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The Robert Lowell Revival: Peter Davison

     Robert Lowell (1917-1977) is back, in spirit and in a massive new edition of Collected Poems.  I feel him hovering again over a surreal presidential campaign.  In Eugene McCarthy’s anti-Vietnam insurrection of 1967 and 1968, Lowell was the spooky presence often in the car with the candidate, or at his side, bearing witness as only a certifiably mad poet could (a “throughbred mental case,” in his phrase) that the times were out of joint.  The autobiographical, oft narcissistic Lowell can be classified as a father of “confessional” poetry, though he rejected the label.  Just as clearly he was a poet of public life in a line going back to the Romans.  Lowell rose to the occasion of the 1960s as something of a Boston Brahmin version of Norman Mailer, a celebrity rebel, historian and aphorist for all time.

Only man thinning out his kind

sounds through the Sabbath noon, the blind

swipe of the pruner and his knife

busy about the tree of life…


Pity the planet, all joy gone

from this sweet volcanic cone;

peace to our children when they fall

in small war on the heels of small

war–until the end of time

to police the earth, a ghost

orbiting forever lost

in our monotonous sublime.

                    from “Waking Early Sunday Morning”

     Politics may be the least of the reasons to rediscover Robert Lowell.  His Collected Poems, edited and annotated by Frank Bidart and David Gewanter, is being read and reargued all over the place–in blogs, too, of course.  In poetry publishing, some say, this is the biggest event since Wallace Stevens’ Collected Poems of 1954.  Our assignment is to share a little of the sound and fury of Lowell’s poetry.  The conversations here with the poet and editor Peter Davison are only a beginning.  Part One is a quick walk around the Lowell monument and, in particular, his best-known poem, “For the Union Dead.”  Part Two invokes the poet of his own madness in poems like “Man and Wife” and “Skunk Hour.”

     To be continued.


{ 15 } Comments

  1. Anonymous | October 14, 2003 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    As a software engineer vitally concerned with the ease with which Bush thugs will steal the next election as well, I am looking to you to help publicize the bits and bytes of how easy it is. I gave testimony to both the Boston City Council and the ACLU about the ease of stealing a computerized election: note they use the euphemism (electronic voting machines) because the know the emotional connotation of the word ‘computer’. As in ‘fucked-up bigtime’.
    Enjoy your work. When will you be back to NPR or ANY station, channel or otherwise? If Jimmy Tingle can do it, so can you!!! Dick Gordon nauseates me, even though he is a Canadian (my next home, if this keeps up).
    Cheers, Alice of Canton, Ma.

  2. Anonymous | October 14, 2003 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    /sorry, forgot the instructions> Enjoy Robert Lowell and his connection with Ann Sexton and Sylvia Plath. Can’t wait to see your review of THAT movie. What would Robert Lowell have thought of Ted Hughes? I froth at the mouth at the thought of his stealing and eliminating Sylvia’s work (as well as the devilish activities of his sister). What part did Lowell’s family have in all his madness? Remember, it’s the entire family, not just one person who provide the breeding ground for madness.

  3. Anonymous | October 15, 2003 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Well, my first comment got deleted. If you want to see the other stuff that I posted about Lowell, taking up Ron Silliman’s comments on his blog, it’s on this archive page:

    There’s also a link on this page to a .pdf of the Silliman/Lowell commentaries. Cheers, bks

  4. Anonymous | January 5, 2005 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

  5. Anonymous | January 5, 2005 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

  6. Martinos | January 16, 2008 at 6:15 am | Permalink


  7. RickVallen | March 13, 2009 at 9:15 am | Permalink

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  9. cv writinig services | December 2, 2010 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    I love Robert Lowell and similar poets of the confessional era. It is their brute honesty and bluntness that revolutionised the way people started to think about poetry. Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath are icons too in their own right.

  10. senuke x | December 2, 2010 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    I have a copy of Robert Lowell’s collected poems andf must say that his poetry has a profound impact upon me. He is one of my heroes because of the way that he can capture an image and make it stick in your mind for hours. His poetry isn’t celebrated enough.

  11. Dallas Jackson | February 23, 2011 at 4:10 am | Permalink

    Hey, this is my first comment on your site. I’ve been reading it for a while but haven’t commented before.  Anyways, thanks for the post I ve been a fan of Lowell for quite some time now.

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