A new biography of one of the greatest American poets of the 20th century reveals just how she learned to marry her talent for life with her talent for writing in order to create a brilliant array of poems, prose, and letters.
Travisano crafts a masterly biography that explores the enduring tension between the 'mannerly correctness' and passion characteristic of the life and work of Elizabeth Bishop ... unfolds the many layered interconnections between Bishop’s poetry and close relationships with fellow writers, artists, friends, and lovers, with sympathy, subtlety, and acute attention to detail, especially when revealing Bishop’s quests for meaning in her extensive travels, illuminated through her words—always alongside what she had lost or feared to lose. Focusing on literary influences such as Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell, as well as the Brazilian writers who captivated Bishop later in her career, Travisano securely positions his subject in conversation with major literary figures without losing sight of her more intimate, quieter relationships ... This definitive account of Bishop’s contributions to American letters will attract both casual readers of her poetry as well as academics with more specialized knowledge of her work.
Her life was good, at least viewed from this side of her biography ... Bishop has never lacked good biographers, but Travisano has written a readable, appreciative book that does not analyze Bishop’s poems so much as read them out loud, admiring each line and beat. In fact, reading it is almost as enjoyable as reading one of Bishop’s strange and marvelous poems—or encountering her moose on a dark road late at night.
Modern literary biographers don’t always indulge in muckraking, but they do tend to focus on earthy as well as ethereal matters ... Still, one of the many strengths of Thomas Travisano’s absorbing new biography of the poet is its tact ... Travisano finds in Bishop’s poetry, fiction, and letters, and his own research, a writer who became, as he puts it, 'the archaeologist of her own history' ... Travisano quotes well, and everywhere you sense his sympathetic relish for what Bishop termed 'the always-more-successful surrealism of everyday life' ... [Bishop's] life may be, in part, a story about the art of losing, but Bishop had more than one art ... and Travisano vividly portrays the highs as well as the lows of her relationships with the women in her life ... Travisano draws on many sources, but he gives primacy to Bishop’s correspondence, and he’s right to call her one of the most enthralling letter writers of her age.