September 4, 2005 |
TO read this rich, illuminating collection of correspondence from one of the greatest American poets is to be reminded of a time when writers of verse weren't shunted away from society but were actively engaged in it. Not so much "the unacknowledged legislators of the world," as Percy Bysshe Shelley famously proclaimed, but acknowledged public figures.
June 22, 2003 |
IN the words of his friend Frank Bidart, Robert Lowell was "not quite civilized," not because Lowell was occasionally outrageous or intermittently out of his mind, although he was. He once camped, uninvited, for months on the lawn of his mentor, Allen Tate; he broke the nose of his first wife, Jean Stafford, once by accident, once on purpose; he altered and published the personal letters of his second wife, Elizabeth Hardwick, in his lacerating poems about his third, Lady Caroline Blackwood.
April 2, 2000
History has to live with what was here, clutching and close to fumbling all we had-- it is so dull and gruesome how we die, unlike writing, life never finishes. Abel was finished; death is not remote, a flash-in-the-pan electrifies the skeptic, his cows crowding like skulls against high-voltage wire, his baby crying all night like a new machine.
August 1, 1999
We smile at each other and I lean back against the wicker couch. How does it feel to be dead? I say. You touch my knees with your blue fingers. And when you open your mouth, a ball of yellow light falls to the floor and burns a hole through it. Don't tell me, I say. I don't want to hear.
May 12, 1996 |
TALKING TO ANGELS: A Life Spent in High Latitudes by Robert Perkins (Beacon: $18; 106 pp.). In the spring of his 19th year, 1968, Perkins had (although he does not name it or explain the reasons for it) an old-fashioned nervous breakdown. He was admitted to McLean Hospital in Boston, a place where Robert Lowell did time and Anne Sexton once taught a poetry class.
January 1, 1995 |
Paul Mariani's "Lost Puritan: A Life of Robert Lowell," is a just and readable portrait of the man he views as "the poet-historian of our time," if not the last of our "influential public poets, poets in the tradition of Emerson, Frost, and Eliot." Grand statements, to be sure, but Robert Lowell's life and career were nothing less than grand, for long before his death in 1977, his stature as American poetry's most visible link to the "great tradition" of the past made him seem Olympian.