From the Archive: Robert Lowell's 1961 Postcard
PostedApril 28, 2016
In this 1961 postcard from the archive, Robert Lowell writes to Marie Bullock, founder of the Academy of American Poets, regarding the ideal atmosphere for poetry.
Bullock frequently asked for feedback and suggestions from the poets on the Board of Chancellors, and one of the questions she was known to ask was what they thought the ideal atmosphere for the engagement of poets was in society. She asked this same question of Lowell, who was about to step into his post on the Board of Chancellors, a post he would hold from 1962 until his death, in 1977.
Lowell questions the idea that an ideal atmosphere for poetry can even be created, and goes on to ask if “audiences” and “people who are important in government” could hold themselves accountable and simply “learn to be gentle and patient and daring and literate and honest.”
At the time he wrote this letter, Lowell was at the peak of his career; he had already received the Pulitzer Prize for his second book, Lord Weary’s Castle, and two years prior to when he had written this note, he had published what would be his most famous book, Life Studies, which was awarded a National Book Award in 1960. In 1961, he published the loose translated verse of Imitations (Farrar, Straus and Cudahy), and his translation of Phaedra appeared in Phaedra and Figaro (Farrar, Straus and Cudahy).
Though he had already received a number of great honors—including the U.S. poet laureateship, Pulitzer Prize, and the National Book Award—and published what was certainly the most important book of his career, Lowell still had several more productive years ahead of him as he served as a Chancellor and worked on his own creative pursuits. He would go on to publish plays, prose, more translations, and several more books of poetry, including For the Union Dead (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1964), which would also contain some of his most-noted poems.