100 Years of Bishop

Let me not miss this chance to celebrate Bishop’s achievements in this her centenary year. I can think of no better way than by revisiting, and thinking for a moment about, what makes her poetry so great. There are not quite one hundred finished poems that represent her work; these seem to me more than enough to read and reread for a lifetime of instruction, heartbreak, and delight. The first poem on the first page of her first book–which can be seen by readers of the new Poems in the same appropriate place–is called “The Map.” It’s first stanza reads:

Land lies in water; it is shadowed green.
Shadows, or are they shallows, at its edges
showing the line of long sea-weeded ledges
where weeds hang to the simple blue from green.
Or does the land lean down to lift the sea from under,
drawing it unperturbed around itself?
Along the fine tan sandy shelf
is the land tugging at the sea from under?

–from April Bernard’s review of three new books, collections of Bishop’s poems, prose and letters, from The New York Book Review, March 24, 2011

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