The Politics of Editing Elizabeth Bishop’s “Brazil,” Circa 1962

By Angus Cleghorn.

Published by The Global Studies Journal

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

After a decade living in Brazil, Bishop was offered a $10,000 advance to write “Brazil” for the Life World Library series. The American poet became frustrated with the Time-Life editors for removing many of her historical criticisms of Brazil and those who have colonized it. Bishop’s often wry poetic observation was replaced by glossy captioned picture essays at the end of each chapter, aimed at marketing the country for capital expansion. The capital itself had just been moved to Brasilia, and while pictures of Oscar Niemeyer’s “jet-age” architectural city impress, Bishop argued that Rio de Janeiro remained the cultural capital choice of Brazilians. In 2011, Lloyd Schwartz’s book, “Elizabeth Bishop: Prose,” included Bishop’s unexpurgated text of “Brazil,” which was previously accessible only in the Vassar College archives. Readers now can understand, through the history and poetic imagery of Bishop’s original, why the poet who lived almost two decades in Brazil struggled with conforming to an American-Brazilian diplomatic tome. As Bishop’s partner and designer of Rio’s Flamengo Park stated, the Life editors “massacrated it.” Bishop’s original text contains satirical critiques reminiscent of her best Brazilian poems, such as “Brazil, January 1, 1502,” and “Arrival at Santos.” These poems from her 1965 volume, “Questions of Travel,” propose critical alignments between tourists and colonists such that readers observe historical patterns continuing and evolving over 500 years into our present day activities.

Keywords: Elizabeth Bishop, Canada, United States, Brazil, Questions of Travel, Imperialism, Anthropology, Lota de Macedo Soares, Flamengo Park, Portuguese

Global Studies Journal, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp.47-58. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 764.168KB).

Dr. Angus Cleghorn

Professor of English, School of English and Liberal Studies, Faculty of Business, Seneca College, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Angus Cleghorn has a Ph.D. in English Literature from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. His main interest is modern/contemporary poetry. Cross-genre writing and interdisciplinary approaches to knowledge inform his teaching. He has published several articles and edited journals on Wallace Stevens. His first book, Wallace Stevens’ Poetics: The Neglected Rhetoric, was published in 2000 by Palgrave Macmillan. Since 2004, he has served as Editor of The Elizabeth Bishop Bulletin, and he is Co-Editor of a critical volume, The New Elizabeth Bishop: Reading the 21st-Century Editions (University of Virginia Press).

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