Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell
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Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell

4.16 of 5 stars 4.16  ·  rating details  ·  178 ratings  ·  48 reviews
Robert Lowell once remarked in a letter to Elizabeth Bishop that �you ha[ve] always been my favorite poet and favorite friend.” The feeling was mutual. Bishop said that conversation with Lowell left her feeling �picked up again to the proper table-land of poetry,” and she once begged him, �Please never stop writing me letters�they always manage to make me feel like my hig
Paperback, 875 pages
Published March 16th 2010 by Farrar Straus Giroux (first published 2000)
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You’ve probably come across this harmless little hyperbole in Sunday book reviews – you know, the one that goes something like, ‘Joe Blow is such a brilliant writer that I could cheerfully read his grocery lists.' Well, I’ve now read the grocery lists -- figuratively-speaking -- of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop, and let me tell you, I’m none too cheerful about it.

The one inescapable problem with a ‘complete correspondence’ such as Words in Air is that it’s so damn…complete. It’s all here:...more
The cover photo says it all; these are two people who loved each other dearly...at an arm's length. This ideal platonic love was sustained through decades of passionate correspondence. The loves of their daily lives were not as enduring. Two of Lowell's marriages ended with divorce; two of Bishop's love affairs ended with suicide.
Lowell's joy at seeing Bishop in person tended to explode into mania, so perhaps it was best he didn't get to see her all that often. Lowell reflected on "how ideally...more
I spent two and a half years reading Words In Air – reading fifty- or hundred-page chunks between other books – and I think it is the best thing I have read in a very long time. I knew nothing about Elizabeth Bishop or Robert Lowell when I entered their thirty year correspondence (I just like books of letters) and I got to know them, their brilliant poems, their debilitating faults, and the lives of poets (or some poets) from the 1940’s to the 1970’s. I spent more time than I ever expected tryin...more
RH Walters
I started this book because I lost my beloved penpal and wanted to read someone else's letters, then I got a letter from Bill in Palo Alto, and Maggie in Eden Prairie and Bailey in Washington and felt I could go on again. I liked it when Elizabeth compared the disheveled harbor outside her window to her desk. A hideous offhand comment from Robert about Elizabeth's allergies and a "negress named Florence." Interesting to read their comments about Eliot's "protestant seriousness" in Middlemarch, w...more
Lynn Kearney
Wonderful letters. Didn't know much about either poet, but their correspondence gives real flavour of their times. One LOL reference from EB who was, I think teaching Freshman English. Students were writing essays on Romeo and Juliet. From one: "Lady Capulet is older than Juliet but she remains a woman". And another refers to Romeo making his way "into the tomb of the Catapults". Puts me in mind of a a goldie from my teaching days. The play - Julius Caesar, where "this old guy shouts 'Hey Caesar...more
Diann Blakely
Among the annual lists of "best poetry books of the year," there's one title that may be missing, though it was written by two of the defining poets of the 20th century. WORDS IN AIR: THE COMPLETE CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN ELIZABETH BISHOP AND ROBERT LOWELL, edited by Thomas Travisano and Saskia Hamilton, contains the barest snippets of verse, and there's as much commentary on the dailiness of their own lives as on their work (including Bishop's "The Armadillo" and Lowell's "Skunk Hour," probably e...more
Finishing this book I realize it was kind of a blur, like each day of real life is, the details. I appreciated it for its intimacy and not for something more exciting I would go to fiction for. It kept my interest and I remember a few odd lines that struck me as funny or witty. Lowell said he was like a rheumatic old aunt who wanted to ruin Bishop’s fun by having her all to himself, and alluded to it in another letter which made me laugh, and made me feel in on it. Lowell is funny, Bishop is met...more
I only made it through 1947-1951. It was visits with Ezra Pound, stays in Key West on the Hemmingway property and stays at Yaddo with the likes of Flannery O'Connor, stays on the rocky coast of Novia Scotia. Coercing Dylan Thomas to make a recording of his work for the poetry collection at the Library of Congress, because that's where you work. Attending a reception for Edith and Osbert Sitwell at New York City's Gotham Book Mart with Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, Tennessee Williams,...more
