From the mid-1930s until her death in 1979, Elizabeth Bishop published some ninety poems and thirty translations. Yet her notebooks reveal that she embarked upon many more compositions, some existing in only fragmentary form, some embodied in extensive drafts, and many more left as handwritten copies. Edgar Allan Poe & the Jukebox presents, alongside facsimiles of many of the pages from which they are drawn, wistful and comic poems Bishop wrote in high school; poems begun soon after college, reflecting her passion for Elizabethan verse and surrealist technique; love poems and dream fragments from the 1930s and '40s; poems about her Canadian childhood; poems she was working on into the late 1970s, begun decades before; and many other works that have hitherto been quoted almost exclusively in biographical and critical studies.
The editor, Alice Quinn, has also mined from the more than 3,500 pages in the Bishop archive rich tangential material, presented in the Notes, that illuminates the poet's sources and intentions, and an appendix offers fascinating work related to the drafts, including two abandoned memoirs of childhood, an unfinished piece on Auden from the early 1930s, pages of an undelivered lecture beginning, "Writing poetry is an unnatural act . . . ," and a draft of a story about her mother's experience teaching school thirty miles from her home in Nova Scotia and becoming (as Bishop wrote in a letter) "so homesick she was taken the family dog to cheer her up."
"The unfinished poems should be tremendous from your descriptions," Robert Lowell wrote to her in 1962. This revelatory and moving selection allows us to see those she left behind, bringing us into the poet's laboratory, showing us the initial provocative images that prompted her to begin a poem, illustrating terrain unexplored in the work published in her lifetime, and revealing the artistic resolution she exercised, keeping poems for years in mindful abeyance and releasing only those that lived up to her exacting standard.