Howe, Susan (Contemporary Literary Criticism)
Susan Howe 1937-
American poet and critic.
The following entry presents an overview of Howe's career through 1999. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volume 72.
Howe is known for poetry that combines biographical narrative with resplendent language to create a distinct panorama of historical events. She has often been included among the “Language poets,” a group distinguished by their skepticism about the efficacy of written language to fully express emotion and experience. Unlike most authors associated with that movement, however, Howe acknowledges the importance of visionary poetry, exceeding in her verse the emotional impact achieved by her contemporaries.
Howe was born June 10, 1937, in Boston, Massachusetts, to Irish-American parents. As a child she became interested in art and was later educated as a painter at the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts. She became attracted to poetry after being exposed to collage and performance pieces, and published her first collection, Hinge Picture, in 1974. Howe became an instructor in the English department at State University of New York at Buffalo in 1988 and has been a visiting scholar at several institutions such as the New College in San Francisco and Temple University. Her work has been awarded two Pushcart Prizes as well as an American Book Award, and she was a Guggenheim memorial fellow in 1996. Howe has continued to pursue her interest in painting and has exhibited her work in galleries in New York City.
Howe began her career as a visual artist and critics have commented that her artistic sensibility is reflected in her attention to page design—the “look” of her poetry is often central to the images she conveys. For instance, in Pythagorean Silence (1982), Howe makes ample use of wide margins and large spaces between words and phrases to increase their impact. She has also been noted for her use of seemingly unrelated but phonetically similar words to create an opposition of ideas in her poems, as well as for exploring the dual meanings of single words. Howe's attention to linguistic matters frequently enhances the allegorical expressions that she uses to illustrate her primary subject matter—the encroachment of historical issues on modern consciousness. In her poetry, Howe often comments indirectly on contemporary events through the recreation of historical events. The title of Defenestration of Prague (1983), for example, refers to a seventeenth-century Czech religious conflict, but the work also serves as a commentary on Catholic-Protestant discord in Ireland. Howe's criticism, like her poetry, is marked by its confrontation with established norms. Throughout her career, Howe has focused on the possibilities of vocabulary and the freedom that language offers. Her criticism reflects this belief as well, acknowledging the importance of commentary and theory, while declaring the need for poetry to remain separate from both.
Howe's work has been noted for the author's combination of several genres within her text, including poetry, prose, reportage, autobiography, and fragment. Some critics have derided the irregular visual layout of Howe's poetry, contending that the organization of these poems obscures the meaning of the pieces and confuses the reader. Others have praised the originality and power of her fragmentary syntax, lack of punctuation, and visual placement of lines. Many reviewers have complimented Howe's ambitious reassessment of language, historical events, and patriarchal notions of women in history in her poetry and essays. Her treatment of such iconic figures as Emily Dickinson, Mary Magdalene, and Mary Rowlandson has also garnered positive critical reaction. Considered one of America's foremost experimental poets, Howe has been compared favorably with Wallace Stevens, H. D., Ezra Pound, and Marianne Moore.
Hinge Picture (poetry) 1974
Western Borders (poetry) 1976
Secret History of the Dividing Line (poetry) 1978
Cabbage Gardens (poetry) 1979
The Liberties (poetry) 1980
Pythagorean Silence (poetry) 1982
Defenestration of Prague (poetry) 1983
My Emily Dickinson (criticism) 1985
Articulation of Sound Forms in Time (poetry) 1987
A Bibliography of the King's Book, or, Eikon Basilike (poetry) 1989
The Europe of Trusts: Selected Poems (poetry) 1990
Singularities (poetry) 1990
The Birth-mark: Unsettling the Wilderness in American Literary History (essays) 1993
The Nonconformist's Memorial (poetry) 1993
Frame Structures: Early Poems, 1974–1979 (poetry) 1996
Pierce-Arrow (poetry) 1999
Bed Hangings (poetry) 2001
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SOURCE: “The Mysterious Vision of Susan Howe,” in North Dakota Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 4, 1987, pp. 312–21.
[In the following essay, Butterick examines Howe's body of work and poetic technique.]
I've not been more intrigued in recent years with how a poet composes than I have been with (the rhyme is unavoidable) Susan Howe. Does she write a line or a block of lines and then cut back, literally erase? (Is she, in Charles Boer's term after the cult movie, an “eraserhead”?)1 Does she consult “sources” or make notes from sources, including the dictionary (of which Olson was the greatest example I know)? Was there an original continuity or an ever-receding Big Bang? There is the strongest sense that she deliberates, that she hunches and slaves, her writing desk a light-table, her pen an X-acto knife. Does she mix and match? Does she sit until her hand jolts into action, almost like old automatic writing?
She is, in other words, a poet of technique—I am somewhat perplexed to realize, since it was her subject matter that so interested me at first, and continues to absorb me. Her subject is the world of history, legend, and the most palpable of natural things, such as the snow. Still, her technique was always of interest for how one might accomplish a narrative without a narrator, or with a minimum of intrusive narrator asking for one's trust.
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SOURCE: “Smarts,” in Poetry, Vol. 159, February, 1992, pp. 282–98.
[In the following excerpt, Baker provides a mixed assessment of Singularities.]
Poets these days want us to think they are smart, it strikes me as I read much of the poetry written in the last few years. If the decade of the Seventies favored the shorter lyric and the Eighties became a decade of narrative extension, then the Nineties are shaping up as an age of discourse, of poetry infused and sometimes laden with obvious smartness: the Poem Thinking. That's certainly a preferred rhetorical method, one of the most common stances, among poets currently. I think, therefore I instruct.
This should not be an altogether surprising development, given the circumstance of a dramatic number of poets these days. They teach. But perhaps the current instructive and discursive modes may be explained by considering other matters, too. Perhaps poets are articulating a desire to engage and educate their audience toward a further enjoyment. Perhaps poets feel overshadowed by the critical superstars of the day and so wish to appear au courant with the more hip talk of theory. Perhaps they feel critically abandoned and therefore charged with the task of explicating their own work. Perhaps, in widening the scope of poetry from the personal to the historical, political, scientific, or more broadly cultural, poets are struggling...
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SOURCE: “Susan Howe and Sam Cornish: Two Poetries, Two Histories,” in Kenyon Review, Vol. 14, Spring, 1992, pp. 176–83.
[In the following excerpt, Conoley discusses Howe's use of language in Singularities.]
The impulse in Susan Howe's ninth book of poetry, Singularities, is also revisionist. She, too, uses several genres, several “media” in her text—poetry, prose, reportage, autobiography, fragment, concrete poetry. Like [Sam] Cornish's book [1935,] the text has a visual as well as a verbal life. A far more experimental writer than Cornish, especially concerning language, Howe searches through history's “mortal particulars / whose shatter we are” (50). Yet for all its experimentation and inventiveness, its high and serious play, the book's forward movement is linear—from Puritan New England where “Land! Land! Hath been the idol of many in New England!” (Increase Mather) to contemporary America where “Money runs after goods / Men desire money” (68). Stylistically, Howe begins with representational reportage, delivered in the assured voice of a historian, and gradually moves, or increasingly deconstructs, to a discordant, dissonant poetry whose range of sounds, tones and moods range from a heavy, Anglo-Saxon consonance delivered in bulletlike speed, “Men whet their scythes go out to mow / Nets tackle weir birchbark” (12) to a delicately nuanced, lightly melodious...
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SOURCE: “And the Without: An Interpretive Essay on Susan Howe,” in Disjunctive Poetics: From Gertrude Stein and Louis Zukofsky to Susan Howe, Cambridge University Press, 1992, pp. 182–94.
[In the following essay, Quartermain discusses the defining characteristics of Howe's poetry.]
How do I exist in a language that doesn't want me to exist, or makes me exist as a fiction, as la femme?
There's a deceptively literary or bookish flavour about Susan Howe's work, especially at the beginning of many of her sequences and books, prefaced as they often are with a quotation or quotations (e.g., Hinge Picture, Articulation of Sound Forms in Time); or opening with lines that have the feel of quotations, unmarked and unacknowledged, though the words may actually be Howe's (e.g., “Thorow”); or opening with a directly identified one.2 Often, as in the case of Cabbage Gardens or The Liberties, the poem responds to the challenge explicit or implicit in the quotation, debunking or deconstructing the assumptions underlying and/or the circumstances giving rise to the words quoted. Cabbage Gardens is prefaced with Samuel Johnson deriding the notion of poems about cabbages whilst playing with the notion that the cultivation of the cabbage marks the history of...
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SOURCE: “Susan Howe: Prisms,” in Language Poetry: Writing as Rescue, Louisiana State University Press, 1992, pp. 120–47.
[In the following essay, Reinfeld explores the poetic vision and use of language in Howe's poetry.]
If the poetry of vision is concerned less with the revelation of light than with the disintegration of light in the language that reveals it, the poetry of Susan Howe is no exception.1 Here language reaches its limit. From “zero at the bone” to the catastrophic white of Pearl Harbor, vision moves through the text of desolation toward a sovereign point at which it generates, ideally, nothing. Nothing reassures. In place of dialectics, fugitive gods and prismatic fragments—leftovers of a form of life temporarily eclipsed by the devastation of World War II—double and are broken in a series of lyric gestures endlessly repeating the history of loss and the imperfect restoration of hope.
As a poet constituting herself within this frozen landscape, Howe attempts to rescue language from silence, poetry from despair. It is her intention to illuminate the condition of all those whose rights have been violated and whose voices have been ignored. Like Emily Dickinson and Wallace Stevens before her, Howe writes out of a wish to envision a world more authentic than the one all too commonly promised and given. To the extent that she succeeds, it is because of...
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SOURCE: “Poetry as History Revised: Susan Howe's ‘Scattering as Behavior Toward Risk,’” in American Literary History, Vol. 6, No. 4, Winter, 1994, pp. 716–37.
[In the following essay, Ma explores Howe's overriding concern with history and discusses the impact that it has on her poetry.]
… the double of his path, which, for him, has meaning, but when repeated, does not.
—Jean Baudrillard, Please Follow Me
… till other voices wake / us or we drown
—George Oppen, Primitive
Collision or collusion with history
—Susan Howe, Articulation of Sound Forms in Time
“My poems always seem to be concerned with history,” Susan Howe says in an interview with Tom Beckett. “No matter what I thought my original intentions were that's where they go. The past is present when I write” (“Difficulties” 20). To Edward Foster in a subsequent interview, she thus acknowledges, in terms more affirmative, “So history and fiction have always been united in my mind. It would be hard to think of poetry apart from history” (“Interview” 17); “I don't think you can divorce poetry from history and culture” (22). So composes the poet,...
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SOURCE: “‘Between Ourself and the Story’: On Susan Howe,” in Denver Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 3, Winter, 1994, pp. 89–96.
[In the following favorable review of The Birth-mark and The Nonconformist's Memorial, Ramke argues that the two books allow readers “an opportunity to read across boundaries and to allow the margins of [Howe's] own works to coincide.”]
American poetry of the past twenty or thirty years often suffered from (gloried in) a now-horrifying sentimentality. A narrowing range of vision (I lie abandoned, / abused by rain) added to an indulgence of the generalizing impulse (I am the little death / beneath your feet) became the ploddingly inexorable formal development. The lessons all came from Whitman, but few of the voices were big enough to compass such freedom. Perhaps as a kind of unconscious corrective aesthetic, the LANGUAGE poets developed poetic language into a public anti-ego; as Michael Palmer wrote in “On the Way to Language”: “little / memory jars // empty of their pickled plums.”
Meanwhile there was Susan Howe [The Birth-mark, The Nonconformist's Memorial] immersed in libraries and history and watching her own sensibility developing out of the languaged world surrounding her: articulating sound forms in time. An idea of the place of ego in her work is suggested by this comment from an interview:...
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SOURCE: “A Mind of Winter,” in Georgia Review, Vol. 48, No. 1, Spring, 1994, pp. 162–80.
[In the following excerpt, Kitchen offers a negative assessment of The Nonconformist's Memorial, deriding the collection as dull and “simple verbal manipulation.”]
