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Features

May 1994

One life, one art: Elizabeth Bishop in her letters

by Elizabeth Spires

If an unknown poet were to be offered a sort of cosmic bargain where he or she would live the life Elizabeth Bishop lived in return for the poems she wrote, I doubt there would be many takers. From infancy on, Bishop suffered some of the worst losses imaginable. Her father, a prosperous builder from a wealthy New England family, died in 1911 when she was eight months old. Her Canadian mother then suffered a series of nervous breakdowns that led to her permanent institutionalization in an asylum in Halifax when Elizabeth was five; Bishop never saw her again. Cared for first by her maternal grandparents in Great Village, Nova Scotia, a relatively secure and happy time, she lived briefly and quite unhappily with her paternal grandparents in Worcester, Massachusetts, and then with a favorite aunt until she was old enough to go away to boarding school. From childhood on, she suffered from terrible asthma and allergies; in her twenties and thirties, after ...

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Elizabeth Spires' new book of poems, The Wave-Maker, was published by Norton in July 2008.


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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 12 May 1994, on page 18

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On May 5, 2014, The New Criterion and PJ Media presented the second Walter Duranty Prize for Journalistic Mendacity. The award is given to highlight egregious examples of dishonest reporting. Also awarded this year was the Rather, a new award for lifetime achievement in mendacious journalism.
The Duranty Prize is named after Walter Duranty, the New York Times Moscow corresponded in the 1920s and 1930s who whitewashed Joseph Stalin’s forced starvation of the Ukrainians (the Holodomor) and many other aspects of Soviet oppression. Duranty was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for his efforts. It has never been revoked.
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