“LeBlanc has a superb ability to take the wonderfully pure sound she can make, over which she has consummate control, and wrap it in something luscious and special before giving it to you.”
– Sydney Morning Herald
Suzie Leblanc is an internationally acclaimed Canadian soprano. Her most recent project was the album I Am in Need of Music, a group of 11 songs whose settings she commissioned from six prominent Canadian composers and whose lyrics were based on the poems of Elizabeth Bishop, a new England poet who spent her formative years in Canada’s Maritime provinces (read The Voice Magazine’s review). In order to prepare to sing these poems for the album, as well as for sheer love of Bishop’s poetry, Suzie and artist Linda Rae Dornan retraced the steps of a hike Bishop took through Newfoundland in 1932 (this is documented in the video “Walking with EB”). Recently she took the time to answer Wanda Waterman’s questions about her influences, adventures, and why she loves Elizabeth Bishop’s poems. (Read the first part of this interview here.)
Why Elizabeth Bishop?
Bishop was one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. What attracted me to her writing was the way she saw and described things. She saw beyond the accepted view of things, even beyond knowledge (of which she had plenty). She was fond of anything that could alter her perspective. Her first collection of poetry is called “North and South.” She’d lived in both hemispheres during her life and was fascinated by these poles. She expanded my view of things and made me rethink the meaning of “place.” Reading Bishop, you learn to see small things— to soar like an eagle and view the large picture.
The first Bishop poem I read was this:
The Map (an excerpt)
Land lies in water; it is shadowed green.
Shadows, or are they shallows, at its edges
showing the line of long sea-weeded ledges
where weeds hang to the simple blue from green.
Or does the land lean down to lift the sea from under,
drawing it unperturbed around itself?
Along the fine tan sandy shelf
is the land tugging at the sea from under?
I loved the line, “Or does the land lean down to lift the sea from under.” I wanted to read more Bishop and learn to see like her.
We were following Bishop’s diary from Spread Eagle to Norman’s Cove. She had taken the back road, and so did we. The road was one bog after another. We were hauling trees to make a path in the deep mud. Bishop mentioned crossing a bridge in her diary. When we arrived at the river, the bridge was long gone and we had to get across with our camera equipment. The water was shallow but the rocks were extremely slippery!
Another unexpected event was an impromptu concert by Elvis Presley. We went on a boat tour in Dildo and, after the tour the captain of the boat gave a short performance of his excellent Elvis impersonation, costume and everything. It was a highlight and Linda managed to get the camera out in time for the show. It’s on the DVD “Walking with EB.”
One man had tears when we read him parts of Bishop’s diary where she described his aunt who had cancer of the face. It wasn’t the kindest of descriptions but he was touched to find a memory of his aunt in her writing.
The people we met at B & B’s were intrigued by our trip and many of them really enjoyed reading Bishop with us. Newfoundland is a very literary place. Our first hosts, after reading part of “The Moose,” said that reading poetry in the morning was much better than watching the news on the television and that they were going to do this every morning from now on.
I am not sure that I was more connected to Bishop after the trip, but I was certainly more connected to myself, and to my surroundings. I had time to read her prose and her letters, not just her poems, which meant that my knowledge of her was broadening. I like to think of it as being able to see a larger map of the area I was working in. Her spirit and her sense of humour were palpable throughout the whole trip; like when Elvis appeared!