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Boston Poetry Series: On Robert Lowell

Originally Sent out 10/30 as part of our first Donor Newsletter for our supporters on Patreon


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Poetry too often gets overlooked as starchy and even more of an injustice is that the poets themselves are looked over as uninteresting people. Have you read a biography of a poet recently, or even a simple Poetry Foundation biography of one? They are excessively interesting people, particularly poets from in and around Boston.

My first poet for this series is the eminent Boston poet, Robert Lowell. Lowell is a master of craft and line. His political consciousness paralleled his craft making him the distinct 20th century Boston poet, that is of course, opposite Sylvia Plath.

Part of the inspiration for this writing was a work by Kay Redfield Jamison, which I highly recommend, called “Setting the River on Fire” which is a long analysis on Robert Lowell’s creativity as it relates to his mental illness of manic-depressive disorder. This work was written with Lowell’s extensive medical and psychiatric records in tow and aims to set the record straight from a particularly scathing biography of the poet published shortly after his death. While Lowell was notably ‘eccentric’ (in large part due to his manic-depressive illness) he was not the monster the biography made him out to be.

He did however pitch a tent outside Kenyon college when the University accepted his application but didn’t have housing for the young Lowell (he was later given appropriate housing). It is also worth noting how filthy rich his family was; the Lowell family is characterized as a member of the Boston Brahmins where poetry like money was in his family’s blood. In ‘Cal’s’ more ‘professional life’ as a poet and teacher he would entertain his friends with hours long reenactments of battles from the French Revolution or drunkenly ramble for chunks of hours, (think like 10+) at a time about poetry and art.

Lowell certainly did not live a boring life, but it ended abruptly in 1977 due to a heart attack in the back of a cab. Lowell is most famous for his books Life Studies, For the Union Dead, and The Dolphin and I highly recommend any poetry lover these books.


Chris Hues is a human & writer from Boston, Ma & Associate Editor of //// They can be reached at [email protected] or @crsjh_ via instagram & twitter.

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