Partner Bessie Seecomb, Ada Dwyer Russell

Queer Places:
Mount Auburn Cemetery, 580 Mt Auburn St, Cambridge, MA 02138, Stati Uniti
Sevenels, 70 Warren St, Brookline, MA 02445, Stati Uniti

Image result for amy lowellAmy Lawrence Lowell[1] (February 9, 1874 – May 12, 1925) was an American poet of the imagist school from Brookline, Massachusetts. She posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1926.

Lowell was born into Brookline's Lowell family, sister to astronomer Percival Lowell and Harvard president Abbott Lawrence Lowell.[2]

School was a source of considerable despair for the young Amy Lowell. She considered herself to be developing "masculine" and "ugly" features and she was a social outcast. She had a reputation among her classmates for being outspoken and opinionated.[3]

Lowell never attended college because her family did not consider it proper for a woman to do so. She compensated for this lack with avid reading and near-obsessive book collecting. She lived as a socialite and travelled widely, turning to poetry in 1902 (age 28) after being inspired by a performance of Eleonora Duse in Europe.

Amy Lowell's first major romance was with Bessie Seecomb, the daughter of a captain who sailed for Cunard. The Lowell family may have met the elder Seecomb on a transatlantic crossing or in New Hampshiore. Bessie was one of 11 children. Her family was English but settled in Peterborough, New Hampshire, not far from Lowell summer home in Dublin. Bessie was also very well read and educated. She was a nurse and member of the Boston Athenaeum. By 1905 Lowell and Seecomb were together and the romance helped to give Lovell the confidence and drive to become a poet. Lowell and Seecomb traveled together and hardly spent a night apart. The two women were accepted as a couple by their friends, who entertained them together and served as condidantes. We only know of this intense relationship because of the letters that survived in the archives of Robert Grosvenor Valentine, a MIT poetry professor and Wall Street bond trader who also served as President Taft's director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. When Valentine married, Seecomb and Lowell sent the newlyweds a joint present. When the relationship ended abruptly in 1907, Seecomb was devastated, writing the Valentines that "the bottom had dropped out of the universe" and she wondered how she could fo on living now that Lowell refused to eveer see her again. Lowell was also highly affected by the breakup, and that same autumn she wrote the Valentines saying she had lost all feelings of "spontaneity and freedom." Seecomb pulled herself together, eventually becoming the primary breadwinner for her family after her father died in 1910. Tragically, she drowned in 1915. She was sailing abroad the Lusitania when it was torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of Ireland.

external image I_Mount%20Auburn%20Cemetery,%20Cambridge,%20MA,%20USA_5%20(2).JPG
Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA

Thumbing her nose at respectability, Lowell hosted a production of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband in 1907-08 at a time when his name was never mentioned in polite society. Russell Sullivan and Berkeley Updike, two gay men, encouraged and supported her efforts.

The second great romance of Amy Lowell's life was with Ada Dwyer Russell. Lowell met the actress in 1909 when she came to Boston to perform in a play, but their romance did not blossom until 1912 when Dwyer made a return trip to the city. Though Dwyer was raised a Mormon, eleven years older, and once married, she was also talented, well read, and able to stand up to Lowell. Dwyer was the ideal lover Lowell had wanted all her life. However, Dwyer had to be wooed. Lowell begged her to give up the stage and live full time in Brookline, but Dwyer was reluctant to do so. In the end, Dwyer and Lowell had a long passionate relationship that inspired Lowell's poetry. Supporting her emotionally, Dwyer calmed Lowell when she had to confront Ezra Pound and a group of male poets at a meeting to argue who best represented the burgeoning Imagist poetry movement which Lowell championed. In return, Lowell rhapsodized about Dwyer's talent with needle and thread as evidence of the quiet domesticity at the center of their love. In one poem, she compared Dwyer to flowers and church bells.

Russell is reputed to be the subject of Lowell's more erotic works, most notably the love poems contained in 'Two Speak Together', a subsection of ''Pictures of the Floating World''. The two women traveled to England together, where Lowell met Ezra Pound, who at once became a major influence and a major critic of her work. Pound considered Lowell's embrace of Imagism to be a kind of hijacking of the movement.

Lowell has been linked romantically to writer Mercedes de Acosta, but the only evidence of any contact between them is a brief correspondence about a planned memorial for Duse.

Lowell founded in 1911 in an old carriage house at the foot of Beacon Hill the Toy Theater, which critic Eliot Norton described as the first “little theater” of America. There her “Amateur Professionals,” Professionals,” as she called them, not only pursued the little theater ideal but suggested other associations as well, conspicuously producing Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, for instance, in 1907, a brave enough thing to do only a few years after Wilde’s death in exile and disgrace.

But it was Lowell’s poetry that became her primary pursuit after 1914. That year marked the publication of her first widely read and influential book, Sword Blades and Poppy Seed, after which she rapidly displaced Ezra Pound (who soon moved on to espouse vorticism) as the leader of what was called Imagism; indeed, Van Wyck Brooks did not say too much when he affirmed that “in poetry Miss Lowell was all that in other fields Elizabeth Peabody and Susan B. Anthony had been.”

There is the story, fully documented, of the commencement ceremony of 1915: E. E. Cummings, the future poet, then a rising senior, in his student commencement oration, included a reading of Amy Lowell’s “The Letter,” occasioned by the absence of her great love, Ada Dwyer Russell. One lady in Harvard’s Memorial Hall was heard protesting that day that the poem was “lascivious.” (It’s all in the eye of the beholder, of course. Seems mild enough today.) Cummings did not help himself in describing Amy Lowell’s poetry as “a development from the normal to the abnormal,” and this in the very presence of her enthroned and presidential brother. The next day the Boston Transcript trumpeted: “Harvard Orator Calls President Lowell’s Sister Abnormal.” One evening after World War I, at the end of a meeting of the Harvard Poetry Society at which Amy Lowell was the speaker, a younger poet, E. E. Cummings, asked Lowell if she liked Gertrude Stein’s work. Lowell turned the question back on Cummings. When he said he did like it, Lowell replied determinedly, “Well, I don’t.”

The editors of Poetry, Harriet Monroe and Alice Corbin Henderson included in their 1917 selection for The New Poetry: An Anthology poems by Amy Lowell. According to Adrienne Munich and Melissa Bradshaw, authors of Amy Lowell, American Modern, what connects these poets is their appartenance to the queer sisterhood.

When the famously overbearing Amy Lowell went one morning unannounced and tried to insinuate herself onto the Little Review staff, Margaret Anderson bravely stood her ground, refusing to be bought. Big-boned and so immense, Margaret remembered, that she could barely squeeze through the door, Amy Lowell was a poet herself. “I have money,” Amy announced. “You haven’t.” She was prepared, she said, to offer Margaret $150 a month in return for editorship of the Little Review poetry department. “I’ll merely direct,” she added. “You can count on me never to dictate.” “No clairvoyant was needed to know that Amy Lowell would dictate … any adventure in which she had a part,” Margaret wryly observed. She was so sorry, she answered, but she couldn’t possibly function “in association.”

Lowell was a short but imposing figure who kept her hair in a bun and wore a pince-nez. Lowell smoked cigars constantly, claiming that they lasted longer than cigarettes. She was associated with her cigar-smoking habit publicly, since newspapers frequently mentioned it.[4] A glandular problem kept her perpetually overweight, so that poet Witter Bynner once said, in a cruel comment repeated by Ezra Pound and thereafter commonly misattributed to him, that she was a "hippopoetess."[5] Her admirers defended her, however, even after her death. One rebuttal was written by Heywood Broun in his obituary tribute to Amy. He wrote, "She was upon the surface of things a Lowell, a New Englander and a spinster. But inside everything was molten like the core of the earth... Given one more gram of emotion, Amy Lowell would have burst into flame and been consumed to cinders." [6]

Lowell’s poetry could be quite candid and openly lesbian, doubtless reflecting the fact that much of it was inspired by her two great muses, Ada Russell, Lowell’s partner of many years, and Eleonora Duse, an actress with whom Lowell was deeply in love, though they met only twice. It was Russell, however, Lowell’s life partner for her last decade, who inspired the poet’s best love poems, including the impassioned forty-three-poem sequence, “Two Speak Together” in Pictures of the Floating World (1919).

Amy Lowell had an unconventional work schedule, writing between midnight and 5.00AM. She often appeared late, even at gatherings she put togethe, so that Ada Dwyer Russell often played solo hostess at dinner for guests invited by Lowell. Some of her contemporaries and later critics considered her a bombastic, overly pushy woman, but she succeeded in getting the publisher and photographer F. Holland Day to share some of his John Keats memorabilia only through charm and flattery. While conducting his own research, Day had gained possession of a collection of 31 letters from Fanny Brawne to Keats. Day had long been obsessed with the poet. He began his Kears collection in 1885 and in 1894, he commissioned Anne Whitney to create a bust of Keats for the poet's parish church in Hempstead, England. However, Day refused to let anyone read the letters. Even his best friend, Louise Guiney, did not know what was in them, and Day put off Lowell's request to examine his treasures. Among the ostacles he placed before her was refusing all visits after 4.00PM, knowing that Lowell slept all day and worked all night and that it would be impossible for her to travel from her home in Brookline to Day's in Norwood in time for her to meet with him. But after a year of torment, Lowell gave in and agreed to Day's terms and she arrived at his house at 3.00 on March 2, 1922. Gleefully aware of her bulk, Day surrounded his bed with books, papers, teapots, and silverware while he had all the other furniture removed from his room except for a small armchair. "If Miss Lowell decides to sit down, she will hace to stay seated for the rest of the session." Lowell paced for the entire three hour visit. In the end, Lowell seduced Day with books on his favorite topics and a lock of Brawne's hair. Day allowed her access to some of the letters and the biography of Keats by Lowell was publised in 1925. Lowell died three months later.

Lowell died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1925, at the age of 51 and is buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery.[7] The following year, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for ''What's O'Clock''. That collection included the patriotic poem "Lilacs", which Louis Untermeyer said was the poem of hers he liked best.

Jean Gould, author of Amy: The World of Amy Lowell and the Imagist Movement, comes closer to establishing that Lowell and Russell became lovers. Gould had the cooperation and the approbation of Eleanor Robson Belmont, an actress who performed with Ada for many years and who became Mrs. August Belmont, a prominent public figure in New York City. Belmont also became one of Amy's dearest friends. On January 29, 1975, Belmont wrote to Gould: "Ada knew the Foster Damon book was not a good one, but she gave him the facts, and she felt they were there and that a good book would, and of course, should, be forthcoming some day." On November 3, 1975, Belmont wrote again to Gould: "Congratulations, bushels of congratulations.... I find it a remarkable piece of work you have done. The research is far-reaching. The understanding of Amy's character and generosity of her intentions is made very clear." Gould was the only biographer to even begin an exploration of Lowell's lesbianism. If Belmont had objected to Gould's approach, the biographer would have received a far different letter. Indeed, Gould's papers at the University of Toledo reveal that Belmont insisted on approving Gould's manuscript before it could be published. Belmont was wary of biographers because of Horace Gregory's book: "I can still feel the shock and indignation I felt when it came out. Not only did I find many of his statements inaccurate—even things where a small amount of research would have made the accurate facts available—then to my infinite surprise, I too thought he was positively "hostile" to a fellow poet ... at times he seemed almost vindictive, as if lie held a personal grudge against her." Indeed, Gregory's constant characterization of Lowell as a "clubwoman" suggests the condescension that colors his book. No wonder Belmont welcomed the first biography that attempted to explore in Amy Lowell's life in full.

My published books:

See my published books