Elizabeth Bishop centennial

To celebrate the centennial of the birth of Elizabeth Bishop, some of her previously unpublished writing is being released.

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    On her 100th birthday, Bishop is being honored as a major force in American poetry.
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After 100 years, who couldn’t use a facelift?

That seems to be the idea behind a new line of Elizabeth Bishop books being released today to mark the centennial of Bishop’s birth. The publishing project repackages material from previous books but also includes other material that hasn’t been brought between covers before. The book releases coincide with public celebrations of Bishop’s birthday centennial this week in New York City and Boston.

Born in Worcester, Mass. on Feb. 8, 1911, Bishop had become known as one of America’s leading poets before her death in Boston on Oct. 6, 1979. Bishop also penned a number of prose pieces, including travelogue, and she was a boundlessly prolific letter writer, too.

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Farrar, Straus and Giroux is releasing three books today that hint at Bishop’s productivity across multiple genres.

Poems,” issued in a $16 softcover, includes all of the poems that Bishop saw into print and a selection of unfinished, posthumously published work.

Prose,” a $20 softcover, features pieces from an earlier collection of Bishop’s prose, but also includes – for the first time – the original draft of “Brazil,” a travelogue that she repudiated in its initially published version after a dispute over editorial changes.

A third book, “Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker: The Complete Correspondence,” collects within a $35 hardcover the letters that Bishop exchanged over many years with New Yorker editors Charles Pearce, Katharine White, and Harold Moss. The magazine frequently published Bishop’s work and greatly enhanced her profile.

Although Bishop was born in Massachusetts and eventually died there, family circumstances and a wandering spirit took her far beyond her native state. After her father died and her mother was committed to a mental asylum, Bishop was sent to live with her mother’s parents in Nova Scotia, and she later lived with her father’s family in Worcester and Boston. Stints in Europe and Florida followed, and she lived for many years in Brazil after falling ill there in 1951 and decided to extend her stay.

The physical and emotional displacements of Bishop's youth often gave her poems the distinct perspective of an outsider, and her work is known for its detached, exactingly precise sense of observation. A protégé of the poet Marianne Moore, Bishop also embraced Moore's sharp attention to the natural world.

For readers who want to know more about Bishop’s life and work, the Academy of American Poets offers a brief biography of the poet and a sampling of her poems.

Readers in the New York City and Boston areas can also sample her work at two public readings this week. On Tuesday, Feb. 8, at 7 pm, The Great Hall at New York City's Cooper Union will feature 20 poets, each reading a favorite Bishop poem. More information is available at the site of the Poetry Society.

On Thursday night at 7, another group of poets will gather at the Jacob Sleeper Auditorium at Boston University to read from Bishop’s poetry.

Both events are free and open to the public.

Danny Heitman, a columnist for The Baton Rouge Advocate, is the author of “A Summer of Birds: John James Audubon at Oakley House.”

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