Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Reaching for the Moon

We finally watched the Elizabeth Bishop biopic (thanks to Dillard's heads up that it's streaming on Netflix) that I've been wanting to see since it came out last year. It has all the elements of a great story--poetry and love and politics and travel (although I think it actually downplayed how much Bishop traveled when living in Brazil).

It turns out I knew almost nothing about Bishop's life: I'm not sure how accurate the film is in its portrayal of the awkward menage a trois that Bishop was part of, but wow: Bishop visits her friend, Mary, in Brazil for a couple of days as part of a South American cruise. Mary's partner Lota convinces Bishop to stay, as well as Mary. She bribes Mary to get her consent for the arrangement by buying her a baby. (This arrangement provides a pretty good excuse for Bishop's alcoholism and Lota's suicide, although I'm sure that things were more complicated in real life than they were portrayed.)

It was interesting to view Reaching for the Moon just after Dear Elizabeth, the play about Bishop's friendship with/attraction to Robert Lowell. Reaching for the Moon tells the story of a whole other part of her romantic and personal life. The stories, although they overlap at points, couldn't be more different--from Robert Lowell and New York and poetry to Lota and Brazil and travel and architecture. It's fascinating to see the way that Bishop reacts, at first gratefully, and later with some hesitation, to living in a country with very different manners and politics than the ones of the countries she left.

It's curious that both the film and the play have a recurring motif of reaching for lighted things high in the sky (I think it was floating lanterns in the play). I'm not really sure where that comes from in her work.

Also: It turns out that "One Art" is everyone's favorite poem of Bishop's. How annoying--I thought it just spoke to me.

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