Amy Lowell “Maker of Fine Poems”

Becca Anderson (author of The Book of Awesome Women) recognizes this woman ofintellect, a skilled poet from the 1800s.

Sometimes, a strong woman following her own distinct destiny becomes better known for her strength of personality and the celebrity surrounding it than for her actual accomplishments. Amy Lowell is just such a person.

Born in 1874 at the tail end of the Gilded Age, she came from a family of accomplished intellectuals and writers; she was cousin to the legendary New England poets James Russell Lowell and Robert Lowell and nearly every other male running MIT or Harvard. As a girl, she agonized over her weight, and despite desperate and severe diets, she couldn’t surmount that personal issue. Her fears about her ability to fit in led to “nervous prostrations,” but her love of the written word kept her going. “I am ugly, fat, conspicuous & dull,” she wrote in her diary at the age of fifteen. “I should like best of anything to be literary.”

Though she was in her own right a skilled critic and a fine poet, her recognition came in large part for her eccentricities—in particular, wearing tailored men’s suits, smoking cigars, and keeping a pack of dogs. Her original approach to both her appearance and her personal habits certainly extended to her writing, and after her first traditionally lyric book of poetry in 1912, A Dome of Many-Colored Glass, she began working in the pioneering modernist and imagist style brought to international attention by Ezra Pound, H. D., and T. S. Eliot.

Indeed, Amy Lowell cited H. D. as a major influence on her open verse and cadence, what she referred to as “polymorphic prose.” She also had a fascination with Asian art, poetry, and aesthetics, and in 1921 published Fir-Flower Tablets, a group of original poems combined with avant-garde translations of Chinese poetry in collaboration with Florence Ayscough. A powerfully insightful literary critic, she also lectured, compiled anthologies of poetry by H. D. and others, and completed an immense biography of the great English poet John Keats.

Part of her legacy as a writer includes a group of love poems called The Letter and Madonna of the Evening Flowers, inspired by her lover and companion Ada Dwyer Russell. After her parents’ deaths, Amy invited Ada to live with her in their baronial mansion in a manner that caused several to compare them to the Paris-bound duo Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.

Indeed, they had the same relational dynamic, with former actress Russell playing Toklas’s role as cook, nurse, and companion. Ada was no mere muse, however; the two worked together and sparked each other’s creativity. Amy even talked about hanging up a shingle outside her family mansion, Sevenels, saying, “Lowell & Russell, Makers of Fine Poems.”

Amy Lowell also pursued her poetic vision by traveling to meet others and sought out Ezra Pound, Henry James, D.H. Lawrence, H. D., Robert Frost, and John Gould Fletcher, with whom she forged lasting friendships. The success of her imagist masterpieces Can Grande’s Castle and Pictures of the Floating World prompted Ezra Pound, ostensibly the founder of that movement, to start calling the radical new style “Amygism.” In 1925, she wrote What O’Clock, which won a Pulitzer Prize for poetry after her death that year from a cerebral hemorrhage.

Little cramped words scrawling all over the paper Like draggled fly’s legs
What can you tell me of the flaring moon? Through the oak leaves?

Amy Lowell, from “The Letter”

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women Writers by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

The Book of Awesome Women

Boundary Breakers, Freedom Fighters, Sheroes & Female Firsts

Super women as female role models. From the foremothers who blazed trails and broke barriers, to today’s women warriors from sports, science, cyberspace, city hall, the lecture hall, and the silver screen, The Book of Awesome Women paints 200 portraits of powerful and inspiring role models for women and girls poised to become super women of the future. Discover some of the most awesome women known to history while celebrating the greatness of females all over!

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