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Intimacy and Agency in Robert Lowell's Day by Day

Intimacy and Agency in Robert Lowell's Day by Day R E E N A S A S T R I "M y thinking is talking to you," the speaker of one of Robert Lowell's late poems tells a friend ("Our Afterlife II," Collected Poems 733). In Lowell's last volume, Day by Day, poetry is conversational thinking. The imagined conversation involves intimacy; it also entails unfinished sentences, questions, and interruptions. Emerging in and through such interruptions and disjunctions, the agency of the volume's lyric "I" does not obviously appear as strength. Day by Day's achievement has been obscured by critics' persistence in reducing Lowell's poetry to oppositional extremes of strength and weakness, force and powerlessness, tyranny and victimhood, self-aggrandizement and self-destruction, a will to power and a death drive--extremes readily mapped onto the mania and depression of the poet's biography.1 Such polarities can account neither for Day by Day's rough-edged, flexible, "intimate" (Letters 625) style, nor for its evocation of a contingent, relational self. Reviews of Lowell's 2003 Collected Poems agree about the stature of Life Studies. About Day by Day they differ sharply: the majority ignore the volume, or write it off as "flat . . . tired and listless" (Paulin 15) or at best a "delicate http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Contemporary Literature University of Wisconsin Press

Intimacy and Agency in Robert Lowell's Day by Day

Contemporary Literature , Volume 50 (3) – Mar 11, 2009

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Publisher
University of Wisconsin Press
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Copyright © University of Wisconsin Press
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1548-9949
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Abstract

R E E N A S A S T R I "M y thinking is talking to you," the speaker of one of Robert Lowell's late poems tells a friend ("Our Afterlife II," Collected Poems 733). In Lowell's last volume, Day by Day, poetry is conversational thinking. The imagined conversation involves intimacy; it also entails unfinished sentences, questions, and interruptions. Emerging in and through such interruptions and disjunctions, the agency of the volume's lyric "I" does not obviously appear as strength. Day by Day's achievement has been obscured by critics' persistence in reducing Lowell's poetry to oppositional extremes of strength and weakness, force and powerlessness, tyranny and victimhood, self-aggrandizement and self-destruction, a will to power and a death drive--extremes readily mapped onto the mania and depression of the poet's biography.1 Such polarities can account neither for Day by Day's rough-edged, flexible, "intimate" (Letters 625) style, nor for its evocation of a contingent, relational self. Reviews of Lowell's 2003 Collected Poems agree about the stature of Life Studies. About Day by Day they differ sharply: the majority ignore the volume, or write it off as "flat . . . tired and listless" (Paulin 15) or at best a "delicate

Journal

Contemporary LiteratureUniversity of Wisconsin Press

Published: Mar 11, 2009

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