I just received some delightful information. I'm sure many others know it already, but I'd never heard it before. John Koethe, poet and raconteur extraordinaire, recently revealed that in his last year or so of grad school at Harvard he was invited to Elizabeth Bishop's home. Once in the front door he found that the entire living room was taken up by a huge ping pong table. Elizabeth Bishop was an avid ping pong enthusiast!
This was in the early 1970s, so Miss Bishop would be in her early 60s (she died in 1979). It's commonly thought that Bishop was a poor reader of her own poems, but Koethe says not so. "I remember she gave one of the greatest readings I've ever seen," he said. She "looked like an aunt of mine" up there, but read wonderfully her beautiful poems. "She was a great reader."
Cut to the ping pong table. Can't you see it? Miss Bishop is home after the reading. Some people have come back to the house. She loses the old-fashioned poetry-reading dress, puts on her pedal pushers and sneaks. (Wait, it's Boston, so they probably call them "trainers.") Someone hands her a beer; she takes a long drag off her cigarette, puts it along the edge of the coffee table shoved up against a wall. She unzips her paddle cover, takes out her custom paddle, turns to face her opponent. "Bring it," she says, her voice seemingly noncommital. Thwack-thwack-thwack. Thwack. Thwack-thwack-thwack-thwack. Thwack-thwack-thwack. Plunk. Point to Miss B. She takes another swig of beer. Pulls another drag from the cigarette, stubs it out in an ashtray. Someone puts on some Brazilian music. "Let's go," she says. Her paddle flashes, her sneaks squeak on the wood floor. Thwack-thwack-thwack, into the night.