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Elizabeth Bishop, Consultant in Poetry: A Resource Guide

About Elizabeth Bishop at the Library of Congress

Elizabeth Bishop served as the Library of Congress's eighth Consultant in Poetry from 1949-1950. The links below provide more information about her activities at the Library, including webcasts, recordings, and blog posts.

Elizabeth Bishop writing at her desk in the Library’s Poetry Office, with the U.S. Capitol in the background, circa 1949-1950. Photo by Library of Congress Office of Communications.

Elizabeth Bishop began her term as Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress on September 19th, 1949. While the Consultancy term was for one year, her relationship with the Library of Congress extended until 1978. She was appointed a Fellow in American Letters of the Library of Congress, continued to give readings at the Library, and attended the reunion gathering of the Consultants in March, 1978.

Bishop's report at the end of her term stated that she, along with assistant Phyllis Armstrong, dealt with an enormous number of reference inquiries: 1,946 general and 1,070 administrative phone calls, 772 letters answered, 445 visitors seen and talked to, 120 readers assisted. She also read through the manuscripts of approximately twenty-five amateur poets, but reported that she did not discover any new poetic talent. She felt that most of these duties would be better handled by someone other than the Consultant.

Bishop inherited the aftermath of the controversy caused by the Library Fellows awarding the Bollingen Prize in Poetry to Ezra Pound in 1948. Pound had been arrested for treason in 1946 for his pro-fascist radio broadcasts from Italy during World War II. On the grounds of insanity, he was committed to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C., rather than being tried for treason. Many in the United States objected to the award given under the auspices of the Library of Congress.

On a more positive note, Bishop was able to convince prominent poets Muriel Rukeyser, Allen Curnow, Dylan Thomas, and Archibald MacLeish to contribute recordings to the Library of Congress's second series of albums, Twentieth Century Poetry in English. She also persuaded Robert Frost to return to Washington to re-record his work so that it met his standards. During the Consultants' reunion, however, she stated that she did not like audio or televised recordings and thought students were better served by simply reading a poem quietly.

Due to the press of other responsibilities, Bishop did not write as much poetry as she had hoped during her Consultancy. Her time in Washington, however, resulted in such poems as "View of the Capitol from the Library of Congress," External "Visits to St. Elizabeth," and "From Trollope's Journal."

Library of Congress blog posts about Elizabeth Bishop.

The Library of Congress Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature features several recordings of Elizabeth Bishop reading her poetry.