Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Flower Power

Book Reviewed: Selected Poems, by Amy Lowell (edited with introduction by Honor Moore)

Despite being a pretty popular poet and a Pulitzer Prize winner in her own time, Amy Lowell is probably more famous for being related to Robert Lowell, one of the biggest poets of the 20th century. I always thought this was kind of annoying (not to mention sexist), so I decided to try Amy's poems myself.

To be honest, I think I might be more of a Robert Lowell person. His poetry is so hyper-intelligent and obsessed with history and the bizarre aspects of life that I can't help but like it. Amy Lowell's work is more personal and internal, which made for some great reading. But in the end, only a handful of her poems stood out to me.

Why is this? Well, I blame it on the flowers.

There are a lot of flowers in these poems. Everytime I opened to a page, I was choked with their scents. Granted, in many of Lowell's poems - particularly her later work - the flowers stood for other things: emotions, sexuality, life and death. Poem to poem, this would not have bothered me. But because I read an entire book of these poems from end to end, it made it a little hard to take after awhile. If it hadn't been for all the flowers and gardens, I probably would have liked Amy Lowell's Selected Poems quite a bit more.

This isn't to say that Amy Lowell isn't a great poet. She is. Despite all these poems being from the first two decades of the 20th century, they are among some of the more erotically-charged poetry I've ever read. Feminine power and sexuality is on full display here, although it's hidden inside the language and subject choice. Reading this book, I was consistently impressed by how "out there" Lowell managed to be at times. Her translations of Chinese poetry and the her own poems that that poetry inspired were my favorites in the collection. Lowell knows how to turn a phrase. And holy crap, does she know how to rock verbs. I am always amazed by how good some writers are at using particular aspects of language to their advantage, and Lowell is a great example of this. Her work can be violent, erotic, or emotional just based on her verb choices or her graphic turns of phrase.

Over all, I am glad I read Amy Lowell. She's an important poet who should never be overlooked in exchange for her more famous relative. Plus, she had fightin' words with Ezra Pound, for which I am always a fan (if I could go back and punch any famous writer in the face, Pound is pretty high on my list). It's too bad she had me - a non-flower person - as a reader.

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