If since last October you've been hoping for a sterling mind to to walk you through the 928-page Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, your wait is over. The current London Review of Books has an essay by Colm Tóibín at his wisest and wryest. You won't find a lovelier sketch of two great artists than this:
In 8,100 words, Tóibín's cinemascope vision captures everything. Mainly he focuses on the poets' mutually absorbing long-distance friendship, their blind spots, and their competitive streaks. He also touches upon Lowell's time in an asylum where Bishop's mother spent years (Elizabeth was four the last time she saw her); Bishop's partner Lota de Macedo Soares, her role in the political life of Brazil; and the difficulty of mining Bishop's mysteries because she hid her feelings and because so many of her other letters were destroyed (the implication being to cover her or the recipient's lesbianism). Despite the wounds, Tóibín can still find shades of humor:
Unless Lowell was exceptionally thick-skinned, which he was not, her letter must have been difficult to read. On the other hand, since there is no joy greater than correcting someone else’s French, it must have been a pure pleasure for Bishop to write.