Celebrating Elizabeth Bishop's 100th birthday
Swimming through the ocean with a joint stick on the Google home page, I was really entertained by the way Google was honoring Jules Verne’s birthday. I had never seen such an interactive Google logo before. But when the excitement of the ocean began to wear off, I remembered that today is special for another, and in my opinion even more significant, reason: It’s the 100th birthday of Elizabeth Bishop.
Sure, Elizabeth Bishop may not have earned herself a title like “Father of Science Fiction” as Jules Verne has, but she was the U.S. Poet Laureate in 1949, a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1956 and a National Book Award winner for poetry in 1970. I think the fact that Google chose to honor Jules Verne’s random 183rd birthday instead of Elizabeth Bishop’s 100th birthday is disappointing, and it reveals that poetry is still not as recognized as it should be.
Curious about whether poets had ever been honored, I looked through the history of past Google “doodles," the special logos for special days. And sure enough, never has a poet been honored before, let alone a female one.
That’s the saddest thing about it. Because even during Bishop’s lifetime and with all her awards, her poetry was largely underappreciated. Female poets were stereotyped as though all they wrote were emotional poems that poured out their sorrows of love and heartbreak, and the complexity of their work was largely simplified and even ignored, hidden in the shadows of male poets.
That being said, even though Google has chosen not to commemorate Elizabeth Bishop’s birth centenary, writers have taken the initiative. In Great Village, Nova Scotia, a place that influenced Bishop throughout her childhood, the Elizabeth Bishop Centenary Festival will celebrate the centenary of her birthday on Feb. 8 until the day of her death on Oct. 6. The festival will include events and activities incorporating dance, film, lecture, discourse and, of course, poetry.
Here in Ann Arbor, my poetry class is having an “Elizabeth Bishop Birthday Bash”, a day of deviating from our syllabus in honor of her centenary. We will celebrate by reading some of her poems like One Art and Filling Station.
Elizabeth Bishop’s work lives on although she does not, through communities of writers that can get together and appreciate her poetry as a beautiful form of art.