Langdon Hammer is the Niel Gray Jr. Professor of English at Yale and the author of James Merrill: Life and Art. He is writing a critical biography of Elizabeth Bishop. (December 2019)


The Art of Losing

The Dolphin Letters, 1970–1979: Elizabeth Hardwick, Robert Lowell, and Their Circle

edited by Saskia Hamilton

The Dolphin: Two Versions, 1972–1973

by Robert Lowell, edited by Saskia Hamilton
In 1970 Robert Lowell was a visiting fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, and Elizabeth Hardwick was at home in New York with their thirteen-year-old daughter, Harriet. Hardwick felt overwhelmed trying to manage the family’s affairs. “Cal,” she wrote to Lowell, “I can’t cope. I have gotten so that I simply cannot bear it. Each day’s mail and effort grows greater and greater.” Seeing the chance to simplify “a life that has become too weighty, detailed, heavy—for me,” Hardwick undertook to sell Lowell’s papers.

Inside & Underneath Words

Susan Howe, Dublin, June 2015


by Susan Howe
The poet Susan Howe is probably best known today for a book published more than thirty years ago that is not by any conventional definition a work of poetry. My Emily Dickinson (1985) is a hybrid prose work including elements of literary criticism, cultural history, personal essay, lyric rhapsody, and …


Letters: Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘Art Form or Something’

Elizabeth Bishop, Brazil, 1954

The series of letters Bishop wrote to her psychoanalyst detail her sexual history and its connections to her creativity in an extended reverie, probably written at the suggestion of Dr. Foster as part of Bishop’s treatment. Although unpublished, by now they have been discussed in essays and academic papers. Bishop wrote them on a typewriter, filling to the margins more than nineteen sheets of paper and another two pages or so of personal chronology. Begun under the influence of three quarts of whiskey, as she confesses, the letters relate dreams, certain visionary experiences, anxieties, anecdotes, childhood memories, desires, pleasures, sexual habits, ideas for poems, and, above all, Bishop’s loving devotion to and personal trust in her psychoanalyst.

Hart Crane’s View From the Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge, New York, City, 1986

Walker Evans’s photographs of Brooklyn Bridge emphasized the lyric intimacy at the core of Hart Crane’s work by inviting the reader to look closely at the bridge from unconventional points of view. In one photograph, taken directly underneath the bridge, Evans’s lens, pointed up, turns the horizontal structure into a thrusting vertical funnel, soaring and expanding out of the frame. In another image, with the camera pointed down this time from a position somewhere midway on the span, the bridge doesn’t appear at all, just the shipping in the river below it, as if we were seeing what only the bridge sees. Evans’s photographs transfigured Brooklyn Bridge into abstract form that almost functions independently of subject matter.