Words in Air
928 pages; Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Everyone knows that writers seek solitude. Without "a room of one's own," it's almost impossible to find the concentration and time for reflection that any creative work demands. Perhaps we're less familiar, though, with an equal need: the writer's thirst for artistic friendship, the company of a like-minded soul. Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is a brilliant testament to the pleasure and power of good company. This juicily thick volume collects 30 years of letters between two of the finest American poets of the last century. Watching their dawning friendship unfold is sheer delight, and because Bishop and Lowell became so devoted to entertaining each other with anecdotes, gossip, and marvelous bits of description, their letters offer some of the same delights as their richly evocative poems. Bishop describes a town in Maine so quiet "its heart beats twice a day when the train goes through." Lowell invites her to travel: "Next year if our books were done and we had the cash, wouldn't you like to try Italy?" There's such life in these letters that the reader can't help but feel included in an intimate bond between two lively, vulnerable, and complex souls. Because their exchange stretches across decades, we watch these fast friends struggle, deepen, and change, and help to shape each other's work. Bishop, a private person and a reserved writer, follows Lowell's example to take more emotional risks. Lowell, a more public poet, reaches for a greater intimacy and a more relaxed and human voice. There's a long, respectful, charmed marriage of true minds here. These two lifetimes of mutual admiration make for irresistible reading.
— Mark Doty