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Sharon Olds and Elizabeth Bishop

Due to my ongoing interest in any and all times Bishopian…

This excerpt is from a review by Moira Richards at Rattle of Dancing at the Devil’s Party: Essays on Poetry, Politics and the Erotic by Alicia Suskin Ostriker:

In another essay, about the work of Elizabeth Bishop and Sharon Olds, “I Am (Not) This: Erotic Discourse in Elizabeth Bishop and Sharon Olds,” Ostriker takes that feminist approach to the way the poetry of those two women is often misread, misunderstood–perhaps “pigeon-holed” is a better word–by patriarchal readings. She looks at marginalisation and argues and illustrates her points with lines of poetry in a way which is both inviting and accessible for a lay reader like me. Perhaps the cornerstone of this essay is her point that:

Bishop mostly evades, Olds mostly asserts erotic connection – but for both, the erotic is a power preceding and defining the self; for both, it exists at the liminal border between language and the unsayable; for both, it abuts on a realm we may call spiritual. Technically, however cool the voice of Bishop, however seemingly overheated the voice of Olds, the metaphors of both poets enact the erotic.


A scanning electron microscope image of a nerve ending. It has been broken open to reveal vesicles (orange and blue) containing chemicals used to pass messages in the nervous system. (Photo: Tina Carvalho)

Sally Reed, friend and artist, left the following quote from Anne Truitt’s Daybook as a comment to the posting below. It is such a powerful concept I couldn’t leave it buried:

The most demanding part of living a lifetime as an artist is the strict discipline of forcing oneself to work steadfastly along the nerve of one’s own intimate sensitivity.

That wise and sober counsel is coupled with another sentence that stopped me in my tracks. This came to me by way of Lisa who is friend, poet and fellow traveler into the deeper folds of Elizabeth Bishop’s life and work. Bishop’s biographer Brett C. Millier (Elizabeth Bishop: Life and the Memory of It) identifies what he considers “may have been the most important single piece of criticism Elizabeth ever received” when Marianne Moore questioned her young protégé about the aesthetic problem of “depth”:

I can’t help wishing you would sometime in some way, risk some unprotected profundity of experience.

One interpretation of this advice is contextual: In the 1930s, Moore was advocating that Bishop turn to the moral and metaphysical Christian critique that was being explored by the philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr. That wasn’t the path that Bishop ended up taking for a number of reasons. But the admonishment as it stands has a powerful call to action. Moore’s phrase, “risk some unprotected profundity of experience” is enough to fill the rest of my day with its implications.

Thanks Sally and Lisa.

Courtesy of Vassar College Library

A group of us are reading Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry and their correspondence with each other. There are aspects of both of them—their sensibilities, quirks, proclivities, struggles, shared glimpses of the interior landscapes—that have taken on an ambience that feels like a permeating fragrance. The oddest details are compelling to me.

Here’s Thomas Mallon in the Atlantic, capturing some of those quirky, memorable details:

He [Lowell] never succeeded in reconciling “the Puritanical iron hand of constraint and the gushes of pure wildness” that he saw within himself. He suffered manic attacks during and just after two of his rare face-to-face visits with Bishop but took pains to keep his mania from infecting the correspondence that he counted on to bring him “color and peace.” On one occasion, fearful of sounding off-kilter, he reassures Bishop, “This is a rushed letter, much more so than my state of mind.” Late in 1967, after Lota committed suicide, Bishop suffered an alcoholic collapse and then a bad fall while visiting Lowell’s New York apartment. It seems to have been easier for each of them to come apart in the other’s presence instead of on the pages of the letters, which became the real and cherished essence of their relationship.

Lowell had, early on, almost proposed marriage to Bishop, and years later he explained, “Asking you is the might have been for me.” In most of the letters, romance remains not so much an undercurrent as a charming above-ground stream of salutations and vocatives: she is his “Darling,” he her “dear boy.” For three decades, they practice a sort of creative courtly love, with Lowell as the knight chevalier, seeking approval of the lady in her faraway jungle tower. A reader of the correspondence may be surprised to find that the carefully banked fires of Bishop’s personality somehow create an even stronger glow than Lowell’s accelerated blazes.

