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Amy Lowell, poet and fat activist

This link was originally posted by plasticsturgeon in fatshionista:

http://www.english.uiuc.edu/Maps/poets/g_l/amylowell/bradshaw.htm
"Readying Amy Lowell's Body(s)" -- An Essay by Melissa Bradshaw

A quote:
After a disastrous reducing experience in her early twenties, which involved sailing down the Nile subsisting on a diet of asparagus and tomatoes, Lowell resolutely avoided losing weight ever again, refusing to modify her eating habits, take diet pills (which commonly contained strychnine and arsenic), or undergo any experimental cures. When one doctor suggested operating on her thyroid to cure her "imbalance" Lowell refused because she feared it would interfere with her thinking process (Gregory 39). Such resistance to changing her body is anomalous in turn-of-the-century American culture, which Hillel Schwartz describes as saturated with marketing campaigns for slimming programs and miracle cures.
Gee, it's hard to tell which century-turning he's talking about, isn't it?

Bradshaw goes on to discuss how Lowell dressed during the daytime (in severe suits) and for evening events (very flamboyantly) and to claim
a camp reading of Lowell’s evening-wear transforms what many have described as a "failure" into a triumph. What might appear as a reinforcement of the dominant order becomes instead a daring transgression. Here is a counternarrative to those which describe Lowell’s evening wear as misguided and unfortunate, one which grants Lowell agency and purpose in her clothing choices. This is Amy Lowell coming out as a fat woman. This is Amy Lowell acknowledging a value system that ridicules and excludes her because she is fat, and inserting herself into it loudly and dramatically.
I'm kind of embarrassed that I don't know much about her and I choose to learn more because of reading something about her body and style of dress rather than via reading her poetry. Isn't that just typical? But I'm glad I've discovered her now. Here's one of her more well known poems:
         PATTERNS


I walk down the garden paths,
And all the daffodils
Are blowing, and the bright blue squills.
I walk down the patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
With my powdered hair and jewelled fan,
I too am a rare
Pattern. As I wander down
The garden paths.

My dress is richly figured,
And the train
Makes a pink and silver stain
On the gravel, and the thrift
Of the borders.
Just a plate of current fashion,
Tripping by in high-heeled, ribboned shoes.
Not a softness anywhere about me,
Only whalebone and brocade.
And I sink on a seat in the shade
Of a lime tree. For my passion
Wars against the stiff brocade.
The daffodils and squills
Flutter in the breeze
As they please.
And I weep;
For the lime-tree is in blossom
And one small flower has dropped upon my bosom.

And the plashing of waterdrops
In the marble fountain
Comes down the garden-paths.
The dripping never stops.
Underneath my stiffened gown
Is the softness of a woman bathing in a marble basin,
A basin in the midst of hedges grown
So thick, she cannot see her lover hiding,
But she guesses he is near,
And the sliding of the water
Seems the stroking of a dear
Hand upon her.
What is Summer in a fine brocaded gown!
I should like to see it lying in a heap upon the ground.
All the pink and silver crumpled up on the ground.

I would be the pink and silver as I ran along the paths,
And he would stumble after,
Bewildered by my laughter.
I should see the sun flashing from his sword-hilt and the buckles
  on his shoes.
I would choose
To lead him in a maze along the patterned paths,
A bright and laughing maze for my heavy-booted lover,
Till he caught me in the shade,
And the buttons of his waistcoat bruised my body as he clasped me,
Aching, melting, unafraid.
With the shadows of the leaves and the sundrops,
And the plopping of the waterdrops,
All about us in the open afternoon --
I am very like to swoon
With the weight of this brocade,
For the sun sifts through the shade.

Underneath the fallen blossom
In my bosom,
Is a letter I have hid.
It was brought to me this morning by a rider from the Duke.
"Madam, we regret to inform you that Lord Hartwell
Died in action Thursday se'nnight."
As I read it in the white, morning sunlight,
The letters squirmed like snakes.
"Any answer, Madam," said my footman.
"No," I told him.
"See that the messenger takes some refreshment.
No, no answer."
And I walked into the garden,
Up and down the patterned paths,
In my stiff, correct brocade.
The blue and yellow flowers stood up proudly in the sun,
Each one.
I stood upright too,
Held rigid to the pattern
By the stiffness of my gown.
Up and down I walked,
Up and down.

In a month he would have been my husband.
In a month, here, underneath this lime,
We would have broke the pattern;
He for me, and I for him,
He as Colonel, I as Lady,
On this shady seat.
He had a whim
That sunlight carried blessing.
And I answered, "It shall be as you have said."
Now he is dead.

In Summer and in Winter I shall walk
Up and down
The patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
The squills and daffodils
Will give place to pillared roses, and to asters, and to snow.
I shall go
Up and down,
In my gown.
Gorgeously arrayed,
Boned and stayed.
And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace
By each button, hook, and lace.
For the man who should loose me is dead,
Fighting with the Duke in Flanders,
In a pattern called a war.
Christ! What are patterns for?

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
elynne
Apr. 11th, 2006 06:58 am (UTC)
Oh, wow... I'd never heard of her before, never seen this poem, but this poem is amazing, beautiful. And I was completely unable to tell which century was being described; I had my suspicion, but... wow. Okay, I've added two books of her poetry to my Amazon wishlist. Thank you for bringing my attention to her.
porcinea
Apr. 11th, 2006 06:21 pm (UTC)
THANK YOU!!!! I, too, wanted to read her poetry. And, o wow!

The thing I thought was odd about the article was that there was no room for "she recognizes that many think she looks odd, but SHE LIKES THE WAY SHE LOOKS" as one of her reasons for her fantastic evening wear.
firecat
Apr. 11th, 2006 06:51 pm (UTC)
I think the article was imperfect, yeah. A nice try though.

There's a subtle difference between being camp and thumbing your nose at the mainstream public.

I'm sorry that I can't find any photos on google images of her evening wear.
auntysocial
Apr. 12th, 2006 12:02 am (UTC)
I read her poetry a long time ago, in my teenage poetry reading days, but I did not know she was fat or a lesbian until more recently. Sh was a leader in the poetry movement of the Imagists. Some people called the the Amygists. She was also the leading expert on John Keats, whose "Ode on a Grecian Urn" did make a word of sense to me, but which I loved.
johnpalmer
Apr. 15th, 2006 03:18 am (UTC)
*HAH!* I think to myself. "I don't have to ask her to e-mail this to me! I can e-mail it to *myself*, so I'll have a chance to read it when I'm coherent, or something."

Thanks for posting it.

(That first paragraph: I leave up pages that I want to read "later" (which sometimes ends up meaning "never"), and then set my computer to hibernate. Unfortunately, my computer will only let itself hibernate so many times without getting wonky. So, I finally figured out how to save something I *really* didn't want to lose, and can finally restart my computer to remove its incipient wonkiness. And, if you haven't been following my LJ, yes, I'm sick to the point that figuring something like this out seems like a major accomplishment.)
firecat
Apr. 15th, 2006 03:55 am (UTC)
I leave up pages too, and sometimes lose them, and usually figure that losing it saved me the time of reading it. ;) I'm glad you discovered something that works!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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