That two writers could have an entirely epistolary relationship -- though they DID meet occasionally from time to time briefly -- and yet reveal their most important thoughts to one another is an artifact from another age. Who will save the e-mails of today? It is certainly significant that at several points, Bisop & Lowell considered marrying, but both knew it would have been a disaster for them. But as help-meets in their most important phase of life: their writing, they were withough peer...more
Bookmarks Magazine
How much one enjoys this volume—300 of the letters here have never before been published—depends on how much one embraces the poetry and lives of Lowell and Bishop. The critics themselves were quite pleased, often strutting out prose with a faintly purple hue in honor of these two postwar poetry giants. Of course, there's a great deal of wit to go around—the usual savaging of colleagues and the mockery of modern society; Bishop takes the road less traveled and even flings some mud at old Robert...more
I like this book! It is all the correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell over their lifetimes. They shared poetry and reviewed poetry of other poets of the time. It's a snapshot of literature history. It's romantic that they had a longstanding relationship, deep and true but were never lovers. Sometimes I read the pining in between the lines of their letters or their poetry. My favorite poem is by Lowell for Bishop, just a bit of it below
Have you seen an inchworm crawl on a leaf...more
This is a huge book, and I confess to random browsing -- and now it's overdue at the library. I am fascinated by letters between writers, the documentation of the evolution of friendship. The early letters are tentative -- they are not even sure how to address each other. Then later there is the evident admiration and respect for each other as poets, and the development of intimacy as friends. They share work, critiquing each others' and their own, and come to understand and love each other. The...more
It feels very strange to be rating the complete letters of two famous American poets. But they were great letters: so frank and funny and sincere. This collection of the complete correspondence between poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell is for the serious fans only; I can't imagine anyone with even a passing interest slogging through all 928 pages of their letters. Someone else's letters are, after all, only interesting up to a certain point, even if the someones in question are Bishop and...more
Fantastic book. I loved reading the decades of correspondence between Bishop and Lowell, especially as it illuminated the details of Bishop's poems. The letters are entertaining-- gossipy and witty, alternately full of anxieties and ripe with joy. Read consecutively, they form a surprisingly complete narrative of the friendship between two major figures of twentieth-century American poetry. The editors did a nice job with the footnotes-- not too intrusive, but enough to give background when nece...more
I took my time with this book, started in in January '09 and read a few letters each weekend, and just finished it in September '09. I enjoyed the fiercely loyal friendship between Bishop and Lowell (even while Lowell seemed to be a rotten and disloyal husband); their give-and-take discussion of the creative process; and, as with most books of letters, the silent mysteries alluded to that are never really explained (Bishop would go on alcoholic benders, Lowell would spend months on end at a sani...more
Emily Flynn
I love writing letters and this is a book of letters between two of the most established and prolific poets of the 20th century. Two quirky and brilliant people form a very unusual friendship based mostly on written correspondence which spans three decades and several continents, making one hell of an unusual read. Some of the dated slang is almost worth it in and of itself, but overall this is just a fascinating and touching read. It's great this rainy time of year with some tea and a house swe...more
When I purchased this book, my dad's comment was that Lowell and Bishop were "slutty alcoholics." But even though she's gay and he's a man-whore, these two are in lurrrrrrv. It is basically the sweetest thing you have ever seen.

UPDATE: As of today, I have literally been reading this book for an entire year. But man, I am still so fond of these snobby ass-hats.

