Monday, December 11, 2006

la chascona #3: marie howe

[la chascona: the santiago, chile, home
of nobel-winning poet pablo neruda]

if you’ve never read a current poet before, start by reading marie howe whose poetry—in the sage words of her mentor, the late stanley kunitz—is luminous, intense, eloquent, and rooted in abundant inner life. those qualities and many more can be found without effort in her two poetry volumes, “the good thief” and “what the living do.” thankfully a third, “the kingdom of ordinary time,” will soon join the other two. the living, breathing lines of this nea, bunting, and guggenheim fellow have found homes in the new yorker, the atlantic, agni, ploughshares, and the partisan review among many other journals of note—and for good reason. howe’s first book of poems, “the good thief,” was selected winner of the national poetry series by no less a personage as margaret atwood. how could she not have? atwood, in awe at the inability of howe’s poetry to “fool around,” cited their intense feeling, sparse expression, and resistance to aphasia—calling them poems of obsession that transcend their own dark roots.

publisher’s weekly chose her wrenching second book “what the living do” as one of the five best volumes of poetry published that year, calling its tentative transformation of agonizing slow motion into redemption as howe’s signal achievement. addressing the grief of losing a loved one, the work is just part of howe’s acts of confession—or conversation. “poetry is telling something to someone,” howe asserts.

co-editor of a book of essays, “in the company of my solitude: american writing from the aids pandemic,” howe teaches writing at sarah lawrence, columbia, and nyu. examine some of the links to howe’s work provided below, and it will be hard to argue with the boston globe, which cites its qualities of intimacy, witness, honesty, and relation. the rootedness of howe’s poetry only bolsters its urgency: just ten minutes into her 1987 residence at macdowell, howe received a call from her brother john telling her that her mother had had a heart attack. two years later aids claimed him: “what the living do” is largely an elegy to him.

don’t deny yourself this intensely intimate and brave body of work. breathe the music of its pain and resonance, inhabited by joy and redemption. reading one of howe’s poems will lead you to another, then another, and yet another…

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