Robert Lowell (1917-1977) was an American poet who had a profound influence on many other writers, including both Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. Born into a Boston family that could trace its lineage back to the Mayflower, much of Lowell’s work mythologizes New England, but his later influence in developing confessional poetry was what attracted younger poets to his work.
Robert Lowell was born to a Boston Brahmin family and described his childhood as being one of violence and bullying, where he earned the nickname “Cal,” short for Caligula. He studied at Harvard, but left, eventually earning a degree from Kenyon College. During World War II he became a conscientious objector, the first of his political statements, spending several months in prison. From 1950 to 1953 he taught at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Afterwards he taught at several major American universities. His teaching style was described as informal, which drew younger writers to him.
Robert Lowell has been called one of the influential poets of the 20th century, directly affecting the work of younger writers. He was the sixth Poet Laureate Consultant to the Library of Congress from 1947 to 1948. He also became the most well-known American poet during the 1960s, appearing on the cover of Time magazine in 1967. Much of his work was influenced by his bipolar disorder, reflecting in his collection Life Studies. Lowell died in 1977.