The Keeping House: Poems, short fiction, and an essay on the travel poems of Elizabeth Bishop

Plan Author

  • Anna Blackburn, 2015

Fields of Concentration

  • Literature
  • Writing

Sample Courses

Project Description

A collection of poetry.

Faculty Sponsors

  • T. Wilson

Outside Evaluator

  • Alan Feldman, Framingham State University (emeritus)


This Plan includes a collection of poetry, entitled The Keeping House, an exploration in narrative consciousness through a collection of short fiction, and an essay on the travel poems of Elizabeth Bishop. These works were supported by studies in literature.


bathed in days and nights
rounding the murky planets

I kept nothing
the solar winds

filaments the moons

like clouded mirrors
turned with me—

when the dream broke
searing white

a bottomless cold

clearness that was
not water took me

I floated outside
there was an outside

and the fire I had

worshipped as my own
slow burning heart

appeared a golden
cell that grew smaller

It was weeks before she saw the couple
who had taken the apartment downstairs
But she began to notice a man on the street
who would smile without looking at her.
Then a girl appeared on the porch, asking,
had she seen a Tarot deck? She knew
their names from the box on the porch.
And came to crave the muffled sound
of television through the floor, a lull
between the fights. These usually started
with sharp voices after dinner and ended
around midnight in moans. In the morning
a consort of birds in oaks around the house
woke them all. Coffee brewing, a fried egg
scent through the vents, and then the front door.
Their greenish drapes were always closed.
She never bothered with curtains, preferring
natural light to privacy. One day, she came
home in the rain to find clothes she’d forgotten
on the line folded neatly in a basket outside
her door. At first she was puzzled about
the missing clothespins, but discovered them
later that evening when the rain stopped,
with her underthings, untouched on the line.

Though at times patronizing toward them, Bishop shows genuine fondness and even empathy for the Mr. Swans, the sandpipers, and the other characters of her adventures; with self-irony she teases her own variety of participation. She writes “we would rather have the iceberg than the ship,” but Bishop remains with the ship. She is both passenger, learning to live with her poems’ other inhabitants, and the ship itself. The voices that converge in her work, from within and without, include and transport us.

Through questions and travel, a practice of continual loss and disruption, Bishop savors experience. In “Santarêm” she writes, “that golden evening I really wanted to go no farther….” Yet she always does go farther, knowing that tomorrow the Santarêm of that golden evening will not exist. For Bishop the questions and travel compel each other. She asks us to find the crumbs in our palaces and the palaces in our own crumbs; we live not in the home we come from, but the one we see.


I always begins writing with an image, a few lines that seem to materialize out of nothing, or a question.  My Plan poetry and fiction came from such fragments and the compulsion to shape them into something meaningful.  While studying 20th Century poetry my first year on Plan, I became fascinated with Elizabeth Bishop, and wanted to identify the thematic correlation between her questions of travel and her relationship to home.


My strongest memory of Plan is the tunnel of concentration I lived in while finishing my thesis, long nights absorbed in Bishop’s poems and bright afternoons pouring over drafts in my sponsor’s office.  Near the end of the paper, I was startled to realize the degree to which the themes I had discovered in Bishop’s poems were the themes that drive my own work.  The program at Marlboro allowed me to invest substantial energy in creative work, and I used poems from my Plan collection as the writing sample for my graduate school applications.  I’m now working on an MFA in poetry.  I expect to always continue writing (poems, stories, essays, etc.), and I hope to teach writing and literature.