Bibliography: Uncollected Poems

This article and following bibliography originally appeared as:

Thomas Travisano. "Bishop’s Uncollected Poems: A Bibliography." The Elizabeth Bishop Bulletin 8:2 (Winter 2000): 2-4.

Bishop’s Uncollected Poems: A Bibliography

by Thomas Travisano

When Robert Lowell visited his longtime friend Elizabeth Bishop at her studio perched high on a cliffside at Samambaia, the estate of her companion Lota de Macedo Soares, he was struck by the extent and promise of the many poems she had in progress. He later evoked in a famous poetic tribute those many words that "hang…in air, ten years / unfinished, glued to your notice board, with gaps / or empties for the unimaginable phrase." In a 12 August 1963 letter, Lowell confessed that "Still I brood about all those rich unfinished fragments, such a fortune in the bank…. You mustn't waver in knowing how much you have."

Bishop's scholars have shown a similar fascination with the unpublished and uncollected work of the poet Lowell addressed as his "unerring Muse who makes the casual perfect." This scholarly interest stems partly from the sheer literary quality of these uncollected poems and fragments—for Bishop reveals unique flashes of brilliance in even her most fragmentary creation. Another lure are the revealing insights these poems offer into aspects of Bishop as a writer and person that are only hinted at in the established canon: her wide-ranging friendships, her amatory imagination, her literary and artistic engagements, and her involvement with politics, particularly Brazilian politics. Moreover, these poems offer many imaginative glimpses into otherwise undocumented travels, observations, dreams, and childhood memories. It is surely ironic that Bishop, during her lifetime chiefly celebrated as a minor master of poetic "finish," should posthumously emerge as a major poet whose complex oeuvre remains—in several senses—actively unfinished.

Bishop's publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, has commissioned new volume of her uncollected poetry, edited by Alice Quinn and tentatively titled "Edgar Allan Poe and the Jukebox," after one of Bishop's intriguing unpublished fragments. As we await the publication of this work-in-progress, it seems timely to document prior publications of this intriguing secondary canon. Unfinished poems by Bishop have appeared as separate publications, in a number of journals, including The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, Gettysburg Review, Georgia Review, Western Humanities Review and Conjunctions. But a still greater number, including many unfinished poems and fragments of great interest, have so far appeared solely as citations embedded in memoirs, biographies, and critical books and articles on Bishop. To do justice to the range of the discussion, and to make the study of these poems more accessible, I have striven to document these many embedded publications as well. A total of forty-eight printed items are cited below, but scholars familiar with the extensive collection of Bishop's unfinished poems at the Vassar archive, from which most of these publications derive, will recognize that the listing below by no means exhausts the catalogue of Bishop's most compelling and significant unfinished poems.

I have arranged the poems in roughly chronological order, giving the title when there is one, and otherwise citing the first line in lower case. Some of Bishop's uncollected poems can be dated with precision, but other dates are approximations based on internal evidence, such as references to domestic or current events. Several estimates are based on the typewriter Bishop was then using (see VH 225-6 for discussion of Bishop's succession of typewriters). In general, have followed when possible the dating suggested by the scholar in whose essay or book a given poem is cited. The listing closes with a few poems whose dating I have not yet been able to determine.

Given in parentheses following the poem and date are the initials of the author or editor who arranged for the poem's publication or citation. When the author or editor has produced more than one text, I have numbered them in chronological order of publication (thus Lorrie Goldensohn's two texts, the first an essay and the second a book, are cited as LG1 and LG2). I have placed the poems in one of four categories: "published," "completed version," "extensive draft," or "fragmentary." The previously published poems are all juvenilia. "Completed versions" are poems that Bishop appears to have finished to her own satisfaction, but that she chose not to publish. Several of these completed versions refer to personal occasions and were gifts to the friend or lover who inspired them. "Extended drafts" are poems that seem to be moving toward their final shape but that Bishop left uncompleted. Perhaps, in these cases, she could never quite pinpoint what Lowell termed "the unimaginable phrase." "Fragmentary" poems exist generally as assemblages of suggestive or promising lines, not yet distinctly shaped into the outlines of a poem. Of course, "extensive drafts" vary widely in their degree of finish, and some "fragmentary" poems are a good deal more fragmentary than others, so the line between these to categories is not always easy to draw.

