Elizabeth Bishop on “In the Waiting Room”

Here’s an excerpt of a letter that Bishop sent to the poet Frank Bidart on July 27, 1971. “Cal” (whom Bishop mentions below) is a nickname for Robert Lowell; we will read two major poems by Lowell later in the semester.

…I am so pleased that you liked “In the Waiting Room.” The New Yorker had kept it for over a year, and by the time the poor poem appeared I feel only fatigue & impatience when I look at it (tenses)–anyway, I can’t decide whether I like it at all or not, and therefore your reaction–almost the first–was really very cheering. (I think Cal did see a bad copy of it at Christmas time–and I did a rough translation aloud for a friend, in Portuguese. Her reaction was very nice, however: she got goose-flesh on her arms and told me her first experience of the same sort–when she looked in a mirror. (Other people have told me the same thing–5 years old, brushing his teeth, etc.) Well, it is almost a true story–I’ve combined a later thought or two, I think–and–because you might like this kind of information–I did go to the library in N.Y. and look up that issue of the National Geographic. Actually–and this is really weird, I think–I had remembered it perfectly , and it was all about Alaska, called “The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.” I tried using that a bit but my mind kept going back to another issue of the National Geographic that had made what seemed like a more relevant impression of me, so used it instead. Of course I was sure The New Yorker would “research” this, or “process it” or something–but apparently they are not quite as strict as they used to be–or else are sure that none of their present readers would have read National Geographics going back that far.

from One Art, ed. Robert Giroux (New York: Noonday, 1994), 545-5.

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