Robert Lowell was notably unlucky in Ian Hamilton’s major biography written on him in 1983. Hamilton’s biography, while impressively comprehensive, presented a damagingly wrong-headed and skewed picture of Lowell the man. The reading public on the whole has accepted Hamilton’s portrait of Lowell as authentic, as they did in the case of another damaging biography of a poet, Lawrance Thompson’s three-volume book on Robert Frost. As if by compensation, Lowell is posthumously blessed in the new Collected Poems edited by Frank Bidart and David Gewanter.[1] Any “collected works” is a tombstone. (And I say that as someone who likes tombstones.) At almost 1200 pages, this is a big marble slab of a book. Himself a poet of great force and originality, Frank Bidart studied with Lowell as a graduate student at Harvard in the 1960s and became a close friend, literary amanuensis, and...


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