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Elizabeth Bishop’s Writings Honored by Library of America

The Library of America is publishing the collected works and letters of celebrated poet Elizabeth Bishop -- marking the first time it has done so for a woman poet. Two of Bishop's friends discuss and read her work.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And finally tonight, today marks the release of a new volume honoring an American master, poet Elizabeth Bishop. Jeffrey Brown has our report.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Elizabeth Bishop was known to take years or even decades to complete a poem and published only about 90 of them in all in a handful of volumes that included "North and South," "Questions of Travel," and "Geography III."

    But each poem, each volume further cemented her renown among her peers. And since her death in 1979, her reputation in the wider public has only grown.

    Bishop was born in Worcester, Mass., in 1911, but was sent at an early age to live with her grandparents in Nova Scotia after her father died and her mother was hospitalized for mental illness. That began a lifetime of travel punctuated by moments of personal loss, as well as achievement.

    Her poetry was first published while she attended Vassar. Bishop lived for several years in Key West, Fla., and many more in Brazil, before spending most of her last years teaching and living in the Boston area.

    Now the Library of America is publishing a collection of Bishop's poems, prose and letters. Only nine poets have been so honored, including Walt Whitman and Robert Frost, and Bishop is the first woman.

    The new Library of America volume was put together by Bishop's long-time editor, Robert Giroux, and her friend and fellow poet, Lloyd Schwartz, who joins me now. He's a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and music critic for the Boston Phoenix.

    Welcome to you.

    LLOYD SCHWARTZ, Co-Editor, "Elizabeth Bishop": Thank you.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Elizabeth Bishop has long had a reputation as a poet's poet. Why was she so beloved by people who write and read poetry?

  • LLOYD SCHWARTZ:

    Well, at first partly because she was such a meticulous writer. She had a wonderful eye when she was able to get into her poems. She saw the world, and she saw it in a very clear and vivid and interesting way.

    People at first, I think, thought she was a kind of miniaturist, but also the perfect miniaturist.

    And then, also, her poems were very moving, and full of feeling, full of a way of looking at the world that was both very precise, but also not pompous, questioning, rather than giving answers to what she saw.

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