Barbara Howes Essay - Critical Essays


Barbara Howes spent nearly five decades as a poet, writing and editing books while spending most of her adult life in Vermont. Howes’s poetry achieved little of the public acclaim enjoyed by some of her colleagues, but her work earned praise from a small collection of fans through the 1960’s and 1970’s.

The Undersea Farmer

In Howes’s first book, The Undersea Farmer, her short bursts of description are pointed and lyrical, drawing in readers and gently prodding them to read to the end of the poem. The title poem exhibited her naturalistic writings and the wonder of nature:

Wonder at such Proliferation allows But a glance at the shagreen Sea urchin, delicate As Christmas-tree ornaments . . .

In “No Hiding Place Down There,” she writes of the soothing warmth of the southern United States. Howes’s experiences as a Vermont native visiting and enjoying the warmer climate of the South speaks to those who can only visit there: “Musing/ I see the days/ Float in on sun-drenched air/ Whose sly timelessness devours them.” The reader cannot fail to feel the calm and relaxation experienced by Howes as she luxuriated in the warm climate, soaking up the atmosphere and the slower, relaxed lifestyle. Later she would write, drawing in the reader with alliteration: “Such lazy, latent, sure-blooming growth-sympathy/ From cotton’s honest bolls to green/ Frieze of wisteria on old walls.” Howes’s soothing vocabulary and her characterization of a region portray her emotions without using overbearing or dramatic language. Howes achieved little popular following, although critics praised her style and subjects.

In the Cold Country

In the Cold Country includes “The Nuns Assist at Childbirth,” which depicts a black-clad woman aiding in the introduction of new life into the world: “. . . a woman lives within/ The wrappings of this strange cocoon/ Her hands reach from these veils of death/ To harvest a child from the raw womb.” Howes’s simple subject, her observations of activities and behaviors usually ignored, and the contradiction of black, the color of death, aiding in the creation of life make this poem effective. Her stark descriptions jolt readers, forcing them to examine the simple dress of a nun and the meaning behind it. It also warns the reader that their eyes and preconceptions might deceive them.

Light and Dark

Light and Dark includes “Chimera,” a haunting description of a dream and the creature of Greek mythology in all its splendor: “Then sprang a fabulous beast/ For its evening gallop/ Head of a lion, goat’s head rearing/ Back, derisive, wild—the dragon/ Body scaling the waves. . . .” Unlike some of her contemporaries who also...

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