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This review is taken from Poetry Nation 5 Number 5, 1975.

Pity The Monsters Pity the Monsters: The Political Vision of Robert Lowell. By Alan Williamson. Yale University Press. £5. $10.00.

THE PROLIFERATION of scholarly studies devoted to living authors is a dreary phenomenon, promoting as it does the claims of pure academic criticism at the expense of a more engaged, less consciously 'professional' mode of discourse. Authors still in the midst of their careers are becoming hostages to the Ph.D. system, which subjects them to the rigours of explication de texte, itself all that is left of the New Criticism. Most of these books are undistinguished, and I can't imagine who reads them. It seems that only in turning to a writer's own contemporaries or active practitioners of his art does one find genuine criticism; perhaps competition alone can elicit the keenest intelligence.

In the case of Robert Lowell, several dispiriting books have so far appeared, none of which have anything in common with Alan Williamson's new study; for his Pity the Monsters is a work of original, imaginative clarification, full of brilliant argument and dense with intuition. Apart from John Berryman's commentary on 'Skunk Hour' and Randall Jarrell's review of Lord Weary's Castle, Williamson's is the most sympathetic (in the sense of affinity no less than praise) evaluation we have of Lowell, and by far appeared, none of which has anything in common with Alan thorough and elaborate that one often suspects them of being more realized than the poems themselves; so taken is he with the ambiguities implicit in all of Lowell's work, the complex modulations of his many poetic voices, that Williamson often abandons ...


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