The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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November 14, 2012


It was an article about an exhibition that I don't want to miss that led me to wanting to know more, biographically, about a poet I'd heard of but didn't know anything about, and then to a 37-year-old biography that was the most current one I could find, and so to a book that I liked and a story that I loved.  That she was 'Miss Lowell of Brookline,' where I lived in for most of the last 20 years (I had never heard that)...

and as a young woman spent winters in a townhouse in the neighborhood I live in now, and made her debut {and was honored at a testimonial dinner late in life} in the building on the corner, when it was a hotel...

{I live in the taller building in the middle.}
just makes me happier that I've gotten to know about her.

Amy Lowell was born in 1874, and grew up {and lived all of her life} in a house that her father called Sevenels (for the seven Lowells who lived there).  Her family was prominent and wealthy (the mill towns of Lawrence and Lowell were named for ancestors who were industrialists there). By the time she was coming out in society she was popular, but eccentric and heavy. Both her family's position and her weight, and the physical and emotional illnesses and injuries it caused, had a profound effect on her.

When she decided {that was how it happened} to become a poet, she identified with Ezra Pound and the early 'Imagistes,' and she did eventually become a successful, if controversial published poet and a champion of other writers of new poetry (including D.H. Lawrence, H.D., Robert Frost, and many others). She was also interested in music and theater, and Ada Russell, a popular actress, become her companion and a loving and caring friend.

The biography that I found {Amy:  The World of Amy Lowell and The Imagist Movement, by Jean Gould} was filled with anecdotes -- about Amy Lowell's eccentricities and personality, her 'instant' and enduring friendships with musicians and poets, her love of gardening and sheepdogs, battles and rivalries over new forms of poetry, Lowell as a 'demon saleswoman,' selling her poems one by one to magazine editors {not to earn money, but to establish herself as a successful poet}.  There's a wonderful story about her arriving, soaking wet, after driving through a sudden storm on her way to meet Thomas Hardy, and another about Robert Frost's daughter, Lesley, as a freshman at Wellesley College, being invited to visit Amy Lowell at Sevenels. {The house is on the National Register of Historic Places, but is privately owned. I'm not sure that I've ever been on the street where she lived; I just may have to drive down it this weekend and see if I can find it.} The biography was well-written, even if it didn't have the narrative power of others that I've read lately; its subject more than made up for any shortcomings.

But this isn't a book review, as much as a note to say that I enjoyed this little bit of unplanned but very satisfying reading!  I'm so grateful that an odd interest can be sparked in this kind of way, and when it is, there are three excellent libraries that I can go to, with a good chance of finding a way to explore it. I think it will be even more fun to see the exhibit now. {There's another story in the book about Miss Lowell opening her safe one night after dinner, finding her Jane Austen manuscript and other rare documents in her collection damaged by mildew, and insisting, even though she was ill, on lighting fires in all her fireplaces and staying up all night to dry them out and rescue them.}

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This sounds really interesting. Will definitely keep an eye out for it. Thanks for sharing!

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