The Writing Artist- Elizabeth Bishop
Last night, I attended a reading given by Jamaica Kincaid and Tiphanie Yanique. Both are female writers whose Caribbean culture is indivisible from their work. An audience member posed a question to them about how to be ethically privileged while traversing the land of another culture. The answer that was given was don’t forget the people there. This may be your vacation destination but remember this is someone’s home. This question had me think of today’s writing artist selection Elizabeth Bishop.
Elizabeth Bishop was a poet and painter from Massachusetts that traveled and wrote about the working class she encountered on her journeys in France, Spain, Italy, Ireland, North Africa and her 14 years living in Brazil. Her time in Brazil created an interest in Latin American poets and she eventually translated the work of Octavio Paz and Carlos Drummond de Andrade. As a student at Vassar, she co- founded the literary magazine Con Spirito and went on to author North & South, Poems: North and South- A Cold Spring, Questions of Travel, The Complete Poems and Geography III. Below is her poem Arrival at Santos from her book Questions of Travel.
Arrival at Santos
Here is a coast; here is a harbor;
here, after a meager diet of horizon, is some scenery;
impractically shaped and—who knows?—self-pitying mountains,
sad and harsh beneath their frivolous greenery,
with a little church on top of one. And warehouses,
some of them painted a feeble pink, or blue,
and some tall, uncertain palms. Oh, tourist,
is this how this country is going to answer you
and your immodest demands for a different world,
and a better life, and complete comprehension
of both at last, and immediately,
after eighteen days of suspension?
Finish your breakfast. The tender is coming,
a strange and ancient craft, flying a strange and brilliant rag.
So that's the flag. I never saw it before.
I somehow never thought of there being a flag,
but of course there was, all along. And coins, I presume,
and paper money; they remain to be seen.
And gingerly now we climb down the ladder backward,
myself and a fellow passenger named Miss Breen,
descending into the midst of twenty-six freighters
waiting to be loaded with green coffee beans.
Please, boy, do be more careful with that boat hook!
Watch out! Oh! It has caught Miss Breen's
skirt! There! Miss Breen is about seventy,
a retired police lieutenant, six feet tall,
with beautiful bright blue eyes and a kind expression.
Her home, when she is at home, is in Glens Fall
s, New York. There. We are settled.
The customs officials will speak English, we hope,
and leave us our bourbon and cigarettes.
Ports are necessities, like postage stamps, or soap,
but they seldom seem to care what impression they make,
or, like this, only attempt, since it does not matter,
the unassertive colors of soap, or postage stamps—
wasting away like the former, slipping the way the latter
do when we mail the letters we wrote on the boat,
either because the glue here is very inferior
or because of the heat. We leave Santos at once;
we are driving to the interior.
- Elizabeth Bishop
~ Nia Andino ~