This is language poetry [in The Nonconformist's Memorial] supposedly at its best, attempting to make its ever-earnest points that words are “things” and that meaning is elusive, subjective, retroactive. Interestingly, Howe tries to do this with many of the same tricks that Albert Goldbarth employs. He crosses out words; she not only crosses them out, she displays them upside-down, on the diagonal and the vertical, and sometimes superimposed on other words or divided and conjoined in intricate pairings. In addition, she gives us overlapping lines, shadow lines, lines that reflect themselves like the mirrored shore in a lake. New Directions must have spent a fortune to set the type. Certainly, these poems cannot be easily reproduced for a review.
Howe too uses historical event as the basis for present-day speculation. In three of her four sequences, she takes literary sources as her point of departure. The first recasts the experience of Mary Magdalene, starting with the account from the gospel of John. The second takes off from an old bibliography, and the third, “Melville's Marginalia,” plays off Melville's...
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SOURCE: “Play and the Poetry of Susan Howe,” in Songs of Degrees: Essays on Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, University of Alabama Press, 1994, pp. 114–22.
[In the following essay, Taggart discusses the importance of language play in Pythagorean Silence.]
Play, first and last, is the sovereign principle of composition and the source of all our closest attention to poetry. Lacking the significant play of language, poetry becomes a stale consideration of style and attitude, something merely to be studied by means of chronology and paraphrase for some vaguely defined cultural benefit. Lacking significant play, poetry becomes merely the dim reflection of such study. It is the quality of play, its range and depth, which determines the quality of the poetry. For play, in being most truly representative of the dynamic nature of language, is also most truly representative of the human.
The poetry of Susan Howe's Pythagorean Silence is exceptional for its forthright recognition of play. As she writes in a poem which serves as the preface to her book:
we that were wood when that a wide wood was In a physical Universe playing with words Bark be my limbs my hair be leaf Bride be my bow my lyre my quiver
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SOURCE: “An Interview with Susan Howe,” in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 36, No. 1, Spring, 1995, pp. 1–35.
[In the following excerpt, Howe discusses the stylistic and thematic aspects of her poetry and essays, particularly the layout of her poems.]
Born in 1937, the daughter of an Irish actress and a Harvard scholar of American history, Susan Howe did not begin writing poetry until relatively late—having first explored possible careers in the theater and, more extensively, in the visual arts. Her earliest poems were published by small presses in the mid 1970s. In the 1980s, a number of Howe's poems that have since been collected in larger editions with wider circulation—such as The Liberties (1980), Pythagorean Silence (1982), Articulation of Sound Forms in Time (1987)—continued to appear as small-press books, while several anthologies of Language poetry showcased her work. In 1985 Howe's first book of literary criticism, My Emily Dickinson (North Atlantic Books), appeared. Her growing reputation was both acknowledged and furthered in 1990 by Wesleyan University Press's publication of Singularities and by Sun & Moon's collection of some of her best earlier work in The Europe of Trusts. In 1993 New Directions published a book of new poems, The Nonconformist's Memorial, and Wesleyan a collection of critical essays, The Birth-mark:...
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SOURCE: “My Susan Howe,” in Parnassus, Vol. 20, Nos. 1–2, Spring–Fall, 1995, pp. 359–85.
[In the following review, Selinger discusses My Emily Dickinson, showing the connections it has to The Birth-mark, The Nonconformist's Memorial, and Howe's earlier poetic works.]
You can still buy the Peter Pauper Press edition of Emily Dickinson's Love Poems, a slim white book that haunts the upper floors of chain-store poetry sections, poised to foist on unsuspecting shoppers its paltry versions of the life and work. Never mind that Dickinson declined her one known suitor, the deliciously titled Judge Lord; set hastily aside the lifelong correspondence with Susan Gilbert Dickinson, at a word from whom this self-proclaimed “Idolater” would “forfeit righteousness.” Above all, forget the language of the poems: taut, demanding, and mercurial. We “know for a fact,” the introduction to Love Poems insists, that after years of romantic letters (now missing) some unknown man broke off their fine romance and broke her heart, leaving little Emily to grow “only a bit more odd, more devoted, more sentimental—as might be expected of a sensitive maiden lady with big emotions and strange words to express them in.”
Nine years ago, in her first book of prose, Susan Howe slashed this pauper's portrait.1 Behind it she discovered a writer of...
