From Publishers Weekly
One can't help, reading through this massive, spellbinding volume, mourning some of what has been lost in American poetry since the Partisan Review crowd was in the ascendant. Lowell's work evinces a contagious earnestness about writing (and rewriting) poetry in a bid for immortality, and an intellectual aggressiveness that is more ethical than metaphysical in nature (like Auden, Lowell's pacifist politics were often transparent). Lowell's embodied, phantasmagoric sense of history and geography highlights his generation's greater chronological proximity to Pound and, before him, Robert Browning. And the imagistic impulse that fueled much mid-century poetry is best typified by Lowell's unerring sense of visual detail: "...octagonal red tiles,/ sweaty with a secret dank, crummy with ant-stale;/ a Rocky Mountain chaise lounge,/ its legs, shellacked saplings." The greatest misfortune of Lowell's critical reception is that he has been lastingly deemed a confessional poet; as Bidart's closing essay notes, not only did Lowell carefully sift through details to preserve those with greatest aesthetic effect, but these details themselves were sometimes stolen from the lives of his peers. Either way, fans will be delighted to see the full version of The Mills of the Kavanaughs (which was cut down to a handful of stanzas for the Selected Poems) as well as the complete Land of Unlikeness, Lowell's debut which he never allowed to be reprinted. Not enough can be said to encourage the reader to absorb, and even attack, this book. From the earliest poems to several late, unfinished works, Lowell's style-"lurid, rapid, garish, grouped/ heightened from life,/ yet paralyzed by fact"-emerges as a sweeping constant, one that revealingly manages to accommodate successive poetic challenges and misreadings.
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In the quarter-century since his death, Lowell's personality and life have overshadowed his poetry. No more. Poets Bidart (who knew Lowell and who expertly dismantles Lowell's reputation as confessional poet) and Gewanter present the first collected volume of this pivotal American voice, a gathering astonishing in its breadth and power. Here are poems in manuscript; works "buried since first publication," including Lowell's first book, Land of Unlikeness
(1944); and poems from his 11 ensuing collections, including Life Studies
(1959) and The Dolphin
(1973). As Bidart observes, Lowell, the recipient of many awards, including two Pulitzers and the National Book Award, labored intently over his work, writing and rewriting, just as he repeatedly plumbed the depths of his blueblood family history and grappled with humanity's perpetual struggles with love and war, inheritance and freedom. Substantial notes, a chronology, glossary, and critical essays make this an essential title. Readers who think they know Lowell's work will discover new facets, and readers just venturing into Lowell's potently rendered and ceaselessly evocative poetic universe will find much to contemplate. Donna SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved