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Chance Meetings Session 7: Langdon Hammer on Elizabeth Bishop’s North & South

Wednesday, November 13, 2024


12:30 pm Eastern


Langdon Hammer on Elizabeth Bishop’s North & South

Are they assigned, or can the countries pick their colors?
— What suits the character or the native waters best.
Topography displays no favorites; North’s as near as West.
More delicate than the historians’ are the map- makers’ colors.

From the first poem in her first book (“The Map,” North & South, 1946), Elizabeth Bishop emerged as a writer whose work is widely celebrated as being “more wryly radiant, more touching, and more unaffectedly intelligent than any written in our lifetime,” wrote James Merrill.

Join Langdon Hammer, who is at work on a biography of Elizabeth Bishop, for a discussion of North & South—“the first book of poetry Elizabeth Bishop wrote and the first book by Bishop that I read,” writes Hammer. “Fifty years later, I’m still reading and teaching and writing about it, permanently seduced by its strangeness and how it makes the world look when I pick my eyes up from the page. During the eleven years Bishop spent writing the poems in the book, Marianne Moore was her mentor. Rachel Cohen devotes a chapter to the two of them. We’ll look closely at their complex and peculiar relationship.”

Students are encouraged to read the featured text in advance of the session.

A Q&A will follow the presentation, and a recording will be made available for those who cannot attend live.

The event will take place via Zoom with automatic closed captioning. To request any other accessibility features, please email and we will make every effort to accommodate.


Langdon Hammer, Yale University’s Niel Gray, Jr., Professor of English, is a literary scholar, biographer, and critic who studies modern and contemporary poetry and poetics. He is the author of James Merrill: Life and Art, an acclaimed biography of the American poet; and Hart Crane and Allen Tate: Janus-Faced Modernism. He has edited two volumes for the Library of America: The Collected Poems of May Swenson; and Hart Crane: Complete Poetry and Selected Letters. He is also the editor of O My Land, My Friends: The Selected Letters of Hart Crane. His works-in-progress include a critical biography of Elizabeth Bishop and The Selected Letters of James Merrill. For The Oxford History of Poetry in English, an 18-volume work, he is the coordinating editor for three volumes on American poetry and the volume editor for American Poetry Since 1939.

Chance Meetings: online literary seminars featuring writers talking about classics of American literature

Presented by the Authors Guild Foundation, this new online literary seminar is inspired by Rachel Cohen’s A Chance Meeting, a dazzling group biography that offers a striking vision of the making and remaking of the American mind and imagination from the Civil War to the Vietnam War.

Following the book’s spirit and shape, the monthly sessions feature talks on beloved and thought-provoking classics of American literature by contemporary writers with a personal connection to the works they are discussing. Cohen herself will lead two talks and circulate an e-newsletter to students in the weeks between sessions.

View all Chance Meetings events here.