She Mastered the Art of Losing

Elizabeth Bishop was a great American poet whose work was polished and humane; her letters reveal a life that was less serene

She seemed in many ways the odd woman out among her generation of U.S. poets, and not only because of her gender. Elizabeth Bishop (1911-79) suffered none of the public breakdowns, burnouts and crack-ups that afflicted such talented contemporaries as Robert Lowell, Delmore Schwartz, John Berryman, Randall Jarrell and Theodore Roethke. "You are the soberest poet we've had here yet," a secretary at the University of Washington once told her; she cherished the comment and repeated it to others. Bishop's public image seemed serene -- photographs taken well into her middle years invariably show small features arranged impassively within a round...

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