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Becoming a Poet
Elizabeth Bishop with Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell
David Kalstone
University of Michigan Press, 2001
Becoming a Poet traces the evolution of Elizabeth Bishop's poetic career through her friendships with other poets, notably Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell. Published in 1989 following critic David Kalstone's death, with the help of a number of his friends and colleagues, it was greeted with uniformly enthusiastic praise. Hailed at that time as "one of the most sensitive appreciations of Elizabeth Bishop's genius ever composed" and "a first-rate piece of criticism" and "a masterpiece of understanding about friendship and about poetry," it has been largely unavailable in recent years.

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The Given and the Made
Strategies of Poetic Redefinition
Helen Vendler
Harvard University Press, 1995

Join Professor Helen Vendler in her course lecture on the Yeats poem "Among School Children". View her insightful and passionate analysis along with a condensed reading and student comments on the course.

How does a poet repeatedly make art over a lifetime out of an arbitrary assignment of fate? By asking this question of the work of four American poets--two men of the postwar generation, two young women writing today--Helen Vendler suggests a fruitful way of looking at a poet's career and a new way of understanding poetic strategies as both mastery of forms and forms of mastery.

Fate hands every poet certain unavoidable "givens." Of the poets Vendler studies, Robert Lowell sprang from a family famous in American and especially New England history; John Berryman found himself an alcoholic manic-depressive; Rita Dove was born black; Jorie Graham grew up trilingual, with three words for every object. In Vendler's readings, we see how these poets return again and again to the problems set out by their givens, and how each invents complex ways, both thematic and formal, of making poetry out of fate.

Compelling for its insights into the work of four notable poets, this book by a leading critic of poetry is also invaluable for what it has to tell us about the poetic process--about how art copes with the obdurate givens of life, and about the conflict in art between the whim of fate and the artist's will to choose.


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Robert Lowell in Love
Jeffrey Meyers
University of Massachusetts Press, 2015
Robert Lowell was known not only as a great poet but also as a writer whose devotion to his art came at a tremendous personal cost. In this book, his third on Robert Lowell, Jeffrey Meyers examines the poet's impassioned, troubled relationships with the key women in his life: his mother, Charlotte Winslow Lowell; his three wives—Jean Stafford, Elizabeth Hardwick, and Caroline Blackwood; nine of his many lovers; his close women friends—Mary McCarthy, Elizabeth Bishop, and Adrienne Rich; and his most talented students, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath.

Lowell's charismatic personality, compelling poetry, and literary fame attracted lovers and friends who were both frightened and excited by his aura of brilliance and danger. He loved the idea of falling in love, and in his recurring manic episodes he needed women at the center of his emotional and artistic life. Each affair became an intense dramatic episode. Though he idealized his loves and encouraged their talents, his frenetic affairs and tortured marriages were always conducted on his own terms. Robert Lowell in Love tells the story of the poet in the grip of love and gives voice to the women who loved him, inspired his poetry, and suffered along with him.

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Robert Lowell's Life and Work
Damaged Grandeur
Richard Tillinghast, Editor
University of Michigan Press, 1995
Robert Lowell was regarded by many as the greatest American poet of his generation. "Somehow or other...in the middle of our worst century so far," his contemporary and friend Elizabeth Bishop wrote, "we have produced a magnificent poet." The scion of a distinguished New England family, Lowell crafted his poetry to comment on the nation's fate and even to influence the course of American politics. Along with Anne Sexton, John Berryman, and Sylvia Plath, he was a pioneer in the movement later known as Confessional Poetry, and his political gestures were often timely and controversial: his refusal of President Johnson's invitation to the White House came to symbolize the opposition of writers and intellectuals to the Vietnam War. Since Lowell's death in 1977, his reputation has suffered a decline; yet arguably no poet living today writes with the same authority, the same sense of grandeur.
Robert Lowell's Life and Work: Damaged Grandeur is a critical memoir by acclaimed poet Richard Tillinghast, a friend and student of Lowell's in the 1960s. Tillinghast shows how Lowell's gift for the grand gesture was tragically intertwined with the manic-depressive illness that afflicted him throughout his adult life- hence the "damaged grandeur" of the title. This book offers a radical re- examination of Lowell's poetic career and argues for the restoration of this complex and troubled poet to a pre-eminent position in American letters.
Richard Tillinghast's books of poetry include Our Flag was Still There, Sewanee in Ruins, The Knife and Other Poems, and Sleep Watch. He writes regularly for The New York Times, Atlantic Monthly, and The New Republic. He is Professor Emeritus of English, University of Michigan, and is the recipient of a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation.

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