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SOURCE: A review of The Birth-mark: Unsettling the Wilderness in American Literary History, in ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews, Vol. 8, No. 4, Fall, 1995, pp. 59–61.
[In the following review, Nelson offers a positive assessment of The Birth-mark, praising it as a “poetically rendered critical effort.”]
Susan Howe is a well-published poet and occasional critic. Here in her Birth-mark, she forays into textual research, bringing to that project lyrical speculativeness and feminist awareness. This study of American colonial and U.S. literature, an inquiry into marginalia, antinomianism, editorial control, and the poetics of written form is as unsettling of present disciplinary boundaries as the texts she takes up to study.
Howe discerns a pattern in the editorial (read: cultural and textual) management of women's voices from Anne Hutchinson to Emily Dickinson. As she argues,
the manuscripts of Emily Dickinson represent a contradiction to canonical social power, whose predominant purpose seems to have been to render isolate voices devoted to writing as a physical event of immediate revelation. The excommunication and banishment of the early American female preacher and prophet Anne Hutchinson, and the comparison of her opinions to monstrous births, is not unrelated to the editorial apprehension and...
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SOURCE: “Unsettling the Wilderness: Susan Howe and American History,” in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 37, No. 4, Winter, 1996, pp. 586–601.
[In the following essay, Nicholls explores Howe's critiques of American history as well as the treatment of women in historical narratives.]
The growing critical interest in Susan Howe's poetry and prose may be one indication of a turn against a now familiar postmodern aesthetics of surface and pure “style.”1 For Howe's development of an exploratory poetics has been closely bound up with her passionate rereadings of American history in works like My Emily Dickinson (1985) and The Birth-mark (1993).2 It is that relation which I want to pursue here: what might connect a radical approach to American history with an innovative poetics?
Howe regards herself as first and foremost a poet, but she is also a freelance historian in a long and distinguished line which includes writers such as Ezra Pound and Charles Olson, each of whom shared a keen sense of American history as a carefully policed regime of knowledge. For Howe, as for those predecessors, academic study is hedged about with prejudices and covert investments of power and privilege. For the poet to enter this enclosure is to be branded immediately as a kind of interloper. In her preface to The Birth-mark, for example, Howe says that she has...
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SOURCE: A review of Frame Structures: Early Poems, 1974–1979, in Chicago Review, Vol. 42, No. 2, Spring, 1996, pp. 103–05.
[In the following review, Johnson offers a positive assessment of Frame Structures, complimenting Howe's mature poetic sensibility and technique.]
This volume Frame Structures gathers together four out of five of Susan Howe's first books, including Hinge Picture, Chanting at the Crystal Sea, Cabbage Gardens, and Secret History of the Dividing Line. Although these four received critical acclaim upon publication, they were all issued by small presses, and have not been readily available for some time. Given that Frame Structures presents Howe's first publications, one might expect to find the poet stumbling towards her present originality. Or those readers familiar with Howe's previous career as a visual artist might anticipate a turning point in “her movement from the visual arts into the iconography of the written word,” as the dust jacket promises. Perhaps because Howe began writing poetry relatively late in life, none of the poetry in Frame Structures has the feel of such a poetic apprenticeship. Rather, one discovers here a full-blown poetic imagination, suggesting a remarkable coherence to Howe's oeuvre.
This sense of Howe's work as all of one piece is increased by the preface to this volume,...
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SOURCE: “Howe Not to Erase (her): A Poetics of Posterity in Susan Howe's ‘Melville's Marginalia,’” in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 38, No. 1, Spring, 1997, pp. 106–33.
[In the following essay, Williams analyzes Howe's treatment of literary history in her poem “Melville's Marginalia.”]
Susan Howe's most recent work, The Birth-mark: Unsettling the Wilderness in American Literary History, overflows with a series of questions that beg to be turned back on Howe's own poetry. At the beginning of this text, Howe questions the reader and the figure of Anne Hutchinson whom she has reinhabited:
you. Fate flies home to the mark. Can any words restore to me how you felt?
you are straying, seeking, scattering. Was it you or is it me? Where is the stumbling block? Thoughts delivered by love are predestined to distortion by words. If experience forges conception, can quick particularities of calligraphic expression ever be converted to type? Are words children? What is the exchange value? Where does spirit go? Double yourself stammer stammer. Is there any way to proof it? Who or what survives the work? Where is the patron of the stamp?