Sharp social and personal observations, from each of them, allow the correspondence to breathe, opening it up beyond guarded confidences and dialogue about their craft. When comparing new works by her college contemporary, Mary McCarthy, with those by her own early mentor, Marianne Moore, Bishop ponders the “strange contrast—Mary so sane and mean; Marianne so mad and good—which do you choose?” In August 1964, just after Flannery O’Connor’s death, Lowell paints a splendid miniature of the southern Catholic writer:

It seems such a short time ago that I met her at Yaddo, 23 or 24, always in a blue jean suit, working on the last chapters of Wise Blood, suffering from undiagnosed pains, a face formless at times, then very strong and young and right.

Flannery O’Connor

The passage exemplifies a quality in Lowell’s writing that Bishop, elsewhere in the letters, remarks upon: the way his prose can be “almost on the point of precipitation into poetry.”

Mallon goes on to share this memorable account:

It is, in fact, a blending of the two that causes the great aesthetic crisis in their correspondence, during the early 1970s, when Lowell gets ready to publish The Dolphin, a volume in which he has altered and versified some of the angry, hurt letters that Elizabeth Hardwick wrote to him after he’d left her for the Irish writer Caroline Blackwood. Aware of his own recklessness, Lowell tells Bishop in February 1972, “I am going to publish, and don’t want advice, except for yours.” Bishop’s slow-starting response—“It’s hell to write this”—turns almost shockingly firm:

One can use one’s life as material—one does, anyway—but these letters—aren’t you violating a trust? IF you were given permission—IF you hadn’t changed them … etc. But art just isn’t worth that much.

Lowell makes some adjustments to the book but does not otherwise desist, and even a year later he has nothing like Bishop’s clarity about the matter. “My sin (mistake?) was publishing,” he writes. “I couldn’t bear to have my book (my life) wait hidden inside me like a dead child.”

Here is Mallon’s closing assessment:

He [Lowell] had once exclaimed, “I seem to spend my life missing you!” and in the early years of their friendship had pondered their impossible geography: “We seem attached to each other by some stiff piece of wire, so that each time one moves, the other moves in another direction. We should call a halt to that.” But the distance between them, and their inability to overcome it except during those widely spaced visits, was actually fate’s gift to them. The letters that separation necessitated—even the ones that crossed in the mails or never arrived—became the connection that Lowell and Bishop were meant to live. Words in Air takes its place—amid the letters of Keats and Hopkins and Owen—as one of the great poetic correspondences. It is also, almost certainly, the last of them.


It is Marvellous to Wake up Together

It is marvellous to wake up together
At the same minute; marvellous to hear
The rain begin suddenly all over the roof,
To feel the air suddenly clear
As if electricity had passed through it
From a black mesh of wires in the sky.
All over the roof the rain hisses,
And below, the light falling of kisses.

An electrical storm is coming or moving away;
It is the prickling air that wakes us up.
If lighting struck the house now, it would run
From the four blue china balls on top
Down the roof and down the rods all around us,
And we imagine dreamily
How the whole house caught in a bird-cage of lightning
Would be quite delightful rather than frightening;

And from the same simplified point of view
Of night and lying flat on one’s back
All things might change equally easily,
Since always to warn us there must be these black
Electrical wires dangling. Without surprise
The world might change to something quite different,
As the air changes or the lightning comes without our blinking,
Change as our kisses are changing without our thinking.

—Elizabeth Bishop

I Am in Need of Music

I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling fingertips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,
Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,
A song to fall like water on my head,
And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!

There is a magic made by melody:
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.

–Elizabeth Bishop

a snippet of Tara Donovan at the ICA Boston, bathed in green

May Swenson (1913-1989) was born in Logan Utah to a Swedish immigrant Mormon family, the eldest of ten children. After finishing college at Utah State University, she moved East, teaching at Bryn Mawr and several other universities. Well respected as a poet during her lifetime, she is known for her proclivity to closely align nature and sexuality. In many of her poems, these two energies are presented as a single, sensual continuum of life force energy.

