A Great Poetic Twosome: The Elizabeth Bishop-Robert Lowell Letters

Good thing Carl Sandburg's not around to read them. FSG publishes the complete correspondence.

The marriage that never was: Bishop and Lowell
AP Photo
The marriage that never was: Bishop and Lowell


Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell
Edited by Thomas Travisano with Saskia Hamilton
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 928 pp., $45

If Bishop and Lowell are careful with each other, it's because they do know themselves, and know that deeper waters of the psyche don't always make good swimming. These 800 pages of determined charm get a little wearing after a while; this is a book for the true fan. But you can dip into it at any point and come out with a gem of insight or observation from either writer, especially from Bishop, whose eye never deserts her. Querying a detail in a Lowell poem, she wrote him, "[S]ince we do float on an unknown sea I think we should examine the other floating things that come our way very carefully; who knows what might depend on it?" Bishop's gift for querying such floating objects fills these letters. The more we see it, the more grateful we are to Lowell for helping save her from drowning.

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