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Elizabeth Bishop at Work Hardcover – August 15, 2016
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Do we need another book about Elizabeth Bishop? It’s a good question after all the critical attention she has received. But very few critics have been able to get inside Bishop’s work, and Eleanor Cook does just that. Grasping the subtle relationship between Bishop’s technique and sensibility, she has produced a comprehensive guide to her poetry that will be useful and generative for readers of all sorts. If this is the new book in question, we definitely need one. (Langdon Hammer, author of James Merrill: Life and Art)
Full of quiet revelations, Elizabeth Bishop at Work contains sage advice for readers, practicing poets, really for all lovers of poetry. This is the definitive book on Bishop's work and career. (David Mikics, author of Slow Reading in a Hurried Age)
Cook, an eminent University of Toronto literary scholar, takes on one of the great 20th-century poets and offers a new perspective informed by her own poetic sensibility and skill at close reading. She examines Bishop’s art in detail―her diction, syntax, rhythm and meter, her sense of place and her alertness to the natural world―as well as her determination to push boundaries throughout her career in a study that is at once personal, partisan, rigorous and revelatory. (Times Higher Education 2016-08-11)
Cook’s chronological examination of Bishop’s books, and the far-reaching connections she makes, facilitate more nuanced readings of Bishop’s later work…Her expertise and breadth of approach are as expansive as Bishop’s poetry is allusive. (Bardia Sinaee Literary Review of Canada 2016-09-01)
Cook’s most striking and persuasive discussions address how Bishop shaped and unified each discrete volume of verse, an evolution that marks her growing maturity as a conscious poetic craftswoman…Written in a lucid, uncluttered, sometimes personal style, this is an invaluable addition to the ever-expanding literature on Bishop. (K. P. Ljungquist Choice 2017-02-01)
[Cook] is one of Bishop’s most attentive readers. (Jonathan Galassi New York Review of Books 2017-05-11)
About the Author
Eleanor Cook is Professor Emerita in the Department of English at the University of Toronto.
Top customer reviews
Eleanor Cook's new book, "Elizabeth Bishop at Work" is an indispensable addition to this recent deluge of Bishop scholarship. Somewhat confusingly titled, this new volume is not a biography or even an analysis of Bishop's poetic method. It is instead a thoughtful, thorough and clearly-written look at Bishop's poems.
The book is well-organized, with chapters corresponding to volumes of poetry that Bishop published in her lifetime. There are close readings of poems that Cook deems especially worthy (Bishop's fine poem "The Moose" receives several pages of analysis) but some poems are commented on only briefly. In addition, there are interspersed chapters that discuss Bishop's diction, her tone, and her sense of place. In sum, Cook does an excellent job of covering the breadth of Bishop's poetic art. Bishop is not a particularly allusive or difficult poet, and her work benefits less from this kind of treatment than a more cryptic poet, say Wallace Stevens. (See A Reader's Guide to Wallace Stevens - also by Cook.) Nevertheless, Cook's systematic approach and clear exposition sent me back to read again poems that I have known and loved for years. You can't really ask for anything more from a work like this.
A final comment is necessary. Cook's volume is in direct competition with a recent work by novelist Colm Toibin, "On Elizabeth Bishop." Toibin's book, part of the Writers on Writers series is thinner, more biographical and features more musical prose. It takes an idiosyncratic look at Bishop while Cook takes a systematic view. Both books do their subject justice and Toibin's is perhaps the more enjoyable read. But it is Cook's volume that will sit on the shelf next to Bishop's Complete Poems and to which I will return again and again.