Literary Legacies:  Spending Halloween with Swords, Poppy Seed, and Amy Lowell

by Lauren McCormick | October 2016

Today is Halloween. All Hallows’ Eve. A day when we embrace otherworldly affairs and pay tribute to all things creepy. For some people, all of October is dedicated to reading all things horror. This is the time when I think about Amy Lowell, a classic poet whose presence in the world of poetry is a ghost of its former self.

Amy Lowell was a poet of the imagist school, born in Brookline, Massachusetts, and a part of the legendary Lowell family. In 1926, she posthumously received the Pulitzer Prize for her collection, What’s O’Clock. Her poetry is atmospheric and fantastical, while still being firmly grounded in reality. She wrote on a variety of topics, including love, war, and pioneering literal translations of historical poets, like Li Tai-po, a Chinese poet who wrote from CE 701-762. In addition, she was an early advocate of free verse poetry and prose poems, which she called “polyphonic prose” (as stated in Michel Delville’s The American Prose Poem). After learning a bit about Amy Lowell, I hope you’ll want to read more from this amazing poet and woman. Unfortunately, none of her collections are currently in print, and they haven’t been for several years.

I have a very particular poem in mind on autumn days like these. The crunching of leaves underfoot is music, set to Lowell’s poetry. Sword Blades and Poppy Seed is a long, narrative poem (in a collection of the same name), documenting a man’s strange night in a shop that only sells, you guessed it, sword blades and poppy seed. This poem is filled with otherworldly aromas and artifacts:

I walked as though some opiate
Had stung and dulled my brain, a state
Acute and slumbrous. It grew late.
We stopped, a house stood silent, dark.
The old man scratched a match, the spark
Lit up the keyhole of a door,
We entered straight upon a floor
White with finest powdered sand
Carefully sifted, one might stand
Muddy and dripping, and yet no trace
Would stain the boards of this kitchen-place.

Lowell’s descriptions, tone, and rhyme scheme offer quite an embodiment of this holiday. As our narrator expands his vision to see all the different swords and daggers, scythes and scimitars, he starts to hallucinate, take in, and understand the other thing the shop sells.

My head grew dizzy, I seemed to hear
A battle-cry from somewhere near,
The clash of arms, and the squeal of balls,
And the echoless thud when a dead man falls.
A smoky cloud had veiled the room,
Shot through with lurid glares; the gloom
Pounded with shouts and dying groans,
With the drip of blood on cold, hard stones.

Halloween reading isn’t complete without Lowell. As the leaves change color and the wind whips up, encouraging you to pull up your collar, Lowell’s Sword Blades and Poppy Seeds will be there, flickering in the candlelight.

On blustery fall days, when wandering into a cemetery holds a little more power, you can visit Amy Lowell’s humble grave in the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA. I heartily encourage you to visit an important, but forgotten, Massachusetts poet. It’s been awhile and she deserves the love.

Lauren hails from a small town in North Carolina with more rolling hills than people. She holds an MA in English/Creative Writing - Poetry from SNHU and a BA in Ancient Greek Language and Literature  from UNCG. While she is obsessed with ancient poetry, she has recently made an effort to move her focus to contemporary. Her current favorite reads are Jelly Roll: A Blues by Kevin Young and Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith. She talks about the books she’s reading and other bookish things on her YouTube channel, Burnt Fiction.