2 American Poets; the Best of Amy Lowell and William Carlos Williams Collected and Explained in New Library of America Editions

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 14, 2004 | Go to article overview
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2 American Poets; the Best of Amy Lowell and William Carlos Williams Collected and Explained in New Library of America Editions


Byline: Vincent D. Balitas, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Over the last four seasons the Library of America has published compact collections of poetry in

its American Poets Project series. To date, and including the two considered here, 11 poets and two anthologies ("Poets of World War II" and "American Wits") have appeared. The individual poets are Edna St. Vincent Millay, Karl Shapiro, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, Yvor Winters, Kenneth Fearing, Muriel Rukeyser, John Greenleaf Whittier, and John Berryman. Each volume is edited by a prominent poet or critic.

The first observation to make is that the poets range from heavy weights (Whitman, Poe, Berryman) to important poets who are not necessarily of the first rank (Millay, Shapiro, Rukeyser) to minor poets (Winters, Fearing, Whittier). Obviously, the Library of America wants to afford readers not only the opportunity to revisit old favorites, but also to discover poets whose reputations have suffered over time, whose work is not readily available.

The two volumes discussed here follow this trend: Amy Lowell is a minor poet; William Carlos Williams is one of the titans of 20th-century poetry.

Amy Lowell was an imposing figure not only in size - an incurable glandular disorder - but also in energy. She did more than anyone else in the United States to publicize the "New" poetry being written and discussed abroad by poets such as Ezra Pound and H.D. (Hilda Doolittle until Pound renamed her). Pound's famous dictum "MAKE IT NEW" challenged artists to strike out against traditional ways of presenting sense experience. Lowell's was a powerful voice in support of this rebellion.

Lowell's early influences, Honor Moore tells us in her superb introduction, were Keats and Shelley, but she saw herself as a member of a small group of women poets. In "The Sisters", she pays homage to Sappho, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Emily Dickinson: "Taking us by and large, we're a queer lot/ We women who write poetry.

And when you think/ How few of us there've been, it's queerer still."

Lowell knew thatshe could not simply follow their paths: "And still my answer/ Will not be any one of yours, I see".

When Lowell discovered H.D.'s poems, she left Boston for London to meet her and Pound. She disagreed with Pound's ideas on Imagism, and when she returned to Boston and began publishing anthologies of the new poetry, Pound dismissively called it "Amygism."

Lowell went about doing all she could to alert American audiences to early Modernism, and became a powerful figure because of her unswerving belief in the importance of the "New".

In decades after her death in 1925, Lowell's reputation declined. It was not until 1955 that the "Complete Poetical Works of Amy Lowell" appeared. Honor Moore tells us that the American Poets Project volume "is the most extensive collection of Amy Lowell's poems" since that 1955 edition. Although nothing in this new collection is likely to raise Lowell's stature, and even though Ms. Moore believes that Lowell's erotic lyrics, written to Ada Dwyer Russell, her companion for the last 12 years of her life, are quite significant, it seems that Lowell's reputation will rest on her advocacy of Modernism.

Born in 1883 in Rutherford, NJ, William Carlos Williams went on to a successful career as a pediatrician and a poet.

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