Christopher Lydon’s Radio Open Source has brightened a lot of the last decade for me, opening doors into places and subjects I hadn’t known I wanted to learn about, and introducing me to stuff I’ve since realized I care deeply about. A case in point: an interview with Colm Tóibín, towards the end of which he reads an Elizabeth Bishop poem which is achingly reminiscent of the Nova Scotia I know. His lead-in is absolutely spot-on (“…what was it that just hit you, emotionally? where it was in the poem where that began, and was sustained?”)
Poem About the size of an old-style dollar bill, American or Canadian, mostly the same whites, gray greens, and steel grays -this little painting (a sketch for a larger one?) has never earned any money in its life. Useless and free., it has spent seventy years as a minor family relic handed along collaterally to owners who looked at it sometimes, or didn't bother to. It must be Nova Scotia; only there does one see abled wooden houses painted that awful shade of brown. The other houses, the bits that show, are white. Elm trees., low hills, a thin church steeple -that gray-blue wisp-or is it? In the foreground a water meadow with some tiny cows, two brushstrokes each, but confidently cows; two minuscule white geese in the blue water, back-to-back,, feeding, and a slanting stick. Up closer, a wild iris, white and yellow, fresh-squiggled from the tube. The air is fresh and cold; cold early spring clear as gray glass; a half inch of blue sky below the steel-gray storm clouds. (They were the artist's specialty.) A specklike bird is flying to the left. Or is it a flyspeck looking like a bird? Heavens, I recognize the place, I know it! It's behind-I can almost remember the farmer's name. His barn backed on that meadow. There it is, titanium white, one dab. The hint of steeple, filaments of brush-hairs, barely there, must be the Presbyterian church. Would that be Miss Gillespie's house? Those particular geese and cows are naturally before my time. A sketch done in an hour, "in one breath," once taken from a trunk and handed over. Would you like this? I'll Probably never have room to hang these things again. Your Uncle George, no, mine, my Uncle George, he'd be your great-uncle, left them all with Mother when he went back to England. You know, he was quite famous, an R.A.... I never knew him. We both knew this place, apparently, this literal small backwater, looked at it long enough to memorize it, our years apart. How strange. And it's still loved, or its memory is (it must have changed a lot). Our visions coincided-"visions" is too serious a word-our looks, two looks: art "copying from life" and life itself, life and the memory of it so compressed they've turned into each other. Which is which? Life and the memory of it cramped, dim, on a piece of Bristol board, dim, but how live, how touching in detail -the little that we get for free, the little of our earthly trust. Not much. About the size of our abidance along with theirs: the munching cows, the iris, crisp and shivering, the water still standing from spring freshets, the yet-to-be-dismantled elms, the geese.
(source for the text: “Poem”)