DOI link for Exchanging Letters
Exchanging Letters book
In his introduction to Elizabeth Bishop's Selected Letters, Robert Giroux suggests that they might almost 'constitute her autobiography'. Whilst it is possible to employ Bishop's letters for this purpose, to do so underestimates the extent to which she saw letter writing as a distinct literary genre, a separate artistic world with its own expectations and rules. It is possible to see Bishop's unconventional approach in action by reviewing her responses to letter writing. On first reading, she seems only to conjure up the famous person behind their correspondence. In conversation with friends, Bishop attempts to sound more patient with those who write badly. The only hint that the writer is actually Lota's lover is the 'English underdrawers and little sock', though even this reads like a well-known anecdote. Apart from these beginnings to poems, Bishop did complete a number of occasional poems for friends, usually sending them as Christmas cards or birthday presents.