I have been an admirer of Swenson’s work for some time. But it was only after my friend Elatia sent me her poem Question (see below) that I did some biographical research on Swenson’s life. Turns out we have a slew of communalities. Born in Utah to large Mormon families (it’s a tribal thing), we both ended up with that transgressive “don’t tell me what to do” gene, the one that makes you behave like a misplaced zygote. It’s that energy that drives you out of your homeland to put down roots somewhere else. Like Swenson, nature and sexuality are essential and comingled in my creative process. And not to be overlooked: She was close friends and a great admirer of one of my poet all stars, Elizabeth Bishop.

Here is a sampler of two poems by Swenson. The first is a sensual celebration, the second a bit more sober. I love them both.

Little Lion Face

Little lion face
I stopped to pick
among the mass of thick
succulent blooms, the twice

streaked flanges of your silk
sunwheel relaxed in wide
dilation, I brought inside,
placed in a vase. Milk

of your shaggy stem
sticky on my fingers, and
your barbs hooked to my hand,
sudden stings from them

were sweet. Now I’m bold
to touch your swollen neck,
put careful lips to slick
petals, snuff up gold

pollen in your navel cup.
Still fresh before night
I leave you, dawn’s appetite
to renew our glide and suck.

An hour ahead of sun
I come to find you. You’re
twisted shut as a burr,
neck drooped unconscious,

an inert, limp bundle,
a furled cocoon, your
sun-streaked aureole
eclipsed and dun.

Strange feral flower asleep
with flame-ruff wilted,
all magic halted,
a drink I pour, steep

in the glass for your
undulant stem to suck.
Oh, lift your young neck,
open and expand to your

lover, hot light.
Gold corona, widen to sky.
I hold you lion in my eye
sunup until night.


Body my house
my horse my hound
what will I do
when you are fallen

Where will I sleep
How will I ride
What will I hunt

Where can I go
without my mount
all eager and quick
How will I know
in thicket ahead
is danger or treasure
when Body my good
bright dog is dead

How will it be
to lie in the sky
without roof or door
and wind for an eye

without cloud for shift
how will I hide

Note: Four months before her death, Swenson wrote: “The best poetry has its roots in the subconscious to a great degree. Youth, naivety, reliance on instinct more than learning and method, a sense of freedom and play, even trust in randomness, is necessary to the making of a poem.”

My work has a close relationship to landscape, but it is not a direct one. People often talk about a certain place and say something like, “It is so beautiful, you really can’t capture it in a photograph.” What is it that can’t be captured by a representational process like photography? What exists beyond the ocularcentric view? Some people look “on” or look “at” an object or landscape, but I am trying to look “into.” It’s like getting into the landscape and then viewing it from within.

Coupled with this line of thought is my ongoing curiosity about how the body plays out in the various manifestations of creative exploration. I’ve been haunted for days by the image from Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “The Unbeliever”, by way of Bunyan, of sleeping on top of a mast (see my posting below from April 30th). This image plays out on so many levels–conscious, creative, sexual, spiritual.

One of the books that addresses some of these same concerns is Earth-Mapping by Edward S. Casey. (He has written several other books–Getting Back Into Place: Toward a Renewed Understanding of the Place-World, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History, and Representing Place: Landscape Painting and Maps–all of which I would like to explore as well.) I’m not even half way through Earth Mapping, but his themes are so in line with many of the ideas that have been threading in and out of my consciousness and my work lately.

Casey writes about leading earth artists like Robert Smithson (who created the Spiral Jetty, a personal favorite) as well as how the earth and landscape play an elemental role in the work of abstract artists like Richard Diebenkorn, Jasper Johns and Willem de Kooning. He also addresses the concept of the body and its primal role in that landscape/abstraction connection.

I’ll write more about this topic as I continue my careful progress through the pages of Casey’s book. In the meantime, here is an excerpt that gives a taste of his point of view:

The lived body is at stake throughout. It is the means of being in touch with the earth, whether the actual earth of an actual scene, the imaginary earth of non-representational landscape, or the virtual earth explored by the viewer’s phantom body. The lived body is what affords a “feel” for a given landscape, telling us how it is to be there, how it is to know one’s way around in it. Such a body is at once the organ and the vehicle of the painted or constructed map, the source of “knowing one’s way about,” thus of knowing how we can be said to be acquainted with a certain landscape. This landscape need not be our own; nor need it be the land east of Aix or the fields around St. Remy. As re-presented to us as viewers, the painted or drawn or sculpted map of the landscape allows—invites, indeed sometimes demands—our lived body to enter into intimate accord with the configurations of its smooth space. In this way, we come to know this landscape from within the terms of its own re-presentation. Knowing it by means of this re-incarnate knowing is the root of all subsequent representational knowing; it is the way by which we realize our kinship with the landscape itself. Thanks to the re-presentation—the presentation again of this landscape—we sense just how intimately linked we are with and in this re-implaced earth-world, how much our very “thrownness” is attuned, in mood, with the flesh of the world that we come to know in our own flesh as the world’s flesh.

