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Andrew O’Hagan: ‘The Trip to Echo Spring’, 12 September 2013

... heavy drinking and writing was forged. When I thought of poetry I thought of drink. There was Robert Burns, after all, and his skirling, birling Tam O’Shanter. There was Hugh MacDiarmid and his drunk man looking at the thistle. And there were all those Scots poets meeting in Milne’s Bar in Edinburgh, pouring whisky down their necks and poison in one ...

The South

Colm Tóibín, 4 August 1994

One Art: The Selected Letters of Elizabeth Bishop 
Chatto, 668 pp., £25, April 1994, 0 7011 6195 7Show More
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... stayed in an apartment overlooking the beach. ‘It is such a wonderful apartment,’ she wrote to Robert Lowell in 1958, that we’ll never rent it again, no matter what heights rents soar to, I think. Top floor, 11th, a terrace around two sides, overlooking all that famous bay and beach. Ships go by all the time, like targets in a shooting gallery, people ...

Good Manners

Craig Raine, 17 May 1984

The Collected Prose of Elizabeth Bishop 
edited by Robert Giroux.
Chatto, 278 pp., £12.95, March 1984, 0 7011 2809 7
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... and I was reprimanded by both of them for having used the word “spit”.’ In his introduction, Robert Giroux incorrectly identifies the offending story as ‘The Farmer’s Children’ – an implacable masterpiece which he stigmatises as ‘more conventional and sentimental than anything else she wrote’. ‘The Farmer’s Children’ is devoid of ...

And he drowned the cat

Tessa Hadley: Jean Stafford’s Pessimism, 18 June 2020

Complete Novels 
by Jean Stafford.
Library of America, 912 pp., £34, November 2019, 978 1 59853 644 7
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... substantial in the 1960s, though her Collected Stories, which came out with Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 1969, was awarded a Pulitzer the following year. She died, aged 63, in 1979. Since her death, Stafford’s stories have (more or less) remained in circulation, but her three novels were out of print for decades. Now the Library of America has brought ...

Wobble in My Mind

Colm Tóibín: Lizzie, Cal and Caroline, 7 May 2020

The Dolphin Letters, 1970-79: Elizabeth Hardwick, Robert Lowell and Their Circle 
edited by Saskia Hamilton.
Faber, 560 pp., £35, January, 978 0 571 35741 3
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The Dolphin: Two Versions, 1972-73 
by Robert Lowell, edited by Saskia Hamilton.
Farrar, Straus, 224 pp., £11.99, December 2019, 978 0 374 53827 9
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... In April​ 1970, Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Hardwick – both aged 53, married for 21 years – had just been on holiday together in Italy with their 13-year-old daughter, Harriet. Hardwick and Harriet had come home to New York, where Hardwick taught at Barnard College; Lowell had gone to Oxford to take up a fellowship at All Souls ...

Two Americas and a Scotland

Nicholas Everett, 27 September 1990

Collected Poems, 1937-1971 
by John Berryman, edited by Charles Thornbury.
Faber, 348 pp., £17.50, February 1990, 0 571 14317 2
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The Dream Songs 
by John Berryman.
Faber, 427 pp., £17.50, February 1990, 0 571 14318 0
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Poems 1959-1979 
by Frederick Seidel.
Knopf, 112 pp., $19.95, November 1989, 0 394 58021 4
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These Days 
by Frederick Seidel.
Knopf, 50 pp., $18.95, October 1989, 0 394 58022 2
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A Scottish Assembly 
by Robert Crawford.
Chatto, 64 pp., £5.99, April 1990, 0 7011 3595 6
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... while still an undergraduate at Columbia, where Mark Van Doren was his teacher and mentor; and Robert Penn Warren was the editor (at Southern Review) whom he first sought to impress. But if the New Critical aesthetic disciplined Berryman it also inhibited him. It gave him a good technical training, but its insistence on what he later called ‘Eliot’s ...

I even misspell intellectual

Rupert Thomson: Caroline Gordon v. Flannery O’Connor, 2 April 2020

The Letters of Flannery O’Connor and Caroline Gordon 
edited by Christine Flanagan.
Georgia, 272 pp., £31.95, October 2018, 978 0 8203 5408 8
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... of The Letters of Flannery O’Connor and Caroline Gordon. The two women were introduced by Robert Lowell, who had met O’Connor at Yaddo in 1948. Gordon had impeccable literary credentials. As a young writer, she had been mentored by Ford Madox Ford, who had her read an early draft of her first novel, Penhally, out loud to him. She was edited by ...

Lowellship

John Bayley, 17 September 1987

Robert Lowell: Essays on the Poetry 
edited by Steven Gould Axelrod and Helen Deese.
Cambridge, 377 pp., £17.50, June 1987, 0 571 14979 0
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Collected Prose 
by Robert Lowell, edited and introduced by Robert Giroux.
Faber, 269 pp., £27.50, February 1987, 0 521 30872 0
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... If Robert Lowell had not been a Lowell would he ever have had the confidence to write the poems he did? It is impossible to imagine the scion of a distinguished English family using that family now as a basis for poetic composition. But all Lowell’s poems are about being a Lowell, or rather, more specifically, about being this Lowell ...

Good Fibs

Andrew O’Hagan: Truman Capote, 2 April 1998

Truman Capote: In which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career 
by George Plimpton.
Picador, 498 pp., £20, February 1998, 0 330 36871 0
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... book editors made themselves great by ignoring this advice. The best of them – Maxwell Perkins, Robert Giroux, Joe Fox, Bennett Cerf – allowed many brilliant young things to roll about on their front lawns, and some days they even took a drink in the company of these writers, or let their dogs loose to lick their fidgety, callused hands. A sad ...

Follow-the-Leader

Colm Tóibín: Bishop v. Lowell, 14 May 2009

Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell 
edited by Thomas Travisano and Saskia Hamilton.
Faber, 875 pp., £40, November 2008, 978 0 571 24308 2
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... Robert Lowell wrote the poem ‘Water’ about being on the coast of Maine in the summer of 1948 with Elizabeth Bishop; he put it first in his collection For the Union Dead, which he published in 1964. He sent Bishop a draft of the poem in March 1962, explaining that it was ‘more romantic and grey than the whole truth, for all has been sunny between us ...

Roaming the Greenwood

Colm Tóibín: A History of Gay Literature: The Male Tradition by Gregory Woods, 21 January 1999

A History of Gay Literature: The Male Tradition 
by Gregory Woods.
Yale, 448 pp., £24.95, February 1998, 0 300 07201 5
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... the uncertain Irishness of certain writers. Was Sterne Irish? Was Oliver Goldsmith Irish? Was Robert Tressell Irish? Is Iris Murdoch Irish? But the argument about who was gay and who was not and how we know is more difficult. How can someone be gay if, as in the case of Gogol, there is no direct evidence? Yet if you trawl through Gogol’s stories with ...

All That Gab

James Wolcott: The Upsides of Sontag’s Downsides, 24 October 2019

Sontag: Her Life 
by Benjamin Moser.
Allen Lane, 832 pp., £30, September 2019, 978 0 241 00348 0
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... the inside cover of Moser’s book like a wall of publicity stills), Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Robert Mapplethorpe, and, later, her partner Annie Leibovitz. Sontag’s post-cancer skunk-stripe hair made her instantly spottable. For those hitting the right places in Manhattan, Sontag sightings were as recurring and oddly reassuring as Warhol sightings, as ...

Liquored-Up

Stefan Collini: Edmund Wilson, 17 November 2005

Edmund Wilson: A Life in Literature 
by Lewis Dabney.
Farrar, Straus, 642 pp., £35, August 2005, 0 374 11312 2
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... turn at about this time. Roger Straus, at the recently formed house of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, was an admirer, and in 1950 he brought out a collection of Wilson’s pieces from the 1940s called Classics and Commercials, followed two years later by The Shores of Light, subtitled ‘A Literary Chronicle of the Twenties and Thirties’. These two ...

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