Saturday, February 09, 2013

The Letter by Amy Lowell

Today would have been Amy Lowell's birthday. Amy Lawrence Lowell was a member of the same Boston Lowell family that later spawned Robert Lowell, who was Poet Laureate of the United States for a while. But she’s not a direct ancestor, on account of family names don’t pass that way. Also, she was a lesbian. She had a long-time affair (then called a "Boston marriage") with an actress named Ada Dwyer Russell, star of stage and screen.

Lowell was highly influenced early on by the poetry of John Keats, and she remained fascinated with him throughout her life; she eventually wrote a two-volume biography of his life. Lowell was an imagist (or, to use her word, an "imagiste"), along the lines of H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) and Ezra Pound, although Pound didn’t care for her or her poems, perhaps because he was annoyed when she published anthologies of imagist poems in the United States before he did. Lowell died in 1925. Her collection What’s O’Clock, which contains the full text of "The Sisters," won the Pulitzer Prize the following year. In addition to publishing the poems of poets including H.D. and T.S. Eliot, Lowell championed many other poets, including Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg. Lowell made enormous contributions to American poetry with her own writing (poetry and prose), and through her ardent support of other contemporary poets.

Lowell’s reputation suffered after her death, in part because she’d been ahead of her time, and in part due to prejudice: she was female, she was obese, and she was a lesbian. Those traits were seen as three strikes to a number of people in the literary "establishment", and she was marginalized as a result. Lowell’s poetry is being "rediscovered" these days, and she is commonly recognized to be the first female American poet to consider herself part of a feminine (some say feminist) literary tradition.

Her poems were often intensely personal and somewhat erotic. How can one not swoon at her wonderful words?

The Letter
by Amy Lowell

Little cramped words scrawling all over the paper
Like draggled fly's legs,
What can you tell of the flaring moon
Through the oak leaves?
Or of my uncertain window and the bare floor
Spattered with moonlight?
Your silly quirks and twists have nothing in them
Of blossoming hawthorns,
And this paper is dull, crisp, smooth, virgin of loveliness
Beneath my hand.

I am tired, Beloved, of chafing my heart against
The want of you;
Of squeezing it into little inkdrops,
And posting it.
And I scald alone, here, under the fire
Of the great moon.

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