This passage asks the reader to discover the ways that Howe's analysis of “who or what survives” in the...
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SOURCE: A review of Frame Structures: Early Poems, 1974–1979, in Times Literary Supplement, May 30, 1997, p. 25.
[In the following review, the critic offers a favorable assessment of Frame Structures.]
On a visit to the zoo in December 1941, Susan Howe, then aged four, noticed that the polar bears were restless. “Animals sense something about ruin,” her father explained; returning home, they heard the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This anecdote, which opens Howe's introduction to Frame Structures, presages her poetic: personal history is set against the backdrop of large-scale upheaval, and apparent coincidences acquire the gravity of casual relations.
The four small-press works collected in Frame Structures “cross … from one field of force to another field of force,” with Marcel Duchamp, Shakespeare, and the eighteenth-century surveyor William Byrd among diverse motive impulses. The poems also trace Howe's dual inheritance: Cabbage Gardens pays homage to her mother's Ireland, and Secret History of the Dividing Line borrows from the writing of her father, a Harvard historian whose friends called him “the Last Puritan.” Secret History is the best representation of Howe's playful energies. Internally dedicated to her father and her son, both named Mark, with Howe the dividing line between generations, the poem plays on the...
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SOURCE: A review of The Birth-mark: Unsettling the Wilderness in American Literary History, in College Literature, Vol. 24, No. 2, June, 1997, pp. 215–18.
[In the following review, Schultz offers a positive assessment of The Birth-mark, noting that although the work requires considerable reader involvement, that the “effort is more than compensated by the insights that Howe reveals or makes possible for us to glean.”]
In The Birth-mark: Unsettling the Wilderness in American Literary History, Susan Howe inspires readers to react and respond both to the texts about which she writes and to the text which she herself is writing in the same way she does—passionately and enthusiastically. This book does not attempt to give readers a coherent, logically progressive assessment of early American literature. What The Birth-mark does provide, however, is much more. Her text requires more involvement and participation than a standard critical text, but that effort is more than compensated by the insights that Howe reveals or makes possible for us to glean.
Susan Howe's style greatly shapes how we respond to her text. She writes in a highly allusive, personal way, using fragments and disrupting these early texts to render them full of meaning. She “reads” a variety of works in these essays—works by Thomas Shepard, Mary Rowlandson, and Emily Dickinson. Yet...
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SOURCE: “Two at the Gap: Jorie Graham and Susan Howe,” in Partisan Review, Vol. 64, No. 3, Summer, 1997, pp. 497–503.
[In the following review, Peck explores the major themes and poetic techniques of Howe's poetry.]
A dramatic poetics, which holds back from statement and assessment to explore mood and its makings, may grow expansive. With Jorie Graham's pursuit of just such expansiveness over two decades, which appreciative readers call “metaphysical,” we may follow something in transit between opposites in recent literary taste. These opposites are an organic, unified natural object—which optimistic Romanticism has long since nurtured, but which Modernism curiously favored also—and the disruptive object of postmodern Romanticism, say in Heidegger and de Man. From the Aeolian harp and the plum in the icebox to the Ding an sich with a depth charge. Graham's route between these enlarges on Eliot's, tracing a sensibility that would close the gap of presumed dissociation, while also embracing gestures from Hopkins to Beckett. The poetry that results grows expansive yet also remains sceptical, in harmony with a broadly shared anxiety about interpretive connection now common in the educated class. She is anxious about meaning and disaffected from narrative that moves along a line and submits to perspective; it is the mood more than the argument of scepticism that she renders. While...
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SOURCE: “‘Out of My Texts I Am Not What I Play’: Politics and Self in the Poetry of Susan Howe,” in College Literature, Vol. 24, No. 3, October, 1997, pp. 124–38.
[In the following essay, Marsh examines Howe's concept of self and subjectivity as evidenced in her body of work.]
