Poet Elizabeth Bishop lived in Key West from 1938-48 and wrote a couple of her notable poems here, "The Fish" and "The Bight." Yesterday I rented a bike and pedaled out to 624 White Street in Key West, Florida. This is one of the poet's "three loved houses" in "One Art." A friendly black cat jumped down from the fence and rubbed against my leg. As the owner of a series of black cats, I took it as an auspicious welcome. Bishop, too, was a cat-owner, even though her asthma made it difficult for her to be around animals.
Key West is known for its colorful life, animal, literary and otherwise. Roosters and their harems of hens wander around freely, crossing the streets without looking. As I was sitting in Pepe's, the "oldest eating house in Florida," eating a slice of Key Lime pie with two of my fellow workshop poets, Chloe and Jessica, one of them got an unwelcome gift from one of the fowl creatures roosting in the trees above our patio. It happens.
But even though I generally shun (or run) from touristy places--and Key West certainly has a lot of tourists, thousands of them, disgorged daily from cruise ships and stumbling from bar to bar along Duval Street--I love this place.
Of course, it helps to be in the company of other writers in a place that has welcomed and housed so many poets and writers over the years: Earnest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens. The weather--83 degrees in January--doesn't hurt either.
Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
--Elizabeth Bishop, from "Questions of Travel"