I have not attempted to document all passing references to Bishop's unpublished or uncollected poems, merely those reprinted as wholes or in substantial part. Where the same quotation appears in a given scholar's published essay and book, I have cited only the book. Let me apologize for any publications inadvertently omitted from this listing. I would appreciate hearing of these at travisanot@hartwick.edu. These will be cited in a future issue of the Elizabeth Bishop Bulletin.

(Special thanks are due to Lloyd Schwartz and to Maria Lucia Milleo-Martins and Regina Przybycien for help in tracking down some elusive publications.)

  1. Early Work: 1927-1936
    • "Ballad of the Subway Train," The Owl (1926-1927), North Shore Country Day School, , p. 65, (TT1, 65), published.
    • "Dead," The Blue Pencil (March 1928), Walnut Hill School, (TT2, 11), published.
    • "Ladies and gents, ladies and gents," Vassar College, early 1930s (LS1, 89; recited by Mary McCarthy on Voices and Visions program on Bishop; also reproduced in Fountain and Brazeau's Remembering Elizabeth Bishop), completed version.
    • "Poem of 1935" ("The past"), 1935 (BCM, 78; TT4, 96), completed version.
    • "In a Room," dated Seville, 1936 (AQ, 325), completed version.
  2. Key West, New York, Washington, etc.: 1937-1950
    • "It is marvelous to wake up together," Key West, early 1940s, (LG1), completed version.
    • "I had a bad dream / towards morning about you," Key West, early 1940s, (LG2, 70), fragmentary.
    • "The Waterfall," Key West, 1940s, (MML, 99), extensive draft.
    • "Florida Deserta," Key West, 1940s? (NYr2, 215), completed version?
    • "The Street by the Cemetery," Key West, 1940s? (NYr2, 215), completed version?
    • "Edgar Allan Poe & the Jukebox," Key West, 1940s, (MML, 121-23), extensive draft.
    • "Ark of the Covenant," late 1940s, (LG2, 170), fragmentary.
    • "Verdigris," Washington, spring 1950, (BCM, 224), extensive draft.
  3. Brazil, etc.: 1951-1968
    • "We lived in a pocket of Time," Petropolis, early 1950s, (BCM 16-17, 19).
    • "Suicide of a Moderate Dictator," Rio, 1954, (TT; partial citation in LG2, 237), nearly completed version.
    • "A Baby Found in the Garbage," Rio, mid-1950s, (VH, 165-6), fragmentary.
    • "A Trip to the Mines—Brazil," ["The slaves, the slaves have disappeared], Brazil, mid-1950s, (VH, 165-6), fragmentary.
    • "Poem: For M.B.S. buried in Nova Scotia," [elegy for Aunt Maud] Brazil, mid-1950s, (VH, 123-4; BCM, 158), fragmentary.
    • "The Grandmothers," Brazil, mid-1950s, (VH, 125-6), fragmentary.
    • "St. John's Day," Petropolis, mid-1950s, (LG2, 188-90), fragmentary.
    • "Foreign-Domestic," Petropolis, mid-1950s? (NYr1, 47; AQ, 324), completed version.
    • Untitled: double sonnet on Hopkins and Dickinson, Brazil, 1956-60, (VH, 34-37), fragmentary.
    • "To Manuel Bandeira, With a Present," Brazil, mid-1950s, (FS, 106), completed draft.
    • "Keaton," Brazil, after 1957, (BC, 52-3), extensive draft.
    • "Brazil, 1959," ["The radio says black beans are up again"] Brazil, 1959 (LG2, 188, BCM, 300-301), fragmentary.
    • "A Drunkard," Brazil, begun 1960; earliest extant draft 1972, (TT3, 608; partial citation in DK, 210-211; BCM 5), extensive draft,
    • "On the Amazon," Brazil, c. 1960, (BCM, 308-309), fragmentary.
    • "Let Shakespeare & Milton / Stay at a Hilton," Ouro Preto, 30 May 1960, (LS, 88) completed version.
    • "A Letter to Two Friends" [Robert Lowell and Marianne Moore], Brazil, c. 1961, (BCM 314), extensive draft.
    • "(For the windowpane)," ["Dear Lilli, I liked this view,"] Ouro Preto, 1965, (LS, 88), completed version.
    • "Close close all night / the lovers keep," Ouro Preto, late 1960s, (LS, 90), completed version.
    • "Dear, my compass / still points north," Ouro Preto, mid-1960s, (LS, 86; cited in full in BCM, 368-69), completed version.
    • "Inventory," Petropolis, 1967 (BMC, 385-86), fragmentary.
    • "Far far away there, where I met," San Francisco, late 1960s, (BMC, 411-12), fragmentary.
    • "In the dark night," San Francisco, late 1960s, (BMC, 412), fragmentary.
  4. Boston, etc.: 1969-1979
    • "Swan-Boat Ride," Boston, 1970s, (ES, 66-67; VH 135-37), fragmentary.
    • "Belated Dedication," Boston, mid-1970s, (LG2, 240), fragmentary.
    • "For Grandfather," Boston, mid-1970s, (VH, 138), extensive draft.
    • "Florida Revisited," Boston, mid-1970s, (BCM, 523), extensive draft.
    • "Apartment in Leme," Boston, late 1970s, [begun in Brazil?], (partial citation in BCM 344), extensive draft.
    • "Salem Willows," Boston, late 1970s, (TT3, 609-10; partial citation in BCM, 29), extensive draft.
    • "Aubade and Elegy" [for Lota de Macedo Soares], Boston, late 1970s, (VH, 206-8, BCM, 427-8), fragmentary.
    • "THIS IS NOT A BILL," Boston, late 1970s, (BCM 531), fragmentary.
  5. Date Uncertain
    • "A mother made of dress goods," (BCM 12-13), fragmentary.
    • "First Syllables," date? (BCM 30), fragmentary.
    • "Bloody Boulevards" (BC, 142), fragmentary.
    • "A lovely finish…," (NYr1, 47; AQ, 324), completed version.

