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Although it is a cold evening,

down by one of the fishhouses

an old man sits netting…  

AT THE FISHHOUSES Elizabeth Bishop


What is it that starts a poem? What rupture –

a fish tugging at a hook? What rapture –

the seventh wave breaking as it should?

Consider Elizabeth Bishop:

fatherless at one; her mother certified

four years later; taken from her grandparents

in Nova Scotia by her father’s parents

in Massachusetts; a Vassar girl

with a private income; a painter

as well as a poet. What was it that cold

evening on the fish quay in Nova Scotia

that started her poem? A favourite seal

bobbing off shore, to which she sang Baptist hymns?

The Atlantic? The herring scales and the cod

that adorned every plank? The Lucky Strikes

she smoked with the old man mending his nets

‘in the gloaming almost invisible’,

her grandfather’s friend?




© Copyright David Selzer
2 Responses
  • John Huddart
    October 8, 2019

    The evoked world of Elizabeth Bishop is very welcome – but the illumination of how inspiration can take many or any forms is the heartland of the poem – and absolutely spot-on.

  • Alan Horne
    March 22, 2021

    A great thumbnail biography of Bishop; and thanks for the reference to her poem, which was new to me.

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