THE COLLECTED PROSE by Elizabeth Bishop


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Previously unpublished non-fiction pieces and uncollected short stories by poet Bishop, who died in 1979. The non-fiction is the prime attraction here: it has about it the rhythmic equability and perfect clarity that you find in a good watercolor--impressions filled with a non-burning, neighborly light. There are lovely atmospheric sketches of Key West and Brazil, a humorous remembrance of a post-college job as a correspondent for a shady writers' school. (""Henry James once said that he who would aspire to be a writer must inscribe on his banner the one word 'Loneliness.' In the case of my students, their need was not to ward off society, but to get into it. Their problem was that on their banners 'Loneliness' has been inscribed despite them, and so they aspire to be writers."") And even better is a memoir of Marianne Moore's stupendous collection of eccentricities--revealing the high art of detail that is purposely left unarranged, unranked, with no element given more importance than any other. Admittedly, this same subtle, side-by-side approach is less successful in Bishop's fiction: the eight stories here (three of which originally appeared in The New Yorker) often seem fey and unnatural. But, throughout, anyone familiar with Bishop's meticulous, accumulative poetry will recognize the language of her prose--making this collection a useful addition to the Bishop canon and (in the case of the Moore memoir) elegant literary-world entertainment.

Pub Date: Jan. 20th, 1983
ISBN: 0374518556
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux