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"Taking us by and large, we're a queer lot
We women who write poetry. And when you think
How few of us there've been, it's queerer still.
I wonder what it is that makes us do it.
Singles us out to scribble down, man-wise,
The fragments of ourselves."

Thus begins a fairly lengthy poem by today’s featured poet, Amy Lowell, called "The Sisters", which discusses three women poets in particular while examining the nature of women poets. The female poets she "calls out" in "The Sisters" are Sappho, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Emily Dickinson, imagining conversations with each, linking to their poetic traditions and, ultimately, rejecting those traditions for her own, new course.

The following poem is from a 1919 collection called Pictures of the Floating World:

Summer Rain
by Amy Lowell

All night our room was outer-walled with rain.
Drops fell and flattened on the tin roof,
And rang like little disks of metal.
Ping!–Ping!–and there was not a pinpoint of silence between them.
The rain rattled and clashed,
And the slats of the shutters danced and glittered.
But to me the darkness was red-gold and crocus-colored
With your brightness,
And the words you whispered to me
Sprang up and flamed–orange torches against the rain.
Torches against the wall of cool, silver rain!

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, for and about whom Lowell wrote "Summer Rain" and the poem a bit later in this post, "The Taxi".

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. One or more of these may be the reason why Harold Bloom omitted her from his collection, The Best Poems of the English Language from Chaucer to Frost. Lowell's birthdate certainly fit within the scope of the book, her poems seem worthy of consideration, but she's not one of the 11 women included in the book. And it can't be that Bloom didn't like her because Ezra Pound didn't like her, since Bloom states clearly that he has little esteem for Pound, "whether as a person or poet." But I digress. 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.

The Taxi
by Amy Lowell

When I go away from you
The world beats dead
Like a slackened drum.
I call out for you against the jutted stars
And shout into the ridges of the wind.
Streets coming fast,
One after the other,
Wedge you away from me,
And the lamps of the city prick my eyes
So that I can no longer see your face.
Why should I leave you,
To wound myself upon the sharp edges of the night?

"The Taxi" is from a collection called Sword Blades and Poppy Seeds.

In an obituary he wrote about Amy Lowell, Heywood Broun wrote, "She was upon the surface of things a Lowell, a New Englander and a spinster. But inside everything was molten like the core of the earth... Given one more gram of emotion, Amy Lowell would have burst into flame and been consumed to cinders."

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( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 28th, 2007 12:10 pm (UTC)
Your posts are always so detailed, slightly opinionated (yeah!) and so fascinating to read. Harold Bloom obviously should bow down to you.

I particularly love the last two lines of The Taxi. Normally, I would hate a bland title like "The Taxi," but when you've got all that emotion in the lines that follow (as Broun says of Lowell herself,) a perfectly neutral intro is devastatingly right.

Sara Lewis Holmes
Sep. 28th, 2007 12:12 pm (UTC)
Harold Bloom is a ridiculously intelligent intellectual, and undoubtedly knows far more than I. But still, omitting Lowell was a gaffe.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 28th, 2007 01:17 pm (UTC)
Having read up a bit on Amy Lowell, I'm reminded of the book Possession, by A.S. Byatt, which I read not long ago. (She invented a Victorian poet who was reputed to be a lesbian, but who had an affair with a married Victorian male poet, and in inventing both of the poets, she invented their poetry, too.) There's a great line from a letter in which the woman, Lamott, writes "Did you not flame, and I catch fire?" Somehow, that evokes both the last lines of "Summer Rain" and the idea within the Broun quote.
Sep. 28th, 2007 01:10 pm (UTC)
You did it again!

I have been sucked into these poems and these words and these stories and these people and the images are swirling in my head...I now will seek out more and more and do what I do best to honor these folks and what they do best...

...and all because of what you do best!

Thank you
Sep. 28th, 2007 01:13 pm (UTC)
You are very welcome. Amy Lowell was a Massachusetts girl, so I'm sure you can find out lots about her up there. She's a little, er, beefier than your usual subjects, but I'm thinking that might be really interesting for you. She smoked cigars and wore pince-nez glasses, which is decidedly cool, no?
Sep. 28th, 2007 05:41 pm (UTC)
Amy either named or was named from a couple of eastern MA towns...Amy LAWRENCE LOWELL.... ;-)

I was intrigued by her "sisters" and her rivals (Pound) and friends (Eliot)....

I love a "circus" of characters!
Sep. 30th, 2007 12:19 am (UTC)
Lowell Massachusetts was named after her family. Probably Lawrence was a similar deal.
Sep. 30th, 2007 01:02 am (UTC)
Yeah, I read that last night... Mother was wealthy too...she's the Lawrence part.
Sep. 28th, 2007 02:30 pm (UTC)
Very interesting subject. A couple of questions:

When was she born and how old was she when she died in 1925?

I've never heard the term "Boston marriage". Was this because she lived in that area in what was a gay community or was this a term used in other areas?

Was it her first published work that won the Prize or was she well known/ published by then?
Sep. 28th, 2007 02:44 pm (UTC)
She was 51 when she died, and was born in 1874. (I remembered her age, but had to look up her birthdate -- weird, right?)

I'd heard the term "Boston marriage" before a long time ago -- it was a term used in the 19th century to describe a household consisting of two unmarried women (not all "Boston marriages" were necessarily lesbian or sexual in nature). Per Wikipedia, the term is still in use to describe two women who live together in a committed relationship, but one that is not sexual in nature. (Think co-habiting spinsters, if you will.) She did not live in a gay community, nor did such a thing truly exist during her lifetime. She lived in Sevenels, a mansion in Brookline, Mass. owned by the Lowell family.

Her first poetry collection was published in 1910, and she published quite a number of her own collections as well as anthologies of poems prior to her death, and she was a noted speaker as well as a book reviewer. Her brother was the President of Harvard, I believe, at the time.

Sep. 28th, 2007 02:36 pm (UTC)
TadMack says:
A Boston Marriage is a marriage between women, isn't it?

I've not read much of Amy Lowell, but I really do like what I've read. I, too, need to expand my adult poetry selections, so very many thanks for this!
Sep. 28th, 2007 02:45 pm (UTC)
Re: TadMack says:
Si, correcto! Only it need not be a sexual relationship in order to qualify.
Sep. 28th, 2007 02:41 pm (UTC)
What a fabulous post! And I have always LOVED LOVED that poem, "The Taxi."

-- Jules, 7-Imp
Sep. 28th, 2007 02:45 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Jules. Isn't her work marvelous? I really have to find a copy of What's O'Clock?, at the very least.
Sep. 28th, 2007 02:52 pm (UTC)
I discovered Amy Lowell when Dorothy Gillman quoted from her poem, Patterns, in her novel, Caravan. It's a lovley poem, and sorry if this makes this comment to long, but here's the last verse:

In Summer and in Winter I shall walk
Up and down
The patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
The squills and daffodils
Will give place to pillared roses, and to asters, and to snow.
I shall go
Up and down,
In my gown.
Gorgeously arrayed,
Boned and stayed.
And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace
By each button, hook, and lace.
For the man who should loose me is dead,
Fighting with the Duke in Flanders,
In a pattern called a war.
Christ! What are patterns for?
Sep. 28th, 2007 03:10 pm (UTC)
Your comment is just the right length
Dear anyonymous commenter -- thank you for your post.

I went to read the whole poem after you posted the final stanza. It is astonishing. Full of imagery (as one would expect), but with a deft use of subtle rhyme to create a pattern, so that form meets function. And oh, the many different meanings of pattern that are encompassed there.

Sep. 28th, 2007 03:44 pm (UTC)
Re: Your comment is just the right length
Hi Kelly,

I was the anonymous one--I always am forgetting that I have to sign my name in live journal world...

(of Charlotte's Library)
Sep. 28th, 2007 03:46 pm (UTC)
Re: Your comment is just the right length
Hi Kelly,

I was the anonymous poster--I'm always forgetting I have to sign my name in live journal world! I'm glad you like the poem.

(of Charlotte's Library)
Sep. 28th, 2007 03:40 pm (UTC)
When I hear "Boston Marriage," I think of Boston Cream Pie... but that could just be due to my occasional longings for things I've told myself "no!"

Thank you for introducing me to Amy Lowell. I've heard of her, and I probably met her in college, but this is the first time I've actually read her.

Sep. 28th, 2007 04:49 pm (UTC)
I'd only read one or two of her poems until I started casting about for this week's Poetry Friday topic — I'm far from a Lowell expert. But I've now read at least a dozen pieces, and they are all staggeringly, heartachingly good.
Sep. 28th, 2007 06:25 pm (UTC)
Well I certainly need to read more Amy Lowell! These are amazing.
Sep. 30th, 2007 12:20 am (UTC)
Re: cloudscome:
I agree on both counts!
Sep. 28th, 2007 07:34 pm (UTC)
She's unsung, for sure. Thanks for these.
And don't you hope your obituary has something about molten earth and flames???! Wow...
Sep. 30th, 2007 12:20 am (UTC)
Isn't that awesome?
Sep. 28th, 2007 08:39 pm (UTC)
Thanks for another enlightening post. It's been years since I read any of Lowell's poetry, but today I feel so much smarter after reading this. You always know just how to frame the poems you feature with just the right amount of info. Talk about flames of passion . . .
Sep. 30th, 2007 12:20 am (UTC)
Aw, thanks, Jama -- that's sweet of you to say.
Sep. 28th, 2007 09:44 pm (UTC)
I love these poets! I also love to write poetry. My grandmother's maiden name is Dickinson. I like to imagine Emily is an ancestor of mine and maybe I have a tiny bit of her talent.:)
Sep. 30th, 2007 12:21 am (UTC)
She could be related (although not in the direct line, obviously), so why not?
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )

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