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Reaching for the Moon

by Louise Adams
Friday Feb 14, 2014
Reaching for the Moon

In "One Art," Elizabeth Bishop wrote:

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

-Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

"A pessimist is never disappointed."

This poem by the American writer is also the frame of Bruno Barreto's thoughtful film based on a real-life love affair, "Reaching for the Moon." Aussie Miranda Otto, probably best known as Eowyn in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, plays the troubled scribe, who was the US Poet Laureate from 1949-1950.

Withdrawn and shy, Bishop leaves New York and her longtime colleague, fellow poet Robert "Cal" Lowell, and takes a ship to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to visit Vassar friend Mary (played with complexity by Tracy Middendorf) in 1951. Mary was living (and in a relationship) with connected and wealthy architect Lota de Macedo Soares, passionately played by Glória Pires, who was also instrumental in getting this story produced as outlined in the "Making of" featurette.

At first, the strong Brazilian feminist and the self-effacing New Englander clash - "I guess this is why you should never meet authors," Bishop said - but soon start sleeping together, pushing Mary and her lesbian bed death into another house on their lovely rural estate within view of the city's famous Christ the Redeemer statue.

Calling her lover Cookie, Lota is with Bishop during the ecstasy - she won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1956 for "North and South: A Cold Spring" - as well as the agony of the writer's lifelong struggle with alcoholism and low self-esteem (Bishop is haunted by Cal's dissection of her output as merely "observations broken into lines").

Lota placates Mary by locating a daughter for her to adopt and raise, and together the progressive threesome weather political strife with friend and future governor Carlos Lacerda (handsome Marcello Airoldi), noting that "Brazil is not for beginners." The film was mostly shot on a gorgeous location there, with a crew speaking in gorgeous Portuguese, on an Edward Hopper "Nighthawks"-feeling design by José Joaquim Salles, in perfect period costumes by Marcelo Pies.

Bishop stayed with Lota from 1951-1967, assimilating but still feeling "the longer you stay in one place, the less you understand it." She then returned to the States to teach at several universities, sending her longtime lover into a tailspin. Bishop won the National Book Award in 1970.

Elizabeth Bishop lost her father when she was eight months old, and her mother was consigned to a mental institution, so she had a "commitment to pessimism because a pessimist is never disappointed." Yet her witty, precise observations remain in her poems and in this important film.

"Reaching for the Moon"

Louise Adams is a Chicago freelance writer at www.treefalls.com (and a nom de guerre).


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