It seemed unlikely on the face of it that two big books of letters, each of which could serve as a doorstop, would be so absorbing. But I recently found that re-reading The Letters of Robert Lowell and Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell issued me into a world as vivid as that of a novel—more vivid, really, because the world evoked in these letters is peopled with real men and women, against a backdrop of the times during which the letter-writers were active. The letters became an alternative reality I was eager to escape into, leaving behind what came to seem the paler reality of the world in which I actually live.

Their correspondence indirectly tells the life stories of both poets, and this is a good thing, since we lack a definitive biography of either....


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