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This article is taken from PN Review 185, Volume 35 Number 3, January - February 2009.

Robert Lowell's Life Studies (1959-2009) Tony Roberts

'Memory must play an important part in the poet's life and work, the two being so interwoven that one may properly call them one, and speak of the poet's work as his life, his life as his work.'
                                                 Thomas Mann, Lotte in Weimar

Robert Lowell's Life Studies made its hurried, first appearance in Britain. Faber published it in April 1959, to qualify for selection by the new Poetry Book Society. Though it received no recommendation, despite its publisher's efforts, this fine collection did garner decent, if grudging, reviews. Interestingly, in all the hurry, the collection was missing the prose, autobiographical extract, '91 Revere Street'. This formed Part Two of the first American edition, which followed shortly after. It was a significant omission, given that '91 Revere Street' is Lowell's first real 'confessional' step. Further, it provides an interlude in Life Studies, signalling a change in Lowell's subject matter and technique. It also introduces the poet's dysfunctional family, thereby giving greater resonance to the 'studies' to come later in the book.

Life Studies arrived in England in early 1959, along with work by John Berryman (Homage to Mistress Bradstreet) and Robert Penn Warren (Promises). For reviewers, the Lowell book dominated consideration. However, it is difficult now, looking back fifty years, not to be irritated by the initial condescension in some of the reviews. Their authors were clearly expecting more of ...

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