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Exchanging Hats


Elizabeth Bishop

Edited by William Benton

Cover Picture of Exchanging Hats
RRP: GBP 19.95
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ISBN: 978 1 857543 38 4
Categories: 20th Century, American, Art, Women
Imprint: Lives and Letters
Published: September 1997
247 x 220 x 17 mm
128 pages
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Also available in: Paperback
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  • . . .we had had the Calders here . . .They've spent time in Brazil before, and they love to samba. Calder went sambaing all over the terrace, wearing a bright orange shirt, just like a calendula swaying in the breeze.

    from a letter of 8 September 1959

    Paintings by a great poet celebrated for her visual imagination.

    Includes extracts from Bishop’s writings that reflect her interest in the visual arts

    `They are Not Art -- NOT AT ALL,' Elizabeth Bishop insists. Forty of her pictures are here tracked down and reproduced in full colour by poet and art writer William Benton, who provides an introduction and an anthology of Miss Bishop's formal and informal prose on the subject of art and artists.

    `If Elizabeth Bishop wrote like a painter
    ,' Benton says, `she painted like a writer. All her paintings are small, on sheets of paper the same size that one might write a poem on.' The earliest dates from 1937, the last from the year before her death. Most are gouaches and water-colours.

    It was not until 1993 that they were gathered (after sleuthing in archives and among her friends) and exhibited at the East Martello Tower Museum, in Key West where she had lived between 1938 and 1948. This was the first time the world at large knew her as a painter, but it might have guessed at her skills from the poems with their painterly eye and subtle tonalities. Her vivid gallery poem `Over 2,000 Illustrations and a Complete Concordance' comes to mind as readers encounter Miss Bishop's quiet scenes of New York, Newfoundland, Florida, Yucatan, Brazil, her occasional portraits and still lives, vital and mysterious as the poems, but their reality unrehearsed and not correctable.

    Elizabeth Bishop
    Elizabeth Bishop is one of the best-loved American poets of the century. She won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award during her lifetime. Her Complete Poems, her Collected Prose and One Art: Collected Letters are published by Chatto & Windus. A book of ... read more
    William Benton
    William Benton is the author of eight books of poetry and a novel, Madly (2005). He curated the first exhibition of Elizabeth Bishop's art work at the East Martello Tower Museum in Key West in 1993 and is the editor of Carcanet's edition of Bishop's paintings, Exchanging Hats . He lives ... read more
     'Mirrors... throughout her work pretty consistently stand for the imagination... did she realise that the act of looking is always reflective? No matter how intently she searched nature for an identity, she could see only what her eye and mind perceived. Geography could provide her with no more than a reflection in the transparent glass of her own polished window.'
    Anne Stevenson
    'You can see Klee or Vuillard in her paintings and her poetry, not because she imitated them but because she liked them and saw what they saw... As Benton says and this delightful book shows, Bishop was 'her own best influence'.'
    Lavinia Greenlaw, Independent on Sunday
     'Bishop's... paintings are not 'interesting' forays into an essentially alien form, nor are they divorced from the central intelligence of the poems... they come from the same extraordinary source and make a justified claim to attention in their own right.'
    Jamie McKendrick, Times Literary Supplement
    Praise for Elizabeth Bishop  'Beautifully and fascinatingly can see the great poems themselves emerging. A complete treasure-house.'
    Sam Leith, The Telegraph
    'For those who love Elizabeth Bishop, there can never be enough of her writing. The arrival of this trove of unknown manuscripts is therefore a stupendous event.'
    John Ashbery
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