Amy Lowell

Amy Lowell, American poet

Amy Lowell (February 9, 1874 – May 12, 1925) was an American poet known for a form of poetry called Imagism. The product of a wealthy Brookline, Massachusetts family, she was educated privately and spent part of her youth traveling abroad. Her family discouraged their female members to attend college, so read avidly to make up for her lack of formal education. Lowell was known for her forceful personality and habits, which included smoking cigars and using radical language.

Imagist poetry, according to her was defined as the “concentration is of the very essence of poetry” and aimed to “produce poetry that is hard and clear, never blurred nor indefinite.” Her first collection of poems, A Dome of Many-Colored Glass, was published in 1912, to a tepid response. Around the same time, she began a relationship with an actress, Ada Dwyer Russell.


Europe and influences

A trip to Europe brought her into contact with poet Ezra Pound who was both an influence on her work, and also a critic of  it — he believed that she somehow usurped the imagist movement. Pound had already broken off from the Imagist poets, and after his encounter with Lowell, called it, not in a complimentary way “Amygism.”

Despite her inauspicious beginnings as a published poet, Lowell saw more success as her career progressed. Her poetry was widely published in magazines and other publications. Sword Blades and Poppy Seed (1914), a collection of poems enjoyed much favorable attention, as did her collection of literary criticism, Six French Poets (1915).


Poet Amy Lowell at age 16

Amy Lowell at age 16


Tirelessly promoting, constantly writing

Lowell’s energy was legendary — she lectured tirelessly to promote poetry, and wrote ceaselessly — in addition to more than 650 poems, she wrote numerous essays, as well as works of criticism and translation. Other collections included Men, Women, and Ghosts (1916), and What’s O’Clock? (1925). The Penguin Companion to American Literature describes her work as follows:

“Versatile rather than original, scintillating rather than substantial, her poetry lacks the firmness and concision advocated by Imagist theoreticians, and is in fact less Imagistic than impressionistic. Self-consciously exotic and extravagant, it is ablaze with flowers and rich fabrics.

Although a devoted New Englander, she would often wander nostalgically to pre-Revolutionary France or to a never-never land. She possessed an amazing facility for rhyming, but her characteristic form is an unrhymed free verse. She also experimented with polyphonic prose, and intermittently rhymed prose-poetry.”


Legacy

Lowell suffered from a glandular disorder that caused many health problems, and in 1925, at age 51, died of a cerebral hemorrhage. In 1926 she won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, for What’s O’Clock, published the previous year. Her Complete Poetical Works wasn’t published until 1955.

Lowell’s work faded from favor for some time, but the women’s movement of the 1970’s brought renewed attention to her work. One critic, Richard Aldington, summed up her legacy: “In Amy there was something of an artist and a real aesthetic appreciation.”


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