Kathleen Spivack’s WITH ROBERT LOWELL AND HIS CIRCLE or Why I Left Boston–Part 2

With Robert Fitzgerald, I wrote a thesis on Theodore Roethke. Which one member of the Harvard anointed with a magna and one attempted to fail. A third reader was pulled out, passing me with a cum laude. At the time I was vaguely aware that the English department housed enemies, with opposite modes of thinking. I’d used Roethke’s own words and ideas about poetry to dissect his work–unwittingly falling into one camp. And thus attacked by the other.
The Boston confessional school, like the Harvard I attended, was marked by suicide, misogyny, alcohol, drug abuse, class stratification, anti-Semitism, and homophobia. This vocabulary is Spivak’s–and I am indebted to it. Spivack does more than admit this–she examines it in terms of both Lowell’s and her own life.
But at the age of twenty-one I had little grasp on this. After all, Boston was also politically radical and intellectually honed. It also seemed to rain or snow continuously, over low lying buildings, in a series of endlessly gray skies. My boots leaked. I coughed. It started to feel as nothing real was every going to happen to me again.
So I went to San Francisco and later Santa Fe, falling under the sway of the Beats in the person of Phil Whalen and ripples emanating from San Francisco Zen Center. The Beats were also misogynist, suicidal, alcoholic. San Francisco was also rainy and gray. But inside that fog was an endless supply of Chinese hot and sour soup, gamelons, performance art, and something that Boston never had–hipness.
I had come for a reason.
Robert Lowell and Allen Ginsberg appeared on the same stage and held the same anti-war politics. Spivack sees the similarities and well as differences in tow different American streams of poetry.
I am grateful she wrote this book. Do read it.

1 thought on “Kathleen Spivack’s WITH ROBERT LOWELL AND HIS CIRCLE or Why I Left Boston–Part 2

  1. Miriam, One of the many things (including the rain and snow that we’d welcome in Santa Fe) of your post that strikes me is how rooted in and by language sides and factions can form. The Zen koan “with empty hands, I take hold of the plow” helps provide an antidote, or perhaps,
    a vaccine. Anyway, my two cents from the middle of the language wars.

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