Daniel Mark Epstein’s book on The Loves and Love Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay zooms into her world so closely I felt like a stalker. Even though Millay’s personal life is documented through letters, journals and her poems, I can’t help wonder if we have a right to know all. Probably not, but I was too spellbound by Epstein’s work to turn away. His presentation of the material has a flow that aligns with Millay’s poetry and supports the ebb of emotion, the stillness of expectation and the delight of her exuberance for life.
What Lips My Lips Have Kissed reveals Millay’s single-minded devotion to love and her obsessive need to share her experience through the written word. Reading about her life makes you want to be a poet the way Isadora Duncan makes you want to dance, and Erika Robuck makes you want to write historical fiction.
Millay was a woman devoted, and in some ways enslaved, to her mother and sisters. Still her commitment to love and her expression of it allowed her to swing blissfully into independence. The boldness in which she was able to express her emotions is enviable, inspirational and brave.
My love for you is something more than just thought, it is the love of Everywoman for Everyman. It is all primitive female life desiring its mate, it is all hunger crying for food, all weariness sighing for rest, it is the instinctive reaching out of the universal soul.
She is a woman to be studied and admired. Anyone searching for who they are will be inspired by her strength to stand by her open relationships and her commitment to fulfilling her dreams.
We see from first to last of the poet’s oeuvre […] the cultivation of a multitude of rich voices from a profound and androgynous emotional center. If the male in her was not so firmly in touch with the female, she could never have written so insightfully of men and women in love.
I don’t believe I’ve ever read of an artist so in tune with their passion that they actually become a living entity of it. Her life sparks imagination and fantasies so vivid, if you are any sort of artist you will be driven to dig deeper into the depths of your medium.
What Lips My Lips Have Kissed may be nonfiction, but it feels like a novel in its suspense and inevitability of action thanks to Epstein’s prose.
She meant to drink deeply from the spring of Eros, as any man might, as men had been doing since the beginning of recorded time. It was a game that could not be played without someone getting hurt now and then, and the excitement did keep her pen moving.
Epstein’s commitment to be true to Millay’s life and loves combined with the tender way he reveals all is enviable. He makes me wish I could be as devoted to one artist in history. Of course, coveting other writers’ work is part of what writers do, isn’t it? Through one writer’s insight, curiosity rises and new stories unfold. Erika Robuck said What Lips My Lips Have Kissed was one of her favorite books when researching Millay for her novel Fallen Beauty. If you’re like me and read both books you’ll see just how brilliantly Robuck captured Millay’s life.
Oh, how I love how one book leads to another. Snatch up What Lips My Lips Have Kissed: The Loves and Love Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay and see what follows.