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Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell Hardcover – October 28, 2008


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Bishop and Lowell were two of the major poets of postwar America. From the time they met in 1947 at a party thrown by their mutual friend and poet, Randall Jarrell, through the end of Lowell's life in 1977, the pair—who saw each other rarely but considered themselves intimate friends—maintained a steady correspondence about literature and their turbulent lives and their own complicated, at times flirtatious friendship. Lowell was manic-depressive and embroiled in two volatile marriages, while Bishop also suffered depression and more than her share of loss, including the suicide of her longtime lover. Many of their now famous letters, previously available in separate volumes, appear here in one volume, their exchanges preserved in the order they were sent and received. Throughout this momentous volume, transcendence comes to these two often troubled writers through the shared experience of art that brought them together and sustained them: If only one could see everything that way all the time!, writes Bishop in 1957, that rare feeling of control, illumination—life is all right, for the time being. 13 b&w photos. (Oct.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

How much one enjoys this volume—300 of the letters here have never before been published—depends on how much one embraces the poetry and lives of Lowell and Bishop. The critics themselves were quite pleased, often strutting out prose with a faintly purple hue in honor of these two postwar poetry giants. Of course, there's a great deal of wit to go around—the usual savaging of colleagues and the mockery of modern society; Bishop takes the road less traveled and even flings some mud at old Robert Frost. A few critics called for stricter editing, given the inclusion of letters detailing dental appointments and job applications. But the unrequited love between Bishop and Lowell redeems any hint of banality; instead, Words in Air is an inspiring lifelong conversation between two great poets.
Copyright 2008 Bookmarks Publishing LLC
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 928 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (October 28, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374185433
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374185435
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.9 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #494,001 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 42 people found the following review helpful By C. Hutton on November 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This correspondence is one long (nearly a thousand pages) love letter between two of the best poets of their generation. Both Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell were personally tortured by their demons (her was alcohol, his was manic-depression) and failed relationships. Though never lovers, their's was a marriage of the minds via the mail for thirty years. It is helpful, though not vital, that the reader be acquainted with their poetry -- the letters have more meaning and one can understand the fuss they had with their written creations. This definiative collection of their letters is a biography of their adult lives.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Tyler Horsley on March 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This has been my bedtime reading for a month now and what a lovely way to end the day.

They lived apart, continents apart, but close in spirit. Their letters are gossipy, smart, unguarded, critical of each others' work, supportive through triumphs and awful trials. They say things to each other that they never would have voiced aloud. (Sometimes they get catty, and mostly they are right.)

As their careers progress, you follow a poem by poem progression. The letters made me aware of the extent to which their poems were written in response to the work of the other, and the importance of their prose and translation to the poems for which they are now famous.

It's a nice book too, a good design, and a fine thing in hand. My only complaint is that the footnotes (which are fascinating) are printed in a tiny font that's almost too small for my tired eyes.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Stuart on December 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I may be regarded as prejudiced but I have long followed the life and poetry of Elizabeth Bishop. This book not only solidified by love of her work but extended it.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Adam Webb on January 10, 2012
Format: Paperback
I spent two and a half years reading Words In Air - reading fifty- or hundred-page chunks between other books - and I think it is the best thing I have read in a very long time. I knew nothing about Elizabeth Bishop or Robert Lowell when I entered their thirty year correspondence (I just like books of letters) and I got to know them, their brilliant poems, their debilitating faults, and the lives of poets (or some poets) from the 1940's to the 1970's. I spent more time than I ever expected trying to understand a defense of Ezra Pound, I researched their favorite books (including Bishop's favorite 19th Century animal fiction, Rolf in the Woods), I listened to the classical pieces they referenced (or dwelt on), I found the Google Street View of their past residences. I didn't become obsessed but - when I was in the book - I felt somehow enmeshed in those two lives. Books of letters leave things out: while reading the very last letter of Words In Air I discovered a rather important bit of gossip about Bishop and American literature that either was glossed over or I missed a few hundred pages earlier. So when some time passes, maybe a few years, I'm going to reopen the book and start again, picking up the pieces I missed and reliving these two lives.
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