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This collection is a magnificent confirmation of Lowell's prediction. From several thousand letters, written over fifty years - from 1928 when she was seventeen (and already a poet) to the day of her death, in Boston in 1979 - Robert Giroux, her editor during her lifetime, has selected over 500 and has written a detailed and informative introduction. In one sense, Elizabeth Bishop's letters constitute her autobiography, including the story of her love for Lota Soares in Brazil, which ended with Lota's tragic suicide fifteen years later. They also record her intense relationships with her early mentor Marianne Moore and later with Robert Lowell. For Bishop, letter-writing was a joy and a necessity, an embodiment of the links between people, but also a facet of her art, conjuring the world in words. Some letters are carefully composed, elegant in style; some are spontaneous and witty, alive with unexpected detail; some contain poems sent as gifts; others are cries from the heart. Sometimes she ponders on her childhood, on her struggle to create, or to resist drink, but more often she responds fully and vividly to the immediate moment, the color of the sky, the books she has been reading, the friend she misses, the meal she is cooking, the toucan or cat she is observing, the room she is painting in a Harlequinade pattern of big colored diamonds. One Art takes us behind Bishop's formal sophistication and reserve, displaying to the full the gift for friendship, the striving for perfection, and the passionate, questing, rigorous spirit that made her a great poet.
Elizabeth Bishop (1911-79) won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award.