Saturday, May 26, 2007

Looking backwards

It's summer now. I'm done with classes, it's insanely hot outside, and I'm back at an archives and special collections. Temporarily - it's just some extra hours at one of the many fine academic institutions in the greater Boston area. It's good, though. It eases the transition of me not being at the Newberry, as I was last summer and the summer before. Summer is making me miss places, and of course, the people in them. I was in Chicago this past weekend, and my time there was far too short. Of course, the weather was idyllic, and we were driving through the Newberrry's neighborhood, and I just really wanted to get in there page some rare materials for low wages. And last week, I ordered some espresso beans from Heine Brothers' in Louisville, and when I opened the box, I was overcome by a wave of nostalgia. Anyway. Transit continues; I'm moving across the river for the summer, and I'm sure I'll create lots of new opportunities for looking backwards.

One Art - the book of Elizabeth Bishop's letters I've quoted and talked about a lot here - was the book I had on the airplane coming here. This week, I finally came to the end of it, sitting in a park in Brookline. The last couple years of her life obviously weren't the happiest - Robert Lowell had died; she was struggling for money. She died in Boston - she had an apartment near the aquarium - which I'm sure I'll go stalk morbidly, soon. In fact, I might do a walking tour of EB in Boston & Cambridge - she talks about going to the Cafe dello Sport in the North End; she lived in faculty housing at Harvard, etc., etc.

It's sobering to read someone's life from start to finish. Some events feel inevitable; some mistakes are apparent to the reader but obviously not to her. It makes me feel as if I know her, when clearly I don't at all. I know what she wrote to people, and what Robert Giroux selected from that. The saddest part is that all her letters to Lota (her partner, as we'd say today, for many years) were all destroyed by Lota's relatives after her death, except for one very everyday one. I don't know if they'd be that evocative of their relationship, though. When you live with someone, you say all those things to them.

ANYWAY. My obsession will continue when I go to D.C. later this summer and try to look up some of the recordings she made while she was in residence at the Library of Congress. And I'll end here with a quotation from a letter she wrote back to a "fan." Next time I'll write about another recent obsession...Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

"It can't be done, apparently, by willpower and study alone - or by being "with it" - but I really don't know how poetry gets to be written. There is a mystery & a surprise, and after that a great deal of hard work."
-Letter to "Miss Pierce," 28 May 1975.