Helen Vendler is the Arthur Kingsley Porter University Professor Emerita in the Department of English at Harvard. Her latest book is The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar, a collection of essays. (December 2019)


‘No Poetry You Have Read’

Herman Melville: Complete Poems

edited by Hershel Parker
When he was twenty-six, Herman Melville published a lightly fictionalized account of his adventures in the South Seas as a young crewmember of a New England whaling ship. Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life became a sensational best seller in England and the United States. Between that prosperous beginning and …

The Tragic Sense of Frank Bidart

Frank Bidart, New York City, April 2017; photograph by Nancy Crampton

Half-light: Collected Poems 1965–2016

by Frank Bidart
Twenty years ago, Frank Bidart called his sixth book Desire. It is desire that drives his poetry, just as making desire believable on the page drives his imagination. Besides its erotic reach, “desire” signifies for Bidart a yearning toward the absolute in any domain. To desire to create a perfect …

The Two Robert Lowells

Robert Lowell, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1977

Robert Lowell: Setting the River on Fire: A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character

by Kay Redfield Jamison

New Selected Poems

by Robert Lowell, edited by Katie Peterson
Although Robert Lowell was born in 1917, Kay Redfield Jamison opens her new biography of the poet seventy-two years before his birth, in 1845, with a Lowell being committed to the “McLean Asylum for the Insane.” This was Harriet Brackett Spence Lowell, Lowell’s great-great-grandmother, who had been cared for at …

‘I Heard Voices in My Head’

William Wordsworth; portrait by Benjamin Haydon, 1842

The Prelude: 1805

by William Wordsworth, edited and with an introduction by James Engell and Michael D. Raymond
Wordsworth’s The Prelude—a meditative poem on the growth of the poet’s mind—is a unique document of modern consciousness in its constant mobility—of times, thoughts, feelings, prospect, and retrospect. The mode of other treatments of consciousness—expository essays on philosophy, political theory, psychology, and morals—is essentially one of formulated assertion (even if …

Wallace Stevens: The Real and the Made-Up

Wallace Stevens with his daughter Holly in front of their apartment in Hartford, Connecticut, 1929

The Whole Harmonium: The Life of Wallace Stevens

by Paul Mariani
The poetic imagination projects a world, says the poet Wallace Stevens (1879–1955) in a letter from 1940, but it is difficult to make that world believable to everyone: It is impossible to project a world that will not appear to some one to be a deformation. This is especially true …

Poet of the Violent and the Chaste

The Collected Poems of John Crowe Ransom

edited by Ben Mazer
There are many writers—novelists, critics, journalists—who, after composing and even publishing poetry, come to a halt. Many find notable success in prose: Faulkner, Hemingway, Lawrence of Arabia. There is, however, a sadder version of the story, that of a writer who finds himself unable to continue as a lyric poet: …