112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

Robert Lowell's Memoirs

Steven Gould Axelrod, University of California, Riverside

Lowell’s childhood memoirs compose a fascinating, cohesive, unsettling text, one that I am in the process of co-editing for publication. More acidic than the poetic revision of this material in the “Life Studies” sequence, the memoirs evoke a poisonous atmosphere unmitigated by their social comedy or brilliant eye for detail.




This paper will describe Robert Lowell's mostly unpublished prose memoirs, which I am editing with Greg Kosc for publication by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Lowell ultimately abandoned the memoir project, and rewrote it in radically different form as a series of poems, published in 1959 in Life Studies. Although he claimed that he had been unable to finish the prose memoirs, they do in fact appear to be finished and even edited. Perhaps he abandoned them for a different reason: the unremittingly harsh light in which they cast his family members and himself. These memoirs are colder, less charming, less placating, and less forgiving than the poems he wrote to take their place. The memoirs do not, as the poems do, attempt to redeem the family triad of a resentful, self-absorbed mother, an incompetent father, and an isolated, borderline sociopathic son. Unlike the poems, the memoirs burn their bridges. Like Djuna Barnes Nightwood, Lowell's memoirs create a textual world that is both toxic and unforgettable. This paper will reveal for the first time the outlines and style of this repressed text, perhaps the only great work by Lowell that has yet to be published.