Biography of Amy Lowell
an American poet of the imagist school from Brookline, Massachusetts who posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1926.
Lowell was born into Brookline's prominent Lowell family, sister to astronomer Percival Lowell and Harvard president Abbott Lawrence Lowell.
She never attended college because her family did not consider that proper for a woman, but she compensated with avid reading and near-obsessive book collecting. She lived as a socialite and travelled widely, turning to poetry in 1902 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 her more erotic work, 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 her embrace of Imagism to be a kind of hi-jacking of the movement, and among his friends he referred to her as the "hippo-poetess". 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 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.
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. Untermeyer writes that "She was not only a disturber but an awakener." In many poems she dispenses with line breaks so that the work looks like prose on the page. This technique she labeled "polyphonic prose".
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. When she died 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."
Lowell was a short but imposing figure who kept her hair in a bun and wore a pince-nez. She smoked cigars constantly, claiming that they lasted longer than cigarettes. 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."
Lowell not only published her own work but also that of other writers. According to Untermyer, 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 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
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.
In the post-World War II years, Lowell, like other women writers, was largely forgotten, but with the renaissance of the women's movement in the 1970s, women's studies brought her back to light. According to Heywood Broun, however, Lowell personally argued against feminism.
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.
Amy Lowell's Works:
"Fireworks". The Atlantic Monthly 115. April 1915.
A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass (1912)
Sword Blades and Poppy Seed (1914)
Men, Women and Ghosts (1916)
Can Grande's Castle (1919)
Pictures of the Floating World (1919)
Fir-Flower Tablets (1921)
A Critical Fable.
What's O'Clock (1925)
East Wind (1926)
Ballads for Sale (1927)
The Complete Poetical Works of Amy Lowell (1925)
Selected Poems of Amy Lowell, ed. Melissa Bradshaw and Adrienne Munich (2002)
The Complete Poetical Works of Amy Lowell with an introduction by Louis Untermeyer (1955)
AMY LOWELL (1925). JOHN KEATS. HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY.
Some imagist poets. 3. Houghton Mifflin Company. 1917
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Softly the water ripples
Against the canoe's curving side,
Softly the birch trees rustle
Flinging over us branches wide.
Softly the moon glints and glistens
As the water takes and leaves,
Like golden ears of corn
Which fall from loose-bound sheaves,