The Unbeliever

He sleeps on the top of a mast. – Bunyan

He sleeps on the top of a mast
with his eyes fast closed.
The sails fall away below him
like the sheets of his bed,
leaving out in the air of the night the sleeper’s head.

Asleep he was transported there,
asleep he curled
in a gilded ball on the mast’s top,
or climbed inside
a gilded bird, or blindly seated himself astride.

“I am founded on marble pillars,”
said a cloud. “I never move.
See the pillars there in the sea?”
Secure in introspection
he peers at the watery pillars of his reflection.

A gull had wings under his
and remarked that the air
was “like marble.” He said: “Up here
I tower through the sky
for the marble wings on my tower-top fly.”

But he sleeps on the top of his mast
with his eyes closed tight.
The gull inquired into his dream,
which was, “I must not fall.
The spangled sea below wants me to fall.
It is hard as diamonds; it wants to destroy us all.”

Elizabeth Bishop

“He sleeps on the top of a mast.” Like so many of Bishop’s images, this one takes on a life of its own. What is it to sleep on the top of the mast? What gives the image such power?

Common interpretations reference Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress where the Pilgrim Christian comes upon three men fast asleep, with fetters on their heels.

They are Simple, Sloth and Presumption. Christian then seeing them lie in this case went to them, if peradventure he might awake them. And cried, “You are like them that sleep on the top of a mast, for the Dead Sea is under you, a gulf that hath no bottom; awake therefore, and come away; be willing also, and I will help you off with your irons.” He also told them, “If he that goeth about like a roaring lion come by, you will certainly become prey to his teeth.” With that they looked upon him, and began to reply in this sort: Simple said, “I see no danger”; Sloth said, “Yet a little more sleep”; and Presumption said, “Every fat [vessel] must stand upon his own bottom, what is the answer else that I should give thee?” And so they lay down to sleep again, and Christian went on his way. (From James Fenton in the Times Literary Supplement)

Another interpretation draws a parallel to the personal domain of Bishop’s life and her battle with alcoholism.

And it has been noted that the reference to sleeping on the mast of the ship has its origin in the Book of Proverbs…which reads in the original (as the Authorized Version has it): “When shall I awake? I shall seek it again”. The “it” that the sleeper on the mast intends to seek again is wine, and the passage that it belongs to is a warning against drink (Proverbs 23: 29–35). Here it is as given in the Geneva Bible (which Bunyan used, in addition to the Authorized Version):

31 Looke not thou upon the wine, when it is red, and when it sheweth his colour in the cuppe, or goeth down pleasantly. 32 In the ende thereof it will bite like a serpent, and hurt like a cockatrise. 33 Thine eyes shall looke upon strange women, and thine heart shall speake lewde things. 34 And thou shalt bee as one that sleepeth in the middes of the sea, and as he that sleepeth in the top of the mast. 35 They have stricken me, shalt thou say, but I was not sicke: they have beaten me, but I knew not, when I awoke: therefore will I seeke it yet still.

This vivid evocation of habitual drunkenness gives us a sense of the biblical meaning of “sleeping at the top of the mast”; it is one of two parallel impossibilities – the drunkard is like one who sleeps in the middle of the sea, or who sleeps above the sea. (The Geneva Bible explains the first part of verse 34 as implying “In such great danger shalt thou be”.) Sleeping at the top of the mast would be both precarious and giddy-making; nevertheless the drunkard prefers sleep to waking, and so, if he does wake up, he will drink himself back into a stupor. As the Geneva note puts it, “Though drunkenness make them more insensible then beasts yet they can not refraine”. (Fenton)

