Art & Illness of Robert Lowell

“…The winds’ wings beat upon the stones,

Cousin, and scream for you and the claws rush

At the sea’s throat and wring it in the slush

Of this old Quaker graveyard where the bones

Cry out in the long night for the hurt beast

Bobbing by Ahab’s whaleboats in the East.”

-Robert Lowell, The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket

Is there a link between mania and artistic creativity? In Robert Lowell: Setting the River on Fire, professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Kay Redfield Jamison seeks to explore this connection while uncovering a fuller picture of the great poet.

There is much to say about Lowell’s life, his struggle with manic depressive disorder, and how it affected his art and his interpersonal relationships. Jamison’s biography is not a traditional look at the arc of her subject’s life, but rather a deep dive into his medical history, his writing, and his relationships in an attempt to understand how a man could not only survive, but thrive an as artist, in in the midst of madness.

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