Sources

Publications, Scholarly Sources & Editor's Introductions.

With the exception of NYr, initialed references are alphabetized by final letter, which corresponds to surname.

  • BC. Bonnie Costello. Elizabeth Bishop: Questions of Mastery. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1991.
  • LG1. Lorrie Goldensohn. "Elizabeth Bishop: An Unpublished, Untitled Poem." American Poetry Review (Jan. / Feb. 1988): 35-36.
  • LG2. __________. Elizabeth Bishop: The Biography of a Poetry. New York: Columbia UP, 1992.
  • VH. Victoria Harrison. Elizabeth Bishop's Poetics of Intimacy. New York: Cambridge UP, 1992.
  • DK. David Kalstone. Becoming a Poet: Elizabeth Bishop with Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1989.
  • MML. Marilyn May Lombardi. The Body and the Song: Elizabeth Bishop's Poetics. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1995.
  • BCM. Brett C. Millier. Elizabeth Bishop: Life and the Memory of It. Berkeley: U of California P, 1993.
  • NYr1. "Easel by Elizabeth Bishop," New Yorker (19 August 1996): 46-47.
  • NYr2. "Far Inland," New Yorker (21 & 28 February 2000): 215.
  • AQ. Alice Quinn. "Three Poems by Elizabeth Bishop," Conjunctions(1998, Bard College: Bi-Annual Volumes of New Writing): 323-326.
  • LS1. Lloyd Schwartz. "Annals of Poetry: Elizabeth Bishop and Brazil," New Yorker (30 September 1991): 85-97.
  • LS2. ____________. "Elizabeth Bishop, 'Sonnet,'" Atlantic Unbound (29 March 2000). Online: http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/poetry/soundings/bishop.htm
  • ES. Elizabeth Spires. "Elizabeth Bishop: 'The Things I'd Like to Write,'" Gettysburg Review, (Winter 1992): 62-70.
  • FS. Flora Sussekind. "A Geleia e o Engenho: em torno de uma carta-poema de Elizabeth Bishop a Manuel Bandeira." Papeis Colados.[essay collecton]. Rio de Janeiro: Editora UFRJ, 1993.
  • TT1. Thomas Travisano. "Heavenly Dragons: A Newly Discovered Poem by Elizabeth Bishop," Western Humanities Review (Spring 1991): 28-33.
  • TT2. __________. "Emerging Genius: Elizabeth Bishop and The Blue Pencil, 1927-1930," Gettysburg Review (Winter 1992): 32-47.
  • TT3. __________. "'With an Eye of Flemish Accuracy': An Afterward," Georgia Review (Winter 1992): 612-616.
  • TT4. __________. Midcentury Quartet: Bishop, Lowell, Jarrell, Berryman and the Making of a Postmodern Aesthetic (Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1999).