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Robert Lowell: Collected Poems: Edited by Frank Bidart and David Gewanter; Introduction by Frank Bidart Hardcover – June, 2003

4.9 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

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 Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1200 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (June 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374126178
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374126179
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 2.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #939,035 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By J. Cohen on December 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I believe that Lowell's work is best viewed through this expansive collection. No single book of his poetry truly captures the full breadth of his literary accomplishments. Of course, if you're only looking for an introduction to his work, Life Studies or For the Union Dead would probably do.

But if you really want to understand the full scope of his talent, then this book is indispensable. I would even go so far as to say that this book will probably cement Lowell's place among America's finest poets in years to come.
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Format: Hardcover
Robert Lowell, one of the latter 20th century's most popular poets, seems to have recently dropped off the radar. This is probably partially due to a critical point of view which has emerged, stating basically that Lowell was a product of his time and has now beem outmoded.
This book should dispel that feeling.
One need only look back on a poem like 'Memories Of West Street And Lepke' from Life Studies to realize that even if, in a hundred years, someone reads this having no idea who Lepke was, the poem could still be enjoyed. It is the poem itself, as Helen Vendler said in a round-about way, which makes the mark.
Despite the hefty price tag on this volume, if you're interested in Lowell, you should own this book. There's things here which simply cannot be found elsewhere: his first, and never again published Land Of Unlikeness, magazine versions of poems later revised in their book forms, poems in manuscript which Lowell never finished. Aside from the poems (which a dogged individual could track down in their book forms with Amazon and Alibris), it's these bonuses which make the volume special, and change that price tag from wow-that's-a-lot to it's-not-such-a-big-deal.
To say that 'if you're a Lowell fan' you should by this book is wrong. I should say, 'if you're a poetry fan'. This was a man who changed poetry forever. And aside from this historical aspect, they are some of the finest poems ever written.
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Format: Hardcover
I studied with Robert Lowell at Harvard in 1963 & 1964. I wouldn't presume to review his Collected Poems, only to testify that he was a giant of a human -- witty, sensitive even toward brash young would-be poets, immensely knowledgeable, immensely conscientious. Having known him remains one of the great privileges of my life. Reading his poems is a great privilege for all of us.
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Format: Hardcover
The publication of this book was doubtless necessary to begin understanding Lowell correctly. Creator and destroyer, careful wordsmith and subversive deconstructor, encountering just one of his volumes along the strange parabola of his career can be confusing. Lowell always set out to carefully craft each of them, with special attention to the arrangement of his resonant poems and their slow, grand, building cumulative effect. To let you know the game, Lowell presented almost each of his volumes with an evocative frontpiece engraving by Francis Parkman -- the poet thus visually setting forth each of his works, in advance of his death, as another controlled chess move against the great opponent Fame -- the act of a control fanatic if there ever was one.

Yet somewhere in the middle of Lowell's career of creating the little volumes, more violently toward the end of his years as diseases took over, the mad Doppleganger Cal (Lowell's nickname to his insider pals) enters, seeds the serene clouds with fury, and all hell breaks loose. At worst, all is botched: mere beautiful poetic scraps, a line or two amongst literary gossip for insiders, yesterday's obnoxious news. In hindsight Cal indeed did a pretty good job; it is easier to just turn away from the mess. But Lowell is so good at his best, so earnest even in his madness, that we are going to miss something significant about our own history -- the subject which most deeply concerned him -- if we do. And finally, even at his worst, there is always something very endearing about this voice, something very human and honest. Lowell was plagued with true and furious organic disorders which disrupted his personality; his issues were not only self-inflicted.
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Format: Hardcover
This is probably the most important collection published in America since Wallace Stevens's 1954 Collected Poems. Although after the publication of Elizabeth Bishop and James Merrill's collected poems Lowell's position no longer seems as pre-eminent as it once did, no poet of his era more intimately captured the uneasy spirit of the Fifties and Sixties. Ginsberg spoke more directly for the disaffected, but Lowell captured the larger unease of America and made it his own, dominating his age as few poets ever have. His voice is unmistakable. His best poems retain their original vitality, and even his weakest poems remain unique in their flaws. Everyone with the slightest interest in poetry will want to own this book.
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