“Helplessly lyrical till death did them part, Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell wrote so many wonderful letters and postcards to each other from 1947 through 1977 that it's amazing they ever found the time to publish their poetry. Words in Air, edited by Thomas Travisano with Saskia Hamilton, is their complete correspondence, 800 pages of epigrams and gossips, anxieties and epiphanies, logrolling and backbiting.” John Leonard, Harper's
“Their surviving 459 letters . . . give us the closest view of these wounded creatureshis muscular, bull-in-a-china-shop intellect; her pained shyness and abject modesty, and a gaze like the gleam off a knife . . . The pleasures of this remarkable correspondence lie in the untiring way these poets entertained each other with the comic inadequacies of the world.” William Logan, The New York Times
“I just can't praise Words in Air enough. As Lowell and Bishop's friend Randall Jarrell used to say: ‘Anybody who cares about poetry will want to read it.'” Michael Dirda, The Washington Post Book World
“A remarkable friendshippart long-distance romance, part artistic collaboration, part AA meetingthat lasted almost thirty years. This huge and wonderful book encompasses all the surviving correspondence between Bishop and Lowell. 458 items in all, adding more than three hundred previously unpublished letters.' ” Christopher Benfey, The New Republic
“[Words in Air reveals] how this long literary and personal friendship developed and evolved, underwent painful strains, and always recovered . . . But beyond these descriptive tour de forces and compliments, beyond the literary and political gossip, the poetespecially as their lives grew increasing troubled by estrangements, separations, divorce, illnesses, and the deaths of friendsexchanged tender, serious, disturbed, and grieving messages.” Helen Vendler, The New York Review of Books
“What is absorbing and ultimately delightful about the book is that we can read the back-and-forth between the two writers for the first time, as each responds to the other.” Dinitia Smith, The Wall Street Journal
“The letters act as a kind of topographical map of the poets' personal and creative lives. They chart Lowell's periodic descents into psychosis, his three marriages, and his rise to become the most influential postwar poet in America. Of Bishop, living more quietly in Brazil, they offer elaborations on a sensibility that, combined with technical mastery, would cause her to win the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. The letters offer vivid glimpses behind the scenes of what poet James Merrill has called ‘her own instinctive, modest, lifelong impersonations of an ordinary woman.' ” Dominic Luxford, The Believer
“Words in Air makes an invaluable contribution to American literary scholarship, as most of the letters here have never been published before; yet it is something more. By devoting a single volume to the letters between the pair in chronological order, the editors have re-created a lifelong conversation that is intensely moving and readable . . . What finally gives Words in Air its emotional heft is its long continuity, which endows its pages with the immediacy of life. Joys and sorrows and puzzlements jostle; great passions blaze and fade. In the last pages, the poets bury friends and colleagues with obituaries that are frank and sometimes moving. The satisfying constant is their devotion to each other.” Jamie James, Los Angeles Times
“This volume takes its place, along with the correspondence between Edmund Wilson and Vladimir Nabokov, or Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin, as consummate examples of wit, affection, and indeedin the case of Bishop and Lowelllove.” William H. Pritchard, The Boston Globe
“Words in Air allows us to experience the peculiar rhythm of the Bishop-Lowell relationship, a relationship conducted almost exclusively through the mail. The letters are assiduously but unobtrusively annotated by Thomas Travisano and Saskia Hamilton, and sometimes the dullest letters are also the most weirdly revealing . . . Words in Air is a sad, fascinating book by two great artists.” James Longenbach, The Nation
“With this fall's release of Words In Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, edited by Thomas Travisano with Saskia Hamilton, we will be able to measure with excruciating fullness what the demise of our epistolary culture, should it occur, will be. In some 450 letters written across three decades and requiring 800 book pages to present, two superb poets from the mid-twentieth century explore writing, reading, politics, travel, friendship, and love at a level of discourse we may not see again. Travisano's central introductory claim is not puffery but truth: ‘For the artistic distinction of the correspondents, for the unfolding intimacy of the interchange, for its sustained colloquial brilliance of style (with neither poet ever on stilts), for its keen observation of both the ordinary and the extraordinary spliced with a wealth of literary and social history and a smorgasbord of literary gossip, it is hard to think of a parallel.' ” The Georgia Review
“Throughout this momentous volume, transcendence comes to these two often troubled writers through the shared experience of art that brought them together and sustained them.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Their surviving 459 letters, some surprisingly long (Bishop might elaborate hers over weeks, at times swearing she had written Lowell in her imagination), give us the closest view of these wounded creatureshis muscular, bull-in-a-china-shop intellect; her pained shyness and abject modesty, and a gaze like the gleam off a knife…The pleasures of this remarkable correspondence lie in the untiring way these poets entertained each other with the comic inadequacies of the world.
The New York Times
wonderful correspondencea book to linger and dawdle over for weeks…Both were absolutely superb letter writers, mutually admiring, each clearly striving to out-entertain the other. Yet even their literary gossip serves the greater purpose of inclusion, support and intimacy…I just can't praise Words in Air enough. As Lowell and Bishop's friend Randall Jarrell used to say: Anybody who cares about poetry will want to read it.
The Washington Post
Bishop and Lowell were two of the major poets of postwar America. From the time they met in 1947 at a party thrown by their mutual friend and poet, Randall Jarrell, through the end of Lowell's life in 1977, the pair-who saw each other rarely but considered themselves intimate friends-maintained a steady correspondence about literature and their turbulent lives and their own complicated, at times flirtatious friendship. Lowell was manic-depressive and embroiled in two volatile marriages, while Bishop also suffered depression and more than her share of loss, including the suicide of her longtime lover. Many of their now famous letters, previously available in separate volumes, appear here in one volume, their exchanges preserved in the order they were sent and received. Throughout this momentous volume, transcendence comes to these two often troubled writers through the shared experience of art that brought them together and sustained them: "If only one could see everything that way all the time!," writes Bishop in 1957, "that rare feeling of control, illumination-life is all right, for the time being." 13 b&w photos. (Oct.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Letter writing has a longstanding, highly regarded reputation for personal revelation, as exemplified by this collection of the vivid, spirited, spontaneous letters of poets Elizabeth Bishop (1911-79) and Robert Lowell (1917-77). Their letters over three decades explore both their outer public and their private inner lives. Yet neither strives to create literary expression in the letters; instead, readers clearly see the give and take of real friendship. Authenticity is ever present-and is especially pointed when either poet is making an observation on the poetry of the other. Their connection-in spite of disappointments, differences, and bouts of depression-was never in jeopardy. In one letter, Bishop comments that Lowell sounds lively as a cricket. The reading world should offer up a chorus of lively cricket sounds, a singing of hosannas for the poetry of Bishop and Lowell that benefited immensely from their shared life through letters-and also for the letters alone. They remain fresh and memorable after 30 years of enduring wit and wisdom. Recommended for public and academic libraries.