Friday, June 29, 2007

Elizabeth Bishop, Maritime Poet

A cutesie little story about a new Elizabeth Bishop historical installation in Great Village, Nova Scotia, the poet's ancestral home.

The arguments over what makes a person, especially a famous person, Canadian or not can be pretty damn tedious. Bishop's usually thought of as an American poet, with no small justice, but her exclusion from most Canadian anthologies has always struck me as perverse. One editor actually told me she didn't include Bishop in her book because Bishop "never had a Canadian passport." If anything, Bishop was a quintessentially American poet, in the broadest sense of the word "American." She had ties not only to New England and Florida, but also to Nova Scotia and to Brazil. What is beyond dispute is that some of her greatest writing is rooted very strongly in the Great Village area. And it's not tourist poetry; she knows the region intimately.

Canada being a loose assembly of regions, I can see why Bishop's been overlooked as a Canadian poet. Maybe had she been writing about the Canadian Shield or the Rockies, she'd be more accepted by our anthologists, who knows? She's certainly not the only Maritime poet to receive short shrift from the canon-builders.

Another reason might be that she's too great a poet to admit to the ranks of Canadian poets; it spoils all our self-loathing special pleading for why we've failed to produce a major poet (speaking of tedious arguments).

Whatever, if you haven't read Bishop, you're missing out. There's a whole pile of her poems online, however, so get crackin'!

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