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Words in Air

Robert Lowell

Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell – edited by Thomas Travisano and Saskia Hamilton – is an extraordinary and vivid portrait of two artists and their remarkable friendship, and a record of the lives of two hugely influential poets.

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When first introduced to Robert Lowell in 1947, Elizabeth Bishop wrote that ‘he was living in a basement room on Third Avenue . . . and was rather untidy. He was wearing a rumpled dark blue suit . . . I took to him at once.’ Lowell was equally taken by Bishop, and thought she had ‘more to offer, I think, than anyone writing poems in English’. The candid, affectionate, constrained and loving friendship of the two American poets is recorded in letters written over three decades. It begins after the publication of their first books, when they were ‘as mischievous as children about the figures they held most in awe’ (David Kalstone), and ends only with Lowell’s death. The letters also record the complications of each other’s lives – Lowell’s mental illness, Bishop’s struggles with alcohol, their mutually crossed love affairs. In their now celebrated correspondences, they performed best for one another, as the drama of their public and private lives unfolded.


Robert Lowell (1917-1977) was born in Boston. He was recognised as an accomplished poet in his own lifetime, and along with Elizabeth Bishop, John Berryman and Sylvia Plath he created the fashion and generated the force of American poetry over the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Life Studies, published in 1959, marked a watershed. It initiated an autobiographical project which would…

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