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Bryher, W.

Amy Lowell, A Critical Appreciation.


Her Second Book
Bryher, W. Amy Lowell. A Critical Appreciation. (The Art of Amy Lowell.) London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, Ltd., 1918.
Slim 4to.; faint, occasional foxing; red printed wrappers, string-tied; darkened; lightly worn. In a specially made cloth slipcase.
First edition of Bryher's second book (a second edition came out in the same year), which she begins with a brief biographical note about Lowell, describing her discovery of Lowell's work as a near epiphany: "I had stumbled into a freshness of vision denied so long that it had become a myth" (p. 8). In her memoirs, A Heart to Artemis, she expounds on her discovery of Lowell, whose writing she was introduced to in an anthology of Imagist poems; she claims that she and Lowell:
…respond emotionally in situations resembling our own. I did not know that Amy Lowell was largely confined to her home through illness and that her work reflected the frustrations from which she suffered. I was unable to expand because of the war. It was natural to feel the similarity in the two situations. I wrote her, she answered and was extremely kind to me but by the time that we met the circumstances were different and I could not bear to think of lines that recalled to me the lonely miseries of the first war….I was a disappointment to her eventually but it was inevitable under the circumstances. (p. 179)
Bryher met Lowell in 1921; Lowell met her when she arrived in America after a tiring ordeal aboard the ship on which she crossed the Atlantic. Bryher confesses her inexplicable reticence in regards to her time with Lowell:
It was almost as bad the next afternoon when Amy took me for a drive and kept saying to me, "Look at the light under the bridge, what would you call it?" All I could mumble was I didn't know and she was disappointed. I had dinner with her that evening, and Jean Untermayer who was also there and realized that I was in a state of shock teases me to this day about frozen silence with which I regarded the party. (p. 197)
On the next page, she repeats her belief that, "Amy Lowell was disappointed in me" (199); clearly, this was a frustrating turn of events for Bryher, who had already published her Critical Appreciation three years earlier.
Included in this book are some of Bryher's favorite Lowell poems - like "The Fairy Tale;" "A Gift;" "A Lady;" "Patience;" and "Patterns" - offering her analysis and praise of each. Bryher is most affected by the Imagism in Lowell's poetry; of "A Gift," for example, she gushes, "This is an excellent illustration of the new or Imagist tendencies in poetry. There is not a single useless word. The whole atmosphere is etched by a single line at the beginning and merges into an emotion, stripped to its beating elements, into a dream rhythmic with colour" (p. 16).
The manner in which Bryher describes Lowell's poetry suggests it to be melancholic, an appropriate classification considering they are the products of a Victorian mind: "They are very beautiful, these poems, though sad with a more than immature weariness - the weariness of silence, of a loneliness so passionate it must have an outlet, and so stumbles, faltering, into words" (p. 13); and, later, "[Lowell] belongs to the very few whose poems are almost pain to read, acute they are with beauty" (p. 39). She concludes with high praise: "Most individual of writers, she possesses a vision seldom encountered even in poetry, a power of giving perfect expression to another's emotion in a concise and trenchant line" (p. 48).
The historical novelist, poet, critic and magazine editor Bryher (1894-1983) was born Annie Winnifred Ellerman; she changed her name to Bryher - which is one of the Scilly Islands off the coast of England where she vacationed with her family as a child - when she began to be published in order to separate herself from her well-known family. She was educated by private tutors as her family traveled frequently during her childhood.
She began publishing pieces in the Saturday Review and Sphere in her early 20s. Around the same time, she became romantically involved with the writer H.D., who, in turn, introduced her to the literary elite of Paris, including Sylvia Beach, James Joyce, Andre Gide, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. On a trip to America with H.D., Bryher met and married the publisher Robert McAlmon. In 1927, Bryher divorced McAlmon and married the writer Kenneth Macpherson, all the while maintaining her relationship with H.D., who lived with the happy couple in a ménage a trios. With Macpherson, Bryher founded and edited the film magazine Close-Up and the POOL cinema group.
Prolific and varied in her writings, Bryher was a contributor to Bookman, North American Review, Poetry, Contact, Transatlantic Review, Transition, Seed, Life and Letters Today, Fortnightly Review, Little Review and This Quarter. She is the author of 14 novels, including Development (1920; with a preface by Amy Lowell); Beowulf: Roman d'une maison de the dans Londres bombarde (1948); Gate to the Sea (1958); Ruan (1960); and The Coin of Carthage (1963). Other writings include: Film Problems of Soviet Russia (1929); Cinema Survey (1937); The Heart to Artemis: A Writer's Memoirs (1962); and The Days of Mars: A Memoir, 1940-1946 (1972).
Bryher's philanthropic activities, though, easily trump her literary output: With Alice B. Toklas, she rescued Jewish refugees from Nazi persecution by helping them to establish new lives in the United States.
RLG: 5/ OCLC: 12

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