In these days of voyeurism and the pursuit of vicarious kicks Ian Hamilton’s Robert Lowell: a Biography[1] is bound to be a much-thumbed book. Because the poet himself made a public record of his private life—mess after mess after mess detailed in the later poems—scholars will be at work for a long time, not only with the incidental felicities of phrase but with the questions of the poems’ “truths”: to what extent does this or that passage reflect or falsify the poet’s life, especially his amorous relationships. Here are possibilities for endless gossip, endless soap opera. It is easy to predict that the Lowell biography machine will keep going well into the next century, with Mr. Hamilton’s thick, well-documented biography as a primary text.

Lowell himself practically ordained this by living the sort of life...

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