both casual readers of her poetry as well as academics with more specialized knowledge of her work.—Emily Bowles, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison Copyright 2019 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Drawing on an extraordinary level of archival access, Travisano (editor of Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence of Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell), a professor emeritus of English at Hartwick College, offers a definitive biography–cum–literary study of Elizabeth Bishop (1911–1979). As Travisano asserts, even "her more elusive or enigmatic poems... seem almost transparent when biographical insights are sensitively applied." Familial traumas (her father's death when she was an infant and her mother's struggles with mental illness) and a disrupted childhood spent being passed among various relatives found reflection in poems such as "Sestina," which describes her realization that her mother had been institutionalized. Travisano follows Bishop's career through her earliest juvenilia; her blossoming years at Vassar (1929–1934); her friendships with other poets, such as Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell; and her many travels—most significantly, the intended two-week stay in Brazil that stretched into 14 years, chronicled in the major work Questions of Travel (1965). Travisano also tracks Bishop's accumulating honors—a 1946 Guggenheim Fellowship, 1956 Pulitzer Prize, and 1970 National Book Award—and deepening renown among her peers. Explaining how a writer who published barely a hundred poems during her lifetime left a lasting imprint on later generations of poets, Travisano's essential volume illuminates Bishop's life and, most valuably, her work. (Nov.) Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Shedding new light on one of the greatest American poets of the 20th century, this biography shows how she was able to marry her talent for life with her talent for writing in order to create a brilliant array of poems, prose and letters. Illustrations.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

"Poets of the twentieth century Elizabeth Bishop's friend James Merrill once observed that 'Elizabeth had more talent for life--and for poetry--than anyone else I've known.' This new biography reveals just how she learned to marry her talent for life with her talent for writing in order to create a brilliant array of poems, prose, and letters--a remarkable body of work that would make her one of America's most beloved and celebrated poets. In Love Unknown, Thomas Travisano, founding president of the Elizabeth Bishop Society, tells the story of the famous poet and traveler's life. Bishop moved through extraordinary mid-twentieth century worlds with relationships among an extensive international array of literati, visual artists, musicians, scholars, and politicians--along with a cosmopolitan gay underground that was then nearly invisible to the dominant culture. Drawing on fresh interviews and newly discovered manuscript materials, Travisano illuminates that the 'art of losing' that Bishop celebrated withsuch poignant irony in her poem 'One Art'--perhaps her most famous--was linked in equal part to an 'art of finding,' Bishop's art and life having been devoted to the sort of encounters and epiphanies that so often appear in her work"--

Review by Publisher Summary 3

An illuminating new biography of one of the greatest American poets of the twentieth century, Elizabeth Bishop"Love Unknown points movingly to the many relationships that moored Bishop, keeping her together even as life—and her own self-destructive tendencies—threatened to split her apart.” —The Wall Street Journal Elizabeth Bishop's friend James Merrill once observed that "Elizabeth had more talent for life—and for poetry—than anyone else I've known." This new biography reveals just how she learned to marry her talent for life with her talent for writing in order to create a brilliant array of poems, prose, and letters—a remarkable body of work that would make her one of America's most beloved and celebrated poets. In Love Unknown, Thomas Travisano, founding president of the Elizabeth Bishop Society, tells the story of the famous poet and traveler's life. Bishop moved through extraordinary mid-twentieth century worlds with relationships among an extensive international array of literati, visual artists, musicians, scholars, and politicians—along with a cosmopolitan gay underground that was then nearly invisible to the dominant culture. Drawing on fresh interviews and newly discovered manuscript materials, Travisano illuminates that the "art of losing" that Bishop celebrated with such poignant irony in her poem, "One Art," perhaps her most famous, was linked in equal part to an "art of finding," that Bishop's art and life was devoted to the sort of encounters and epiphanies that so often appear in her work.