Howe, Susan

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HOWE, Susan


Nationality: American. Born: 1937. Education: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, B.F.A. in painting 1961. Family: Married David von Schlegell (died 1992); one daughter and one son. Career: Butler Fellow in English, 1988, visiting professor of English, 1989, and since 1992 professor of English, State University of New York, Buffalo. Visiting scholar and professor of English, Temple University, Philadelphia, Spring 1990, 1991; visiting poet and Leo Block Professor at University of Denver, 1993–94; visiting Brittingham Scholar, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1994; visiting poet, University of Arizona, 1994, Oberlin College, Ohio, 1995, and St. Joseph's College, Hartford, Connecticut, 1996; visiting professor, Stanford University, California, 1998. Awards: Before Columbus Foundation award, 1980, for Secret History of the Dividing Line, and 1986, for My Emily Dickinson; New York State Council of the Arts residency, 1987; Fund for Poetry award, 1987, 1989; Roy Harvey Pearce Award for Work by a Poet and Critic, 1996, for The Birth-mark: Unsettling the Wilderness in American Literary History; John Simon Guggenheim memorial fellowship, 1996; distinguished fellow, Stanford Humanities Center, 1998. Address: 115 New Quarry Road, Guilford, Connecticut 06437, U.S.A.

Publications

Poetry

Hinge Picture. New York, Telephone, 1974.

The Western Borders. Berkeley, California, Tuumba Press, 1976.

Secret History of the Dividing Line. New York, Telephone, 1978.

Cabbage Gardens. Chicago, Fathom Press, 1979.

The Liberties. Guilford, Connecticut, Loon, 1980.

Pythagorean Silence. New York, Montemora, 1982.

Defenestration of Prague. New York, Kulchur, 1983.

Articulation of Sound Forms in Time. Windsor, Vermont, Awede, 1987.

A Bibliography of the King's Book or, Eikon Basilike. Providence, Rhode Island, Paradigm Press, 1989.

The Europe of Trusts: Selected Poems. Los Angeles, Sun and Moon Press, 1990.

Singularities. Middletown, Connecticut, Wesleyan University Press, 1990.

The Nonconformist's Memorial. New York, New Directions, 1993.

Frame Structures: Early Poems, 1974–1978. New York, New Directions, 1996.

Pierce-Arrow. New York, New Directions, 1999.

Other

My Emily Dickinson. Berkeley, California, North Atlantic, 1985.

Incloser. Santa Fe, New Mexico, Weasel Sleeves Press, 1990.

The Birth-mark: Unsettling the Wilderness in American Literary History. Middletown, Connecticut, Wesleyan University Press, 1993.

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Critical Studies: Susan Howe issue of Abacus 30 (Elmwood, Connecticut), 15 November 1987, and The Difficulties, 3 (2), 1989; "Howe's Hope: Impossible Crossings" by Linda Reinfeld, in Tremblor, 6, 1987; "The Mysterious Vision of Susan Howe" by George Butterick, in North Dakota Quarterly (Grand Forks), 55 (4), Fall 1987; "Whowe: An Essay on Work by Susan Howe" by Rachel Blau Du Plessis, in Sulfur (Ypsilanti, Michigan), 20, Fall 1987; "Susan Howe: The Book of Cordelia" by Stephen-Paul Martin, in Open Form and the Feminine Imagination, Postmodern Positions, vol. 2, Washington, D.C., Maisonneuve Press, 1988; essays by Kathleen Fraser, and Charles Bernstein and Bruce Andrews, in Postmodern Line in Poetry, edited by Robert Frank and Henry Sayre, Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1988; "Collision or Collusion with History: The Lyric of Susan Howe" by Marjorie Perloff, in Contemporary Literature (Madison, Wisconsin), 1989; Susan Howe issue of Talisman (Hoboken, New Jersey), 4, Spring 1990; The Pink Guitar: Writing as Feminist Practice by Rachel Blau DuPlessis, New York and London, Routledge, 1990; Language Poetry: Writing as Rescue by Linda Reinfel, Baton Rouge and London, Louisiana State University Press, 1992; Disjunctive Poetics: From Gertrude Stein and Louis Zukovsky to Susan Howe by Peter Quatermain, Cambridge and London, Cambridge University Press, 1992; "Susan Howe's Poetics of the Bibliography" by Kent Lewis, in West Coast Line, 27 (1), Spring 1993; "Between Ourself and the Story: On Susan Howe" by Bin Ramke, in Denver Quarterly, 28 (3), Winter 1994; "An End of Abstraction: An Essay on Susan Howe's Historicism" by Joh Palattella, in Denver Quarterly, 29 (3), Winter 1995; "Articulating the Inarticulate: Singularities and the Counter-Method in Susan Howe" by Ming-qian Ma, in Contemporary Literature (Madison, Wisconsin), 36 (3), Fall 1995; "Writing History Poetically: Walter Benjamin and Susan Howe" by Paul Naylor, in Genre: Forms of Discourse and Culture, 28 (3), fall 1995; The Marginalization of Poetry: Language Writing and Literary History by Bob Perelman, Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1996; Paradise & Method: Poetics and Praxis by Bruce Andrews, Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern University Press, 1996; "Waging Political Babble: Susan Howe's Visual Prosody and the Politics of Noise" by Craig Douglas Dworkin, in Word & Image (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 12 (4), October-December 1996; "Susan Howe: Language/Writing/History-notes around a Resistant Articulation" by Douglas Barbour, in Boxkite, 1, 1997; "Two at the Gap: Jorie Graham and Susan Howe" by John Peck, in Partisan Review, 1997; "'"Out of My Texts I Am Not What I Play': Politics and Self in the Poetry of Susan Howe" by Nicky Marsh, in College Literature (West Chester, Pennsylvania), 24 (3), October 1997; "Infectious Ecstacy: Toward a Poetics of Performative Transformation" by Cynthia Hogue, in Women Poets of the Americas: Toward a Pan-American Gathering, edited by Jacqueline Vaught Brogan and Cordelia Chavez Candelaria, Notre Dame, Indiana, University of Notre Dame Press, 1999.

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Susan Howe, one of America's covert triumphs of poetry, began as a visual artist whose canvases gradually became sites for the written. Her first books of poetry were published in the 1970s, unfolding into the singular and significant works The Liberties, Pythagorean Silence, and Defenestration of Prague. Her manifold brilliance is grounded in a deeply webbed sense of self in history and history in self, and her lyric and bold linguistic experimentation serves only to layer each line with a rich profusion of references both public and private. In her work, as she writes of Emily Dickinson's work, "Poetry is affirmation in negation, ammunition in the yellow eye of a gun that an allegorical pilgrim will shoot straight into the quiet of Night's frame." In the preface to The Europe of Trusts: Selected Poems she says, "I write to break out into perfect primeval Consent. I wish I could tenderly lift from the dark side of history, voices that are anonymous, slighted—inarticulate."

Howe's work with words begins in midlife. In Pythagorean Silence she reworks formative memories of World War