ISBN 10: 1511323574 / ISBN 13: 9781511323574
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In this book, novelist Colm Tóibín offers a deeply personal introduction to the work and life of one of his most important literary influences--the American poet Elizabeth Bishop. Ranging across her poetry, prose, letters, and biography, Tóibín creates a vivid picture of Bishop while also revealing how her work has helped shape his sensibility as a novelist and how her experiences of loss and exile resonate with his own. What emerges is a compelling double portrait that will intrigue readers interested in both Bishop and Tóibín.

For Tóibín, the secret of Bishop's emotional power is in what she leaves unsaid. Exploring Bishop's famous attention to detail, Tóibín describes how Bishop is able to convey great emotion indirectly, through precise descriptions of particular settings, objects, and events. He examines how Bishop's attachment to the Nova Scotia of her childhood, despite her later life in Key West and Brazil, is related to her early loss of her parents--and how this connection finds echoes in Tóibín's life as an Irish writer who has lived in Barcelona, New York, and elsewhere.

Beautifully written and skillfully blending biography, literary appreciation, and descriptions of Tóibín's travels to Bishop's Nova Scotia, Key West, and Brazil, On Elizabeth Bishop provides a fresh and memorable look at a beloved poet even as it gives us a window into the mind of one of today's most acclaimed novelists.

Colm Tóibín, Inducted into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame 2015

"Toibin's close readings of Bishop's poems in this deft suite of essays are admirably acute, but what's truly special is that Toibin offers not an elegant study of Bishop's achievements as a poet, but also a shadow account of his own development as a writer, and thus an incidental treatise on the ways writers affect one another's process." --Joel Browner, New York Times Book Review

"[The book's] pull on the reader is almost tidal . . . it's still impossible for a reader to resist getting sucked into the orbit of Robert Lowell, the rapaciously brilliant and royally messed-up literary lion whom Bishop considered her closest friend. The cat-and-mouse dynamic of Bishop and Lowell's correspondence remains, in Mr. Tóibín's telling, as riveting as a series on Netflix or HBO, and probably ought to become one." --Jeff Gordinier, New York Times

"Tóibín's little book on Bishop is a writer's exercise in rechristening himself, a second time through with Bishop as his chaperone. The narrative draws us back to moments when the discovery of Bishop, and later of Thom Gunn, drew Tóibín forward. This is the kind of beautiful relay that great writers provide for each other, and it gives you hope that some young person somewhere who finds himself in a bind will pick this short book up and find in it not one, but two companions." --Dan Chiasson, New York Review of Books

"Novelist Tóibín ( Nora Webster) gives an intimate and engaging look at Elizabeth Bishop's poetry and its influence on his own work. . . . Tóibín is also present in the book, and his relationship to Bishop's work and admiration of her style gives the book much of its power. Whether one is familiar with Bishop's life and work or is looking to Tóibín to learn more, this book will appeal to many readers." --Publishers Weekly starred review

"An admiring critical portrait of a great American poet and a master of subtlety. . . . An inspiring appreciation from one writer to another." --Kirkus Reviews

" On Elizabeth Bishop, an unusual mixed-genre critical study/personal memoir by the celebrated Irish novelist Colm Tóibin, himself something of a writer's writer, makes a particularly welcome addition to the Princeton University Press Writers on Writers series. . . . Tóibin's sense of identification with Bishop allows not only sympathy with her work but his real insight into it. . . . [F]ew critics have dealt more revealingly than Tóibin with Bishop's habitual illusion of 'spontaneous' self-correction, her process of thinking aloud on the page. . . . [I]n some essential and large way, Tóibin gets Bishop right, and even his quirkiest interpretations illuminate something about both Bishop and himself." --Lloyd Schwartz, Arts Fuse

"How does a writer turn life into art? Novelist, poet and critic Colm Tóibín's brilliant, compelling book On Elizabeth Bishop does not raise or answer this question directly, but it brings us very close to the moment of alchemy, both in Bishop's work and in his own, showing Princeton University Press' wisdom in establishing the series of writers on writers of which this is a part. . . . Tóibín's decision to set the poems in the context of Bishop's life, her friendships and love, and a circle of writers and painters like-minded enough to throw light on her achievement, is an impressive solution to a potentially difficult critical problem." --Elizabeth Greene, Times Higher Education

"[I]n Colm Tóibín's new book, the Irish novelist explores Bishop's remoteness in ways that both open her poems to the everyday reader and season scholars' broth about her eminence. John Ashbery once called Bishop a 'writer's writer's writer,' and Tóibín reveals how this hypothesis has been, in his case, positively true. Though this book is not a biography, it has the uncanny effect of one: In close readings of Bishop's poems and their geographical moorings, Tóibín takes us further inside the poet's (and his own) psyche than, perhaps, the archives ever will." --Heather Treseler, Weekly Standard

"Bishop is a 20th-century U.S. master poet; Tóibín is an Irish fiction writer of today. You might wonder at this pairing. Well, none could pair comfortably with the uneasy, furtive Bishop. Turns out the two have much in common. . . . I just loved this: a writer so open about how his work and life touch another writer's. . . . Little books like this make the world better, teaching us much and inviting more." --John Timpane, Philadelphia Inquirer

"In this splendid and perceptive book, Colm Toibin the novelist, has probed the Bishop canon and biography and exquisitely described her work and vision." --Sam Coale, Providence Journal

"Tóibín's treatment is personal but never self-indulgent, and the book is much more than an appreciation of a poet with whom he has affinities. Beautifully written and deeply felt, this is a penetrating examination of Bishop's aesthetic of stylistic restraint and personal reticence." --Choice

"[A] wonderful book." --Lavinia Greenlaw, The Telegraph

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