Readers admire Robert Lowell, entertain a fondness for Marianne Moore, respect Wallace Stevens and T. S. Eliot, become fanatics, a few of them, over Ezra Pound, even compete to join the cult of Sylvia Plath, but they fall helplessly in love, over and over, with Elizabeth Bishop. In the markets of reputation, the past quarter-century has seen the rise of a poet considered by some of her peers as frivolous, whimsical, even trivial. Why has our age become so enamored of a poet who almost to the end of her life required a special taste?

Though she was praised by Lowell and Randall Jarrell, Bishop’s early reviews were less lavish than those lavished on others (“bizarre fantasies,” said one critic of her poems). She later won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, but never campaigned for literary recognition and spent almost half her adult life in Brazil. (Those who hate the hoopla of the literary world find th ...