A Thirst for Reverie: Alcohol, Despair, and Dream Space in Elizabeth Bishop's Poetry

In light of the startling discussion and debate initiated by Brett Millier's biography of poet Elizabeth Bishop, which highlights Bishop's lifelong addiction to alcohol, certain of Bishop's seemingly muddled or multi-voiced poems may be read anew. In particular, the poems that explore the liminal spaces of nighttime, sleeping, awaking, or dreaming may be read as phenomenological and dialogical landscape poems that display an unusual poetic reverie: not that of the poet in meditative repose, but that of the poet placid in the face of alcoholism and despair. The exploration of the intersection of alcohol, despair, and liminal space gives new insight into the imagination of this twentieth-century woman poet.