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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.
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.