Secular interpretations also abound. Harold Bloom claims this as one of his favorite poems. “I walk around, certain days, chanting ‘The Unbeliever’ to myself, it being one of those rare poems you never evade again, once you know it (and it knows you)”

The five stanzas of “The Unbeliever”, says Bloom, are essentially variations on the Bunyan epigraph. “Bunyan’s trope concerns the condition of unbelief; Bishop’s does not.” Quite how he could be so sure he does not say, but he continues: “Think of the personae of Bishop’s poem as exemplifying three rhetorical stances, and so as being three kinds of poet, or even three poets: cloud, gull, unbeliever. The cloud is Wordsworth or Stevens. The gull is Shelley or Hart Crane. The unbeliever is Dickinson or Bishop”. No doubt generations of diligent students have been recycling this taxonomy of poets ever since. (Fenton)

While intellectually informative and provocative, these variations cannot capture the essence of the image in a clear and encompassing manner. For me, this image is dream-like, with a prophetic warning about staying close to the earth. What takes us out, to sleep on the top of the mast so to speak, is a highly personal question.

Bishop’s gift is a mysterious ability to empower the most commonplace into something extraordinary, repeatedly transforming images and bringing them into another dimension and realm.

“I am very object-struck…. I simply try to see things afresh,” Bishop said about herself in an interview. “I have a great interest and respect…for what people call ordinary things. I am very visually minded and mooses and filling stations aren’t necessarily commonplace to me.”


Caught — the bubble
in the spirit level,
a creature divided;
and the compass needle
wobbling and wavering,
Freed — the broken
thermometer’s mercury
running away;
and the rainbow-bird
from the narrow bevel
of the empty mirror,
flying wherever
it feels like, gay!

Elizabeth Bishop

And if you are so inclined, here is a short commentary on the poem by Lloyd Schwartz, co-editor of the new Library of America volume on Bishop:


“Sonnet,” with its unusually short lines, is a playfully bottom-heavy inversion of the traditional sonnet form. Bishop’s octave (including two images of being “freed”) follows rather than precedes the sestet, with its two images of being “caught” (thereby giving more room to being free than to being trapped). Many of the rhymes (and delicious half rhymes) come not where you’d expect them or where they’re supposed to be — that is, the rhyming pair doesn’t always appear at the end of a line: “bird” rhymes with “freed”; “rainbow” and “narrow” fall mid-line; the rhyme in “thermometer’s mercury” comes at the beginning rather than at the end of the words. Like the “moon in the bureau mirror” in her poem “Insomnia” (1951), which looks out at a world “inverted,” the newfound freedom depicted in “Sonnet” (including a liberation from traditional form) presents a topsy-turvy solution, an upside-down resolution, that doesn’t fit the usual formula.

This solution, this resolution, is death — the solution to all conflict, to all illness, to all decision-making, to all the claims and pulls that upset the balance of one’s life. The more you know about Bishop, the more directly autobiographical this poem begins to seem. She was, like the bubble in the spirit level, “a creature divided,” both accepting and nervous about her homosexuality (she said she wanted to restore the last word of the poem, “gay!,” to what she called its “original” non-sexual meaning), needing to drink yet ashamed of her self-destructive compulsion (in the version of the poem published in The New Yorker, the line “a creature divided” appears as “contrarily guided”). She loved living in Brazil, away from New York literary politics and gossip, yet it was hard for her to be separated from her native country and language, and from the recognition of her admirers. “Dear, my compass/still points North,” begins a love poem she wrote in Brazil but never published, still wavering about her true home. And she was never completely convinced that her poems had any lasting value.

The “rainbow-bird” in the last and most complex image of “Sonnet” is clearly self-referential. “Rainbow” is a key Bishop word. Her most famous poem, “The Fish,” ends with the ecstatic “rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!” (and with another one of her rare exclamation points), as she prepares to set free the tremendous fish she caught (another trapped creature). In “Song for the Rainy Season,” her love poem about the house she and her Brazilian companion were living in way up in the mountains outside of Rio, she calls the landscape “rainbow-ridden.”

Hidden, oh hidden
in the high fog
the house we live in,
beneath the magnetic rock,
rain-, rainbow-ridden,
where blood-black
bromelias, lichens,
owls, and the lint
of the waterfalls cling,
familiar, unbidden.

The most poignant — and frightening — image in “Sonnet” is the empty mirror. Always shy and self-conscious, Bishop hated the way she looked, hated looking at herself. She’d grown heavier from the years of cortisone she had to take for her asthma; her hair had turned gray. She felt old and bloated, though everyone else thought she looked more elegant than ever. I was visiting her the day her copy of Richard Howard’s coffee-table anthology Preferences arrived, with a beautiful full-page photograph of her by Thomas Victor. She excused herself, went into her bedroom, and tore the page with the photograph out of the book. She would have preferred to look into an empty mirror, even given the sinister implications.

Bishop had been plagued by various illnesses all her life, from persistent eczema (like a pink dog?) to the chronic, sometimes life-threatening asthma for which she was repeatedly hospitalized. In the 1970s her beloved Aunt Grace, in Nova Scotia, was showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Bishop was morbidly worried about an old age of illness after lingering illness, and was terrified of becoming senile. I think if she could have known that she would die of an aneurysm, suddenly and without warning, at sixty-eight, as she was putting on her shoes to go out to dinner, she’d have lived a happier life.

Though she had been in relatively good health at the time she wrote “Sonnet,” dying seemed increasingly on her mind. In these lines from another unpublished love poem, “Breakfast Song,” from 1974, she wrote:

Last night I slept with you.
Today I love you so
how can I bear to go
(as soon I must, I know)
to bed with ugly death
in that cold, filthy place,
to sleep there without you,
without the easy breath
and nightlong, limblong warmth
I’ve grown accustomed to?
— Nobody wants to die;
tell me it is a lie!
But no, I know it’s true.
It’s just the common case;
there’s nothing one can do.

Here she raises the disturbing idea that someone might actually want to die. But — in love — she talks herself out of it. “Breakfast Song” reveals feelings, especially sexual feelings, that were probably too personal for Bishop to allow herself to make public. In “Sonnet,” however, she finally confronts, though with characteristic indirectness, her death wish, her desire for the freedom death brings.

To hear several different poets read “Sonnet”, go to Soundings.


The Library of America has just released a new volume on Elizabeth Bishop. I have several others from the LOA series and find the quaintness of these publications comforting–the smaller size, the simple glossy black cover, the onionskin-thin paper, the bookmark cord supplied for you to employ immediately at your favorite spot. Having this carefully selected compilation of her poems, prose and letters all in one simple and elegant volume feels like a miniature universe.

Robert Pinsky wrote a review recently and praised the editorial choices made by Robert Giroux and Lloyd Schwartz. Here’s an excerpt:

Certain great art establishes only gradually the kind of wide, deep appeal known as “classic.” Such art may be perceived at first as merely popular, like the work of William Shakespeare and Duke Ellington, and eventually acquire critical esteem. Other works may at first appear peculiar and arcane, like those of Vincent van Gogh or Emily Dickinson, and then for later generations come to seem universally, immediately appealing.

Elizabeth Bishop’s poems have taken a middle course, quietly attracting a diverse following that has grown steadily…Bishop’s “One Art” may be the most quoted and most memorized poem in many generations. And it, too, is sometimes reproduced without legal permission, in blogs or albums. Bishop’s poetry has been set to music by distinguished composers like Elliott Carter, and it has been incorporated into trashy pop songs. Academic critics and high school students, feminists and curmudgeons, fellow poets as different as Frank O’Hara and James Merrill – all have embraced this sharp-edged, slyly elegant work, with its way of interlacing the domestic and the volcanic…

Bishop’s great characteristic subject: the pulsing, rock-melting heat and pressure inside a person, under the thin, still crust of custom. Even her love poems are about isolation, tentatively or temporarily overcome…

Fascinated by a dull, normal, genteel world she could imitate but never really join, Bishop wrote in a super-refined, transformed version of that world’s speech. Thanks to the meticulous editing of Robert Giroux and Lloyd Schwartz, her range and peculiarity are demonstrated in this volume that puts Bishop’s poetry into the context of her essays, stories, and personal correspondence.

The book supplies a satisfying sense of knowing the poet and an equally satisfying sense of inexhaustible, mysterious genius, flashing by before it can be entirely defined.

(You can read the full review on Slate.)