The Poet As Map-Maker: The Cartographic Inspiration and Influence of Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Map”

Adele J. Haft


New Year’s Eve of 1934 found Elizabeth Bishop recuperating from the flu. Out of her isolation, the recently orphaned 23-year-old created “The Map.” Inspired by a map’s depiction of the North Atlantic, Bishop’s exquisite poem alludes in part to the “seashore towns” and coastal waters of her childhood home, Nova Scotia. A seminal twentieth-century poem about maps, Bishop’s “The Map” has inspired a host of other mappoems since it opened her Pulitzer prize-winning collection, Poems: North & South—A Cold Spring, in 1955. My paper, the third in a series advocating the use of poetry in the teaching of geography, will attempt to elucidate Bishop’s masterpiece and introduce the map that, I believe, inspired her poem. The paper also will present two works influenced by “The Map”: Howard Nemerov’s “The Map-Maker on His Art” (1957) and Mark Strand’s “The Map” (1960). Linking these three acclaimed American poets even further is their recognition of an intimate and explicit connection between poets and cartographers.


Poetry about Maps; Map/Geography Education; Poets as Cartographers

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