A leader of the imagists, American poet Amy Lawrence Lowell wrote several volumes, including Sword Blades and Poppy Seed (1914), of poetry.
A mother bore Amy into a prominent family. Percival Lowell, her brother and a famous astronomer, predicted the existence of the dwarf planet Pluto; Abbott Lawrence Lowell, another brother, served as president of Harvard University.
The Lowell family deemed attendance at college not proper for a woman, so she instead compensated with her avid reading, which led to nearly obsessive book collecting. She lived as a socialite and travelled widely; after being inspired by a performance of Eleonora Duse in Europe inspired her, she turned to poetry in 1902. Her first published work appeared in 1910 in Atlantic Monthly. People apparently first published A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass, collection of her poetry, in 1912.
In 1912, rumors swirled that supposedly lesbian Lowell reputedly lusted after actress Ada Dwyer Russell, her patron. Her more erotic work subjected Russell. The two women traveled together to England, where Lowell met Ezra Pound, a major influence at once and a major critic of her work. Writer Mercedes de Acosta romantically linked Lowell despite the brief correspondence about a memorial for Duse that never took place, the only evidence that they knew each other.
Lowell, an imposing figure, kept her hair in a bun and wore a pince-nez. She smoked cigars constantly, claiming that they lasted longer than cigarettes. A glandular problem kept her perpetually overweight, so that poet Witter Bynner once said, in a cruel comment repeated by Ezra Pound and thereafter commonly misattributed to him, that she was a "hippopoetess." Her writing also included critical works on French literature and a biography of John Keats.
Lowell's fetish for Keats is well-recorded. Pound, amongst many others, did not think of her as an imagist but merely a rich woman who was able to financially assist the publication of imagist poetry, which became weak after Pound's "exile" towards Vorticism. Lowell was an early adherent to the "free verse" method of poetry.
Lowell died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1925 at the age of 51. The following year, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for What's O'Clock. Forgotten for years, there has been a resurgence of interest in her work, in part because of its focus on lesbian themes and her collection of love poems addressed to Ada Dwyer Russell, but also because of its personification of inanimate objects, such as in The Green Bowl, The Red Lacquer Music Stand, and Patterns.
This was a brilliant biography, and I really enjoyed reading it. For Keats lovers, I would recommend it as a great companion to Andrew Motion's Keats and Nicholas Roe's John Keats: A New Life. It is wonderful to get the perspective of a woman on Keats as a person, and on Fanny Brawne, too. Amy Lowell was also a poet, and considers Keats' poetry with a no-nonsense poet's eye. The other aspect of this biography that stands out is that it was written a hundred years ago, and has a strong authorial presence - akin to that in 19thC novels - rather than the reticent, self-effacing authorial voice of modern biographies.
There are a few instances where Lowell reaches an incorrect conclusion, or where she didn't have access to papers or knowledge discovered since her time. However, she always makes clear her line of reasoning, so the well-read Keatsian won't find themselves astray.
There is a great deal of analysis of Keats' poetry, which won't suit every reader, but it is usefully integrated with his personal biography, and I happily read every word. Lowell is also great in her consideration of Keats' almost religious approach to beauty, love and truth.
One of the things Lowell brings to the table is a clear love for John Keats - which is how many or even most people respond to him - and a personable manner in which the reader feels we're sitting down with Lowell for a delightful long afternoon to talk together about one of our favourite people. Not that she lets her affection blind her, for she is always honest and open about those times in which Keats behaved or wrote in ways that were less than ideal.
I think it took this woman biographer to clearly see the problem with Keats' letters to Fanny Brawne: his selfishness. Other people have written about his jealousies and insecurities, which are clear in the letters and are understandable (if not really forgivable) in the circumstances - but they are not the crux of the problem. Lowell gets right to the heart of it. As a result of this and of other very reasonable considerations, Lowell is utterly fair to Fanny Brawne as a patient, intelligent and loyal woman - an excellent match for Keats, even if his friends at the time didn't see it or didn't want to see it. One wonders why the controversy about Brawne and her suitability still lingers on!
Lowell is similarly clear-sighted and fair about Keats' various friends and relations. Some of this was delightfully refreshing to read.
Highly recommended for all Keatsians. It's out of print, alas, but worth tracking down!