on 22 June 2015
The way to read any author new to you is to pick up one of the original publications, a first edition in any impression. You see the work as the author and as the original readers first saw it, an artefact of its time. The Library of America offer 'the boxed set', an anthology devoted to one person. The English equivalent would be the inter-war Nonesuch compendiums and the later Reynard Library The Library of America editions have the same advantages of fine paper, good print and sturdy bindings. The Elizabeth Bishop volume is a perfect example of the benefits of this approach. Bishop is one of the rare poets who change sensibility. She did it very quietly and efficiently, bringing the voice of an intelligent woman out of America. Her poems aim at perfection of craftsmanship: for British readers a Larkin rather than a Hughes. She is amusing and witty and thoughtful and touching. Her letters are a delight. The stories are so-so. The book would make a perfect gift for a poetry reader who hasn't previously explored her work but perhaps will have come across The Sandpiper – one of her handful of masterpieces, 'a perfect lyric' as Yeats might (rather impatiently) call it. She would share his impatience. A superb writer; an excellent edition.