Months before her death, with the guidance of editor Robert Giroux, Jean Stafford assembled the fragments of her failed relationship with Robert Lowell into “An Influx of Poets.” Her final story could have devolved into sour grapes but instead stands on its own as an exemplary roman à clef and scathing psychological profile of a broken marriage.
The Stafford character, aptly named Cora Savage, combs the wreckage of one awful summer with dark humor and piercing detachment. The postwar world she constructs is bleak and often sinister—a fairy-tale kingdom corrupted by fickle poet-princes. But Stafford as Savage does not shy from culpability or hide her own cruel fantasies. She embraces the ironies of her situation, most significantly that the poet’s wife, along with being in service to his craft, can tell her own version of the story with poetic complexity, eloquence, and daring.