Amy Lowell (1874-1925) was a prominent American poet and critic of the Imagist movement, a powerhouse in her day whose stock has plummeted to relative obscurity in the decades after her death.

She was born into a wealthy Boston family with an impressive pedigree. Her ancestors were prominent in the history of Massachusetts, and their accomplishments included founding the towns Lowell, MA and Lawrence, MA. Her father was on the governing board of MIT, her brother Percival Lowell was a prominent astronomer, her brother Abbott Lowell was president of Harvard, and her cousin was the famous 19th century poet James Russell Lowell. She grew up the family mansion, which was called "Sevenels" (seven Lowells – two parents and five children).

Like most female children of society in that day, she had no education at the university level, but she had access to impressive libraries and tutors to compliment her self-education. She developed an interest in poetry while quite young, and her mother arranged for her to sell her first book, Dream Drops, or Stories from Fairy Land, by a Dreamer, at a charity fair when she was only 13. She began to call herself a poet in earnest in 1902 when she saw a performance of the Italian actress Eleanora Duse in a play written by Duse’s lover Gabriel D’Annunzio. For some reason, Duse’s performance had a powerful effect on her: "It loosed a bolt in my brain and I knew where my true function lay." With her parents dead and her in control of the estate and her inherited wealth, she embarked upon a career in poetry.

Shortly before she published her first book, she met a woman named Ada Russell in 1909, a divorced actress eleven years older than her. Her relationship with Russell was the most important of her life, and they lived together at Sevenels for the rest of Lowell’s life. Russell was her muse, and her influence was an important one. Lowell joked that they should put up a sign at Sevenels reading "Lowell & Russell, Makers of Fine Poems". Some of Lowell’s best poems are love lyrics, many of them erotic, dedicated to her companion.

Her first book (not counting her juvenilia) was A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass, published in 1912. It was a collection of work highly derivative of Romanticism (its title comes from a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelly – "Adonis") and was not well received. But in January 1913, she encountered a poem by H.D. in Poetry magazine and had another epiphany. Like H.D., she too was an imagiste. She traveled to England later that year to meet Ezra Pound, the leader of the Imagist movement, and became immersed in the modernist literary scene.

Her inclusion in Pound’s anthology Des Imagistes in 1914 cemented her reputation as part of the Imagist movement. Lowell used that reputation and the leverage provided by her wealth to usurp the leadership of the movement, publishing a series of three anthologies from 1915 to 1917 called Some Imagist Poets. Pound threatened to sue and denounced the movement as "Amygism" and her as a "hippopoetess". The scam artist (Imagism had really started as a sort of marketing ploy for him to promote the poetry of H.D.) had been outscammed.

Lowell suffered at the hands of critics. Her poetry was denounced by both traditionalists for being too non-traditional and by non-traditionalists for being too traditional, too derivative of Romanticism and impressionism. The harshest criticism was personal. She was an overweight cigar-smoking lesbian, and as a result was the object of vicious, homophobic, and sexist attacks. She began to disappear from anthologies and from critical discourse shortly after her death, despite her prominence during her life.

Her most frequently reprinted poem is "Patterns". My favorites include "Opal", "Decade", and "Madonna of the Evening Flowers".

Her works include:


A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass (1912)
Sword Blades and Poppy Seed (1914)
Men, Women, and Ghosts (1916)
Pictures of the Floating World (1919)
Can Grande’s Castle (1920)
Legends (1921), based on folk legends around the world
A Critical Fable (1922), an anonymously published satire based on her cousin James Russell Lowell’s Fable for Critics.
What’s O’Clock (1925, posthumous, winner of the Pulitzer Prize)
East Wind (1926, posthumous)
Ballads for Sale (1927, posthumous)


Includes Six French Poets (1915), Tendencies in Modern American Poetry (1917), and a two-volume biography of John Keats (1925), which was the first work to treat Fanny Brawne sympathetically.

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