Cleaning a Fish for the author of The Fish,
This review is from: Complete Poems (Paperback)
I cannot be objective: Bishop was a friend since HS, throughout the Vassar College years and beyond, of my mentor and patron Rhoda Sheehan; in fact, Bishop rented Rhoda's "Hurricane House" that floated over Westport Harbor in the '38 hurricane. That's where I met her once, individually, and asked her about prosody. I never realized until I read a Bishop biography, maybe Remembering Elizabeth Bishop, how much effort Rhoda must have put into getting Bishop to talk to me. She dreaded students, even when she was fairly remunerated out at U WA when she took over a year or two for Roethke.
Fairly remunerated she was not by my humble Bristol Community College (MA), where she gave readings three years in a row in the late 70s, when she'd come back from Brazil--and when her longtime Brazilian friend committed suicide. One of those "readings" she played and discussed sambas--how everyone in Brazil wrote them, the janitor, the poet laureate. She played a few on an old 78 phonograph, to an audience of perhaps 25, while our community college students on break from class were in the next "room" (divided by a supposed wall, movable) playing rock on 6' speakers by their pool table. I recall thinking at the time: One major trouble with modern life is that the wrong people (and interests) have the best megaphones and speakers.
Since Rhoda was her friend, Bishop came to talk for a Department outlay of $100, too low for administrators to care about the event. A decade earlier we had had Ginsberg and even WH Auden (then priced at $3500) to read. By the late 80s, no adminstrator knew the distinguished history of our poetry readings, and when they came up with $1500 inflated dollars to tinvite a Pawtucket poet (with some name, yes), they bragged about "our first prominent poetry reading." We had also, in the 80s, had Marge Piercy from the Cape, and I would invite several including Alan Dugan.
I think Bishop is the Dickinson of my lifetime: low, under the radar of fame and celebration until quite late in her life, though always known to the best editors and people like Roethke. Bishop tinkered with her great vilanelle "One Art" for years at Rhoda Sheehan's Hurricane House--perhaps the central achievement of Westport in verse, though we have housed in summers distinguished profs and critics galore, including from the New Yorker and the NYT.