"Readying Amy Lowell's Body(s)" -- An Essay by Melissa Bradshaw
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?