Roger Pettit's Reviews > The Complete Poems, 1927-1979

The Complete Poems, 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop
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M 50x66
's review
Mar 10, 2012

really liked it

Elizabeth Bishop's childhood was typical of that experienced by many great artists: it was suffused with tragedy. Her father died before she had her first birthday. Her mother was mentally ill. As a result, Elizabeth spent her formative years living with various relatives, some of whom were not kind or friendly to her. This may account for the cool, impersonal style of much of her poetry, most of which is collected in this very good book.

Elizabeth Bishop's poetry demonstrates her great perception and insight and her very good sense of place. A typical poem of hers begins with someone (usually unnamed) arriving somewhere - a garage, a beach, a city or a fishing village - and then goes on to describe what that person thinks, sees and feels. Quite a few of her poems are set in Brazil, where Elizabeth lived for over 15 years. Her poems are complex and deep - and reveal new insights on being read a second, third, fourth etc. time. Amongst my favourites are: Paris, 7 A.M.; One Art and Filling Station.

Paris, 7 A.M. is a somewhat surreal poem about an introspective, sensitive person who moves around a Parisian apartment looking at the clocks there and then out of the window at the exterior courtyard and up at the sky. One Art is a beautiful and sensuous elegy about sorrow and loss. And Filling Station describes a visit to an isolated, dirty garage that is located in the back of beyond and at which the man who runs it apparently lives with his family. It is hard to describe why these - and many of the other poems in this collection - are so good. I think it is Elizabeth Bishop's exceptional powers of observation and marvellous sense of place that appeal to me particularly. Whatever the reason, this is a very good poetry collection that is well worth reading. 8/10.

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