Dear Members of the PSA,
I wish every single one of you had been in New York on Tuesday, February 8th, for the Elizabeth Bishop centenary bash at Cooper Union. Nine hundred and seventy people were in attendance. It was standing room only in the Great Hall, and the mood was exuberant. On our website, you can access other pictures and discover who read what that night. Here I'd like to share some backstage or "green room" photographs, also taken by Lawrence Schwartzwald. In the photograph of Frank Bidart and James Fenton, please notice the pin on James Fenton's lapel, with a reproduction of the beautiful drawing of a very youthful Bishop by her lifelong friend, Loren MacIver. (It also appears on the back of the new edition of Bishop's Poems.) These pins were made for the participants and other passionate fans of Bishop's by Eleanor Chai Beer, who is working with Richard Howard (pictured here in his splendid orange blazer and snazzy socks) on a volume of the correspondence of Bishop and Marianne Moore.
Backstage, the actress Maria Tucci, Paul Muldoon, and I are scanning a script of excerpts from Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker: The Complete Correspondence, edited by Joelle Biele and just published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Seventeen of the nineteen poems read that evening by the poets on stage were framed by excerpts of Bishop's letters to her editors and theirs to her. Maria Tucci read Bishop's side of the correspondence. I read Katharine White's, and Paul Muldoon was the voice of both William Maxwell and Howard Moss.
Two weeks before, I took a train on the evening of the greatest snowstorm of this winter to date. I was headed to New Haven for the ordination of the poet Spencer Reece, who is now a deacon of the Episcopal Church. Lawrence Schwartzwald and I are now nearly inseparable as you can gather from his beautiful portrait of Spencer in the snow approaching the chapel prior to the sacred and touching ceremony. Years ago, in the 2004 double fiction issue of The New Yorker, the title poem of Spencer's debut volume, "The Clerk's Tale" (chosen by Louise Gluck for the Bakeless Prize) was published on the back page of the magazine. The poem is set in the Mall of America in wintry Minneapolis and describes two salesmen closing up a Brooks Brothers shop at evening's end.
The light is bright and artificial,
Yet not dissimilar to that found in a Gothic cathedral.
It's a beguiling, hauntingly beautiful poem with such fetching and memorable rhymes—among them "octopus," "close," and "Granados." On the way back to New York, the train broke down in Westchester. We sat for eons in the peaceful snowdrift, and after arriving at two a.m. in Grand Central and taking the subway to 14th Street, I walked home to my apartment in the West Village in the bountiful storm, which left the city's streets blessedly empty of moving cars. Walking in the middle of Eighth Avenue brought back memories of the days just following September 11, 2001, when an I.D. was required to enter the neighborhood south of 14th on the West side.
On the train I read the galleys of Meghan O'Rourke's forthcoming memoir, The Long Goodbye, describing her life and that of her father and her two brothers in the time leading up to her mother's death and then in the aftermath of this catastrophe. It's a completely touching and riveting account. Her mother—a magnetic teacher and school administrator for decades here in Brooklyn and later in Connecticut—lives again in scene after scene to win over hearts as she so clearly did all her life. The portraits of Meghan's brothers, Eamon and Liam, of her father, Paul, and of Meghan herself capture their unmistakably winsome individuality and their dignified, devoted interdependence during this time, and they come across as all that a family can be.
On Wednesday, March 29th, we celebrate Mark Seth Lender, the marvelous photographer and writer, who contributes the photographs and field notes that accompany poems in our regular website feature, Birds & Bards. His first book, Salt Marsh Diary, essays about his passionate engagement with the wildlife of the Connecticut shore, will be published that day by St. Martin's, and Mark will be reading from it here at the National Arts Club. We would be delighted to have you join us at six p.m. that evening for both the event and the reception afterwards.