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Publisher's Summary

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 listeners 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.
©2015 Princeton University Press (P)2015 Audible, Inc.
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Shipwrecked on 06-24-17


Toibin has a good balance of biography, literary criticism, and personal essay here. Engaging and informative, only dry if you don't enjoy reading about poetry. I felt the book got better as it went on, and very much liked the sections on Thom Gunn. The narrator does a great job as well. You don't have to know these poems by heart to enjoy. Would hope more literary biographies/essays are made available as audio books.

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5 out of 5 stars
By CHET YARBROUGH on 05-19-16


Colm Tóibín’s “On Elizabeth Bishop” is a brief outline of the life of a poet. It is a poet’s eye view of another’s life and work. For those not enamored with poetry, Colm Tóibín manages to encourage listeners to hear Bishop’s poetry.

Elizabeth Bishop begins life in hardship with the loss of her father when a baby and, as still a child, her mother to an asylum. Shunted from relative to relative with some stability from a grandmother and grandfather, Bishop completes high school and is accepted at Vassar College in 1929, just before the stock market crash. Listening to Tóibín’s analysis of Bishop’s poems, one understands why Bishop’s poetry is classified as cold, somewhat clinical, and only lightly emotional.

Tóibín’s analysis and Keating’s warm narration compel a listener who may have never heard a Bishop’ poem to hear one read. Several poems can be found on YouTube; one of which is “One Art”. Because of accompanying images in this production of the poem, the perfection, meaning, and depth of Bishop’s words are clear; even to the tone deaf.

Tóibín’s analysis of Bishop's poems offers a window through which one sees the value of poetry.

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