Robert Lowell

Robert Lowell

1950 - 1953
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Philip Levine on John Berryman and Robert Lowell

Iowa Writers' Workshop (Dey House)
507 North Clinton Street, Iowa City, Iowa

Philip Levine talks about being taught by Robert Lowell and John Berryman at the University of Iowa, where his classmates included Donald Justice, W.D. Snodgrass and Henri Coulette.

Naomi Jaffa, Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, November 2009


Robert Dana, Robert Lowell in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop


Poet Robert Dana describes his experience in the Iowa Iowa Writers’ Workshop, including his class with Robert Lowell, and eating at the Iowa Memorial Union:

In addition to Lowell’s workshop class, there was the more or less impromptu one we ourselves convened around the lunch table once or twice a week in the dingy and steaming cafeteria in the basement of the old Student Union: a kind of expanding and contracting court of complaint, a floating seminar in practical criticism, a rump parliament in literary theory, where we fed on each other’s praise and harkened to each other’s criticisms. Poems were handed around, sometimes scribbled on, lamented over. The talk was free-wheeling, unfettered, sometimes even preposterous. No telling how many bad lines and bad poems perished in those sessions. Probably not enough. But our little seminar brought us together in knowledge and ignorance and friendship.

Dana, Robert. “Far from the Ocean: Robert Lowell at Iowa, 1953.” The North American Review 282.5 (1997): 48-52. Web.


Robert Lowell and John Berryman at Donnelly’s Bar

Donnelly's Pub
110 E. College St.

Jan Weissmiller, poet and co-owner of Prairie Lights Bookstore, describes a few of the haunts and hangouts in Iowa City where Robert Lowell and John Berryman would meet in the 1950s:

On the way from Prairie Lights to Iowa Book, are two bars and two restaurants that surely contain either writers or ghosts of writers. The first is Micky’s Irish Pub (11 South Dubuque Street). The antique bar at Micky’s was moved from the original Donnelly’s bar on Dubuque Street, now at 110 East College Street, where Workshop writers Robert Lowell and John Berryman met …

Weissmiller, Jan. “Iowa City: City Guides.” Poets & Writers. Poets & Writers, 1 May 2012. Web. 21 May 2016.


Robert Lowell at the Jefferson Hotel

The Jefferson Hotel
129 E. Washington St. (Current Jefferson Building)

Robert Sullivan remembers receiving a phone call from Robert Lowell when he was staying at the Jefferson Hotel in downtown Iowa City:

[There was a call] from the Jefferson Hotel, not more than a mile or two from our apartment. The caller was Robert Lowell. I had not seen him or been in touch with him since Easter weekend, 1943, when he and Jean Stafford were living with Allen and Caroline T?te. I was surprised that Cal [Lowell’s nickname] remembered me, more surprised that he knew I was in Iowa, and even more surprised that he had found somebody, most likely Paul Engle, the director of the Writers’ Workshop, who knew how we could be reached. Cal even knew that I was married, and he invited Jane and me to come to his room. He was lonely. Would we come?

Sullivan, Walter. “Carousing With People, Walking with Dogs in Iowa City.” The Sewanee Review 112.4 (2004): 570-83. JSTOR. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Web. 29 Aug. 2016.


Robert Lowell in Iowa City

Iowa City
123 S Linn St

In a letter to Allen Tate on March 15, 1950, Lowell describes his life in Iowa City:

All has turned out very well. We are living in a large light room and kitchen, furnished with borrowings, pick-ups, and two packing trunks–our own, and large as garages. The Macauleys are a block down the street, and the Wests a few blocks to the south in a frail brick Wormwood house with urns on the lawn….Every afternoon a pack of very harmless and sorry-looking stray dogs settles on our pathway. This is one of the marks of Iowa City; the others are high-brow movies, the new criticism, a quarter of an inch of ice, and the Benasek murder trial, which Elizabeth is moving heaven and earth to enter as an accredited reporter.

Doreski, William. The Years of Our Friendship: Robert Lowell and Allen Tate. Ch. 3 “Literary Peers.” The University Press of Mississippi: 1990. p 93. Print.


Robert Lowell’s apartment on Bowery St

728 Bowery St
728 Bowery St, Iowa City IA

In January of 1950 the Lowell’s moved into their first Iowa City apartment at 728 Bowery Street. He found his students unremarkable but among them only a few intelligent and talented individuals. His workshop class was held in a temporary structure in the barracks that remained on the east side of the Iowa River after World War II. At the end of his first semester at Iowa, he and his wife traveled to Italy for a year as Lowell had proven he was welcome at Iowa at any time. Upon their return to Iowa a year later, the Lowell’s fell back into the swing of their Iowa City lives, quickly finishing their final year and a half there. Lowell stayed busy with his classes and traveled frequently to other universities to speak or teach.  For the most part Lowell found the city, the university and the people “tame and friendly” and his teaching experiences were rife with personal growth and epiphanies about his own writing.

Mariani, Paul. Lost Puritan. A Life of Robert Lowell. W. W. Norton, New York 1994, pp. 190-192, and 220-229


Robert Lowell’s correspondence with Paul Engle

University of Iowa Main Library
125 West Washington St.

A number of Robert Lowell and Paul Engle’s correspondences and handwritten letters are housed in the Special Collection at the University of Iowa Main Library. These letters discuss a wide range of topics, including Lowell’s teaching offers at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, discussions on John Berryman and Allen Tate, and Lowell’s Guggenheim.

All of these letters can be requested to view at the Special Collections on the 3rd floor at the Main Library on campus. Plan your Visit

Records of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, 1965-. Iowa Writers’ Workshop. University of Iowa. Libraries. Special Collections Department. 1965

Robert Lowell, a Pulitzer Prize winning poet and U.S. Poet Laureate, taught at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop from 1950 to 1953. He is the author of celebrated collections, including Lord Weary’s Castle, The Dolphin, which both earned the Pulitzer Prize. His 1959 book Life Studies won the 1960 National Book Award, and he received the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1977, and a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award in 1947. Lowell was a conscientious objector during World War II and served several months at the federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut. In addition to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Lowell taught at a number of other universities including the University of Cincinnati, Yale University, and Harvard. He died in 1977.


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