Elizabeth Bishop was vehement about her art--a perfectionist who didn't want to be seen as a "woman poet." In 1977, two years before her death she wrote, "art is art and to separate writings, paintings, musical compositions, etc., into two sexes is to emphasize values in them that are not
art." She also deeply distrusted the dominant mode of modern poetry, one practiced with such detached passion by her friend Robert Lowell, the confessional.
Bishop was unforgiving of fashion and limited ways of seeing and feeling, but cast an even more trenchant eye on her own work. One wishes this volume were thicker, though the perfections within mark the rightness of her approach. The poems are sublimely controlled, fraught with word play, fierce moral vision (see her caustic ballad on Ezra Pound, "Visits to St. Elizabeths"), and reticence. From the surreal sorrow of the early "Man-Moth" (leaping off from a typo she had come across for "mammoth"), about a lonely monster who rarely emerges from "the pale subways of cement he calls his home," to the beauty of her villanelle "One Art" (with its repeated "the art of losing isn't hard to master"), the poet wittily explores distance and desolation, separation and sorrow.
"Of all the splendid and curious works belonging to my time, these are poems that I love best and tire of least. And there will be no others."--James Merrill, The Washington Post Book World
"Bishop was one of the finest poets this country produced in [the twentieth] century; we are lucky to have all her work collected now in one volume."--Jane Howard, Mademoiselle
"Bishop was not just a good poet but a great one. She accomplished a magical illumination of the ordinary, forcing us to examine our surroundings with the freshness of a friendly alien."--David Lehman, Newsweek
"With their wit, honesty, abundance, imaginative breadth, and prosodic grace . . . thirty or forty of the poems in this book seem as valuable as any written in English since the last war."--Christopher Reid, The Sunday Times (London)