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Thursday, October 20, 2011 / 11:20 AM

Writers Gather at Wash. U. Sunday to Celebrate Poet Elizabeth Bishop

Writers Gather at Wash. U. Sunday to Celebrate Poet Elizabeth Bishop

Look/Listen has made mention of the mighty poet Marianne Moore more than once, because she's from Kirkwood. But it's not often that we get to mention Moore's friend Elizabeth Bishop, who's also considered one of the finest poets of the 20th Century. Her carefully observed poems about nature, place, and human relationships are so precise, you almost imagine her building them with watchmaker's tools. They also embody the three traits Bishop herself most admired in poems: accuracy, spontaneity and mystery.

Washington University's Special Collections holds a cache of Bishop's coorrespondence, which makes it the perfect place for poet Joelle Beile, author of Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker: The Complete Correspondence, to read some of the poet's letters, and she'll do exactly that this Sunday. Joining her will be Lorin Cuoco of the St. Louis Poetry Center, who will read more letters, followed by readings of Bishop's poems by Wash. U. professors Mary Jo Bang, William Gass, Catherine Rankovic, and Carl Phillips (who is a finalist for this year's National Book Award in poetry).

If you are not privvy to the accurate, spontaneous and mysterious joys of Bishop's poetry, we suggest starting with "The Fish," which is considered one of her masterpieces. (If you want to keep reading, may we also suggest "The Armadillo," and "In the Waiting Room.") And for anyone else out there hankering to write prose about poets, Wash U's Special Collections is filled to the gills with amazing stuff, including more than 250 letters between Bishop and poet May Swenson, plus material related to the lives and work of James Merrill, Sylvia Plath and Samuel Beckett.

For more background on Beile's book, which focuses on Bishop's correspondence with her editors at The New Yorker, check out this piece in the Washington City Paper, or stream this interview with her on NPR's "To the Best of Our Knowledge." William Gass also reviewed her book in the October Harper's; if you are a subscriber, you can access it online here. The reading takes place this Sunday, October 23 at 4 p.m. at Wilson Hall, Room 214 on Wash. U.'s Danforth Campus. It is free and open to the public, and will be followed by a reception at the Ginkgo Reading Room in the Olin Library. For more information, call 314-935-5495 or visit stlouispoetrycenter.org.

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