Amy Lowell

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Amy Lawrence Lowell
Amy Lowell Time magazine cover 1925.jpg
Lowell on the cover of TIME magazine in 1925
Born Amy Lawrence Lowell
(1874-02-09)February 9, 1874
Brookline, Massachusetts
Died May 12, 1925(1925-05-12) (aged 51)
Brookline, Massachusetts
Occupation Poet
Notable award(s) Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

Amy Lawrence Lowell (February 9, 1874 – May 12, 1925) was an American poet of the imagist school from Brookline, Massachusetts, who posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1926.

Personal life[edit]

Lowell as a child

Lowell was born into Brookline's Lowell family, sister to astronomer Percival Lowell and Harvard president Abbott Lawrence Lowell.[1]

School was a source of considerable despair for the young Amy Lowell. She considered herself to be developing "masculine" and "ugly" features and she was a social outcast. She had a reputation among her classmates for being outspoken and opinionated. [2]

She never attended college because her family did not consider it proper for a woman to do so. She compensated for this lack with avid reading and near-obsessive book collecting. She lived as a socialite and travelled widely, turning to poetry in 1902 (age 28) after being inspired by a performance of Eleonora Duse in Europe.

Lowell was said to be lesbian, and in 1912 she and actress Ada Dwyer Russell were reputed to be lovers. Russell is reputed to be the subject of Lowell's more erotic works, most notably the love poems contained in 'Two Speak Together', a subsection of Pictures of the Floating World. The two women traveled to England together, where Lowell met Ezra Pound, who at once became a major influence and a major critic of her work. Pound considered Lowell's embrace of Imagism to be a kind of hi-jacking of the movement. Lowell has been linked romantically to writer Mercedes de Acosta, but the only evidence of any contact between them is a brief correspondence about a planned memorial for Duse. Lowell was a short but imposing figure who kept her hair in a bun and wore a pince-nez.

Lowell smoked cigars constantly, claiming that they lasted longer than cigarettes. She was associated with her cigar smoking habit publicly, since newspapers frequently mentioned it. [3] A glandular problem kept her perpetually overweight, so that poet Witter Bynner once said, in a cruel comment repeated by Ezra Pound and thereafter commonly misattributed to him, that she was a "hippopoetess."[4]

Lowell died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1925, at the age of 51. The following year, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for What's O'Clock. That collection included the patriotic poem "Lilacs", which Louis Untermeyer said was the poem of hers he liked best.

Career[edit]

Her first published work appeared in 1910 in Atlantic Monthly. The first published collection of her poetry, A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass, appeared two years later, in 1912. An additional group of uncollected poems was added to the volume The Complete Poetical Works of Amy Lowell, published in 1955 with an introduction by Louis Untermeyer, who considered himself her friend.

Though she sometimes wrote sonnets, Lowell was an early adherent to the "free verse" method of poetry and one of the major champions of this method. She defined it in her preface to "Sword Blades and Poppy Seed"; in the North American Review for January, 1917; in the closing chapter of "Tendencies in Modern American Poetry"; and also in the Dial (January 17, 1918), as: "The definition of Vers libre is: a verse-formal based upon cadence. To understand vers libre, one must abandon all desire to find in it the even rhythm of metrical feet. One must allow the lines to flow as they will when read aloud by an intelligent reader. Or, to put it another way, unrhymed cadence is "built upon 'organic rhythm,' or the rhythm of the speaking voice with its necessity for breathing, rather than upon a strict metrical system. Free verse within its own law of cadence has no absolute rules; it would not be 'free' if it had." [5]

Untermeyer writes that "[s]he was not only a disturber but an awakener."[6] In many poems, Lowell dispenses with line breaks, so that the work looks like prose on the page. This technique she labeled "polyphonic prose".[7]

Throughout her working life, Lowell was a promoter of both contemporary and historical poets. Her book Fir-Flower Poets was a poetical re-working of literal translations of the works of ancient Chinese poets, notably Li Tai-po (A.D. 701-762). Her writing also included critical works on French literature. At the time of her death, she was attempting to complete her two-volume biography of John Keats. Writing of Keats, Lowell said that "the stigma of oddness is the price a myopic world always exacts of genius."[8]

Lowell not only published her own work, but also that of other writers. According to Untermeyer, she "captured" the Imagist movement from Ezra Pound. Pound threatened to sue her for bringing out her three-volume series Some Imagist Poets, and thereafter derisively called the American Imagists the "Amygist" movement. Pound criticized her as not an imagist, but merely a rich woman who was able to financially assist the publication of imagist poetry. She said that Imagism was weak before she took it up, whereas others said it became weak after Pound's "exile" towards Vorticism.

Altercation with F. Holland Day[edit]

Lowell was frustrated in composing her biography of Keats by the famous publisher and photographer F. Holland Day. Day, alongside an unrivaled possession of Keatsiana, possessed exclusive copies of Fanny Brawne's letters to Keats. Fanny was the woman whom Keats had unsuccessfully pursued and the letters were therefore of considerable biographical interest. Lowell, who hoped to publish the definitive volume of biography, was forced to pursue a reluctant and rather mischievously reticent Day for these artifacts, with little success.

Legacy[edit]

Grave of Amy Lowell in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts

In the post-World War I years, Lowell was largely forgotten, but the women's movement in the 1970s and women's studies brought her back to light. According to Heywood Broun, however, Lowell personally argued against feminism.[9]

Additional sources of interest in Lowell today come from the anti-war sentiment of the oft-taught poem "Patterns"; her personification of inanimate objects, as in "The Green Bowl," and "The Red Lacquer Music Stand"; and her lesbian themes, including the love poems addressed to Ada Dwyer Russell in "Two Speak Together" and her poem "The Sisters", which addresses her female poetic predecessors.

Works[edit]

Books[edit]

Criticism[edit]

  • AMY LOWELL (1925). JOHN KEATS. HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY. 

Anthology[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Chosön, the Land of the Morning Calm; a Sketch of Korea". World Digital Library. Retrieved 30 April 2013. 
  2. ^ Horace Gregory, Amy Lowell: Portrait of the Poet in her Own Time, Books for Libraries Press, Freeport, New York, 1958
  3. ^ Gregory, pg.96
  4. ^ Adrienne Munich, Melissa Bradshaw (2004). Amy Lowell, American modern. Rutgers University Press. p. 171. ISBN 978-0-8135-3356-8. 
  5. ^ Lowes, Livingston John Conventions and Revolt in Poetry, 1919
  6. ^ Alan Shucard, Fred Moramarco, William Sullivan (1990). Modern American poetry, 1865-1950. University of Massachusetts Press. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-87023-720-1. 
  7. ^ Michel Delville (1998). The American prose poem. University Press of Florida. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-8130-1591-0. 
  8. ^ Amy Lowell (1925). John Keats II. Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 152. 
  9. ^ Sonja Samberger (2005). Artistic outlaws. Berlin-Hamburg-Münster: LIT Verlag. pp. 43–44. ISBN 978-3-8258-8616-5. 

References[edit]

  • Amy Lowell, American Modern: Critical Essays, ed. Adrienne Munich and Melissa Bradshaw, New Brunswick, NJ:Rutgers University Press, 2004.
  • "Outselling the Modernisms of Men: Amy Lowell and the Art of Self-Commodification," Victorian Poetry Volume 38, No. 1 (Spring 2000), 141–169. [1]
  • Rollyson, Carl, Amy Lowell Anew: A Biography, Rowman & Littlefield Publisher, 2013. ISBN 978-1442223929.

External links[edit]

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Owen D. Young
Cover of Time magazine
March 2, 1925
Succeeded by
Nicholas Longworth