Melanie Faith
I'm only about 50 pages in, and already I'm hooked on the letters between these two marvelous poets. For anyone interested in either Bishop and Lowell (or both poets') poems OR for fans of literary correspondence, you can't do much better than this compendium of over thirty years of notes and discussions of travels, life, love, love-gone-away, and the writing life. The introduction is also fascinatingly in-depth and well worth at least a perusal.
Sam Schulman
I had forgotten this until I came across a note to myself - "quote EB [Elizabeth Bishop:] on Natty Bumppo." Well, I can't now find the quote, but this is a marvelous narrative of the on-again, off-again relationship between our two greatest anti-Communist poets who were, essentially, romantically in love with one another without being sexually attracted. It's pure bliss - and if you read it please tell me what EB DID say about Natty Bumppo.
It is not only an exchange between two great minds but a history of the high point of twentieth century art, before junk took over. They talk of meter, rhyme, form , and gossip about fellow writers: Jarrell etc. Mutual love too. It makes one think of better days. You experience their first discovery of DeSica, anti war protests, civil rights, modern concert music including Webern, Thelonious Monk and more (and Moore)
I read every word of the first half, then started skimming because life is short. This work is compelling, like a novel, where you looked forward to each night's read. You really get to see their relationship develop, you get to live in an unlikely world in which people make their living writing poetry, and they were both good and kind people- to each other, at least, and this seems rare.
Juliana Gray
It took me all summer to read this book, but I enjoyed every minute I spent with these letters. I've long been a fan of Bishop and Lowell's poetry, but reading their letters gave me a much better sense of them as people, and as friends. Bishop's style is so (seemingly) breezy and chatty, and Lowell works so hard to impress her-- it's adorable. And intimate, and heartbreaking.
Dec 01, 2008 Robin rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who enjoy poetry
Since this book was due back today and I only got a little ways into it, I changed its status to started but didn't finish. The idea of reading through decades of correspondence between these two gifted poets is astonishing and at a length of over 900 pages, it would be the type of book one could read now and then, not straight through. At least that's how I feel.
I have to admit, I gave up on this book in the early pages. I was always going to get books of poems trying to fill in the cavernous gaps in my poetry education. I'm interested in the topic, but I'm either going to have to try to read it without knowledge of the poems alluded to or save it for some time when I can be more immersed.
fascinating glimpses into the lives and creative processes of two of the great poets and their friends, including many interesting views on other poets . Although they must, particularly in later years, have realised that the correspondence would eventually be published, the letters seem genuinely fresh, spontaneous and affectionate.
Karin Cope
Having a wonderful time reading this book....helps make me feel better about my own daily struggles as a writer, to look over the shoulders of these two titans of American poetry. Makes me more attentive to the value of letters, too. And of relationships with other writers & artists--how essential they are!
Barbara Mader
Very interesting, very long, very involved, required lots of looking up and reading many poems, took me forever. Part of me left thinking these (brilliant, articulate, witty) people didn't know how to live well--it does seem they at times went out of their way to make their lives complicated and even miserable.
Oct 31, 2008 Leslita marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I read the review in the NY Times review of books and am waiting for the local library to get it. The review has some great lines in it, about poets loving poets and about her glance like the blade of a knife. I don't always like her poetry, but I have a crazy adoration of her words, her lines and her life.
I wanted to be the person who loved this book. I do love a biography, but somehow I found the letters and the corresponding background all very dry. I have to come to terms that I will not be finishing this book and have to take it off my reading list!
Two people who love each other dearly from an arm's length. They sustain a relationship through letter writing. They make wonderful references to artists, poets and writers from the 1950's. I felt like I knew them when I completed the book.
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Five Stars!! 5 8 Mar 04, 2013 08:21PM  
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

Elizabeth Bishop was an American poet and writer from Worcester, Massachusetts. She was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 1949 to 1950, a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1956. and a National Book Award Winner for Poetry in 1970. She is considered one of the most importa...more
More about Elizabeth Bishop...
The Complete Poems, 1927-1979 Geography III One Art The Collected Prose Bishop: Poems, Prose, and Letters

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“I do think free will is sewn into everything we do; you can't cross a street, light a cigarette, drop saccharine in your coffee without really doing it. Yet the possible alternatives that life allows us are very few, often there must be none. I've never thought there was any choice for me about writing poetry. No doubt if I used my head better, ordered my life better, worked harder etc., the poetry would be improved, and there must be many lost poems, innumerable accidents and ill-done actions. But asking you is the might have been for me, the one towering change, the other life that might have been had.” 8 likes
“One shouldn't get too involved with people who can't possibly understand one” 1 likes
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