Amy Lowell: Wings and Windows
Amy Lowell...now there's a poet most of us probably feel is safely tucked away for good in some old trunk, wrapped in tissue paper, if not mothballs. "Patterns," right? That's about it for most of us. Lowell seems one of those early twentieth-century literary women, like Sylvia Beach, or Harriet Monroe of Harriet fame, who are doomed to fame for their offices on behalf of the male writers around them. But herstory/history has a way of busting open the locks on some of those old trunks. Witness the glamorous and fiercely brilliant photos of Harriet on the wall of the new Poetry Foundation offices in Chicago. And witness "Wings and Windows: My Letter to Amy Lowell," a paper by MFA student Sally Nacker. I happened to see Sally's paper this weekend when I taught a class on "Riffing with the Rhythms of Poetry" for some wonderful New Hampshire poets as part of Portsmouth's Jazzmouth festival.
My host, Elizabeth Kirschner, was so excited about Sally's paper that she showed it to me within an hour of our first meeting. And no wonder; it begins, "Dear Amy, It is six o'clock on a chilly morning, and nearly spring. For two months, I have been trying to write you a letter from my heart . . ."
Sally's paper continues through a biographical journey and persuasive close readings of Lowell's delicate and complex poems, coming full circle to this sentence: "And now I round my brief journey with you back to beauty as through glass."
Back to beauty.
Louise Bogan wrote in a quote I used as an epigraph for my collection Calendars, "No woman should be shamefaced in attempting to give back to the world, through her work, a portion of its lost heart." I agree. But, as Bogan well knew, many of us often have been shamefaced when speaking of beauty or the heart in poetry. In the past, when writing on Harriet and elsewhere about women's poetry and the poetess tradition, I'd sometimes feel I was a lonely voice, if not a lone one, speaking out on behalf of the deep and intriguing power lurking within the tradition of what I have called "sentimentist" poetry.
So I'm especially delighted to learn of a student like Nacker who has the originality to notice, and the courage to acknowledge, beauty shining out from overlooked places. Thank you, Sally, for listening with your poet's heart, and may your work on Lowell flourish.
Pound and hammer me with irons,
Crack me so that flame can enter,
Pull me open, loose the thunder
Of wings within me.
— Amy Lowell, "The Humming-birds"
Annie Finch is the author or editor of more than twenty books of poetry, plays, translation, literary essays, textbooks, and anthologies, including the poetry collections Eve (1997), Calendars (2003), Spells: New and Selected Poems (2013), and Poetry Witch Book of Spells (2019), as well as the long poems The Encyclopedia of...