The recent publication by New Directions of Susan Howe's previously uncollected early work, Frame Structures: Early Poems, 1974–1979, appears to mark a significant shift in Howe's writing career. Most obviously such a publication, which “brings together those of her earliest poems she wishes to remain in print, and in the forms in which she cares to have them last” demonstrates the authorial control of the established artist, the privileges and rights which Susan Howe has certainly not always been able to command (Frame Structures, jacket cover). The publication represents the contradictions emerging from Howe's role as a mainstream and yet experimental poet. This apparent contradiction undermines neither the significance of Howe's growing popularity nor her importance as a textually-experimental writer: the fascination of Howe's work actually appears rooted in the wider implications of this ability to extol equivocation.
The introductory essay to Frame Structures appears to embrace Howe's newly canonized status. An air of the established distinguishes it: the narrative moves...
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SOURCE: A review of Pierce-Arrow, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 246, April 26, 1999, p. 76.
[In the following review, the critic provides a positive assessment of Pierce-Arrow.]
With her first book of new poems in six years, Howe further solidifies her reputation as one of North America's foremost experimental writers. Pierce-Arrow engages many of the elements and themes that have consistently appeared in both her poetry (The Europe of Trusts, etc.) and prose (My Emily Dickinson and The Birth-mark). Here, as in previous work, the manuscripts and marginalia of marginal and anti-institutional authors (with an emphasis on women writers) are seamlessly brought together with historiography and lyric—and the results continue to be arresting. The focal points of this book are the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce and his wife Juliette, whose full birth name and ancestry remain to this day somewhat of a mystery. For Howe, this mystery becomes a subtle metaphor for the frequently secondary quality the lives of women can take on in male-dominated milieux, literary or otherwise. The book's first section, “Arisbe,” consists of a biographical essay and poems that touch on various aspec ts of Peirce's life and work. The second, “The Leisure of the Theory Class,” is a long series of poems that tightly interweave references to Peirce, Juliette, George Meredith,...
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SOURCE: “Susan Howe: Where Are We Now in Poetry?,” in Poetic Investigations: Singing the Holes in History, Northwestern University Press, 1999, pp. 43–70.
[In the following essay, Naylor traces the development of “pure” poetry through the works of Wallace Stevens, Jack Spicer, and Susan Howe.]
“My poems always seem to be concerned with history,” says Susan Howe.1 “No matter what I thought my original intentions were that's where they go. The past is present when I write” (Beckett, 20). Her poetry ranges across vast tracts of English, Irish, and American history in the service of a resolute investigation of the “dark side” of colonialism and imperialism. Clearly, Howe sees her poetic investigations as ways of writing history poetically. Yet, as we saw with the brief excerpt from her poetry in the introduction, her work is highly paratactic, which makes it difficult for a reader to find his or her way in her poetry. I suspect that many readers, when first confronted with Howe's poetry, as well as with most contemporary investigative poetry, ask a simple yet important question: Where are we? Where is it that the author of the poem intends us to be? What “imaginative space” or landscape does he or she want us to occupy?
In the case of many poems, the answer is relatively simple. In book 6 of Wordsworth's Prelude, for instance, it is clear that...
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DuPlessis, Rachel Blau. “‘Whowe’: On Susan Howe.” In The Pink Guitar: Writing as Feminist Practice, pp. 123–39. New York: Routledge, 1990.
DuPlessis is a well-known feminist critic, scholar and poet. Her book The Pink Guitar, is a collection of essays on several post-modern female poets, including Susan Howe.
Keller, Lynn. “‘The Silences Are Equal to the Sounds’: Documentary History and Susan Howe's The Liberties.” In Forms of Expansion: Recent Long Poems by Women, pp. 187–238. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.
Keller compares and contrasts Howe's approach of women's history to the approach of poet Ruth Whitman.
Simpson, Megan. “‘Cries Open to the Words Inside Them’: Textual Truth and Historical Materialism in the Poetry of Susan Howe.” In Poetic Epistemologies: Gender and Knowing in Women's Language-Oriented Writing, pp. 163–96. Buffalo: State University of New York Press, 2000.
Simpson offers a stylistic and thematic analysis of Howe's work, emphasizing Howe's pursuit of historical truth.
Additional coverage of Howe's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: American Writers Supplement, Vol. 4; Contemporary Authors, Vol. 160; Contemporary Poets;...
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