Cover image for Becoming a poet : Elizabeth Bishop with Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell
Becoming a poet : Elizabeth Bishop with Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York, N.Y. : Farrar Straus Giroux, 1989.
Physical Description:
299 p.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book 811.52 KAL 1 1

On Order



"Becoming a Poet" is the first full-scale critical/biographical consideration of a writer who is coming more and more to be seen as a major mid-century American figure.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

When Elizabeth Bishop, a senior at Vassar in 1934, met Marianne Moore, she clutched the older poet's ``very generous and protective apron.'' Moore's serene ability to enter into the life of things sharpened Bishop's own observational powers. In their friendship, Bishop played the role of wayward niece to Moore's posture as wise, eccentric aunt, in a dynamic of support and disobedience that lasted until Moore's death in 1947. In that year, Bishop met Robert Lowell, embarking on a complex, sustaining friendship that began as a flirtation and survived her alcoholism and 15-year stay in Brazil and his mental breakdowns. Although an abyss might seem to separate Bishop's open-air naturalism from Lowell's narrative lyrics laden with myth and history, Kalstone (who died after completing the draft of this sensitive study) demonstrates how the two established poets opened each other to new modes of expression. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

At his death in 1986, professor-critic Kalstone (Five Temperaments, 1977) left be. hind the first draft (without introduction or final chapter) of this fascinating study of Elizabeth Bishop's poetic career--a career that, with time, has proven far more enduring and significant than those of her more celebrated contemporaries. Not quite ""an excellent vade mecum for writers,"" as editor Robert Hemenway claims, Kalstone's study does succeed as ""an exacting (though informal) inquiry into the workings of friendship between poets and the steady growth of an extraordinary mind."" The first, and for a long time, only poet-friend of Bishop's was her mentor, Marianne Moore, whom she met in 1934, when Bishop was 23. In her late 40s, Moore served also as something of a replacement for Bishop's long-absent mother. The ""complicated, instinctive affinity"" of the two poets derived from a similar regard for the thing observed, for a poetry of description. Moore prodded the younger poet on, editing her work, promoting it to magazines, and lifting her spirits when Bishop considered giving up. The relation was full of ""little dramas of disobedience and dependency"" that led to a major break when Moore (with help from her mother) completely rewrote Bishop's ""Roosters."" Stepping into Moore's place, in 1947, was Robert Lowell, whom Bishop met after they'd both published their first books. Though Lowell's myth-making and Bishop's particularizing seemed at odds. the two became intense admirers of each other--an admiration that had amorous overtones despite Bishop's sexual preference for women. Bishop's drinking problems and Lowell's madness made for lots of personal difficulties, but the professional relation seldom faltered. Kalstone rightly sees Bishop's evolution as a poet as an effort, inspired largely by Lowell, to expand into narrative, and to incorporate ""self-presentation"" into her art of describing. With its engaging combination of biography and close reading, this is how poetry criticism should be written, so that nonacademics as well might enjoy it. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

This presentation of Kalstone's posthumous study of Bishop is an admirable work of editorial care and a testimony to Kalstone's stature as literary critic and historian. Kalstone here develops the initial insights he offered on Bishop in Five Temperaments (1977) and, keenly sensitive to the subtleties of her imagery, demonstrates the degree to which her poetry is deeply and dramatically autobiographical. He explores in detail her personal and aesthetic relationships to Moore and Lowell, and in so doing offers the most lucid and sympathetic readings of Bishop's verse that we yet possess. Further, in his discussion of her growth as an important poet, he illuminates an aspect of the history of American letters from 1945 to the late 1970s that has been neglected for noisier and more gaudy scenes and themes. Highly recommended.-- Earl Rovit, City Coll., CUNY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.