THE COLLECTED PROSE by Robert Lowell
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THE COLLECTED PROSE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A cornucopia of fiercely brilliant, fiercely tender essays by Lowell, showing him a master of prose so sinewy that our loss in the poet's death is doubly underscored. The selections carry him from a student paper on Homer, written at 18, to autobiographical pieces written during his last days to help him recover from stays in the madhouse. The essays fall into three main groups: those on his fellow poets, all of whom he knew personally; those on literary topics, such as ""Art and Evil,"" the great masters (Ovid, Hawthorne, Gerard Manley Hopkins), metrics, poets and the theater, the epic form, and New England; and those on himself, an elucidation of ""Skunk Hour,"" his introductions to his translations of PhÉdre and his Imitations, the ""91 Revere Street"" autobiography from Life Studies, his Paris Review interview with Frederick Seidel and an interview in London with future biographer Ian Hamilton. As edited by Lowell's publisher-editor Robert Giroux, everything about Collected Prose points toward its being a permanent work comparable to Poe's collected essays and reviews, though little about these pieces is as large-intentioned as Poe's discussions on composition. Their formality lies in Lowell himself, whose fearsome smolderings ignite every sentence. There is something earthshaking about Lowell's presence on the page, as if his lightest word might drop an anvil on your head. He seems always ready to atomize, a nuclear pile building toward critical mass. He is perhaps at his most unforgettable herein when describing his days at Payne-Whitney Clinic during a manic-depressive episode, his madness in full bloom: ""One night I sat in the mixed lounge, and enjoyed a new calm which I had been acquiring with much cunning during the few days since my entrance. I remember coining and pondering for several minutes such phrases as 'the Art of Detachment,' 'Off-handed Involvement,' and 'Urbanity: Key to the Tactics of Self-Control.' But the old menacing hilarity was growing in me. . .I made defiant adulatory remarks. . .Nobody paid any attention to me."" His essay on The Illiad written at 18 already shows a genius for compelling rhetoric, the personal stamp that tills his every utterance. One looks forward with vast hunger for the Collected Letters with his glowing voice at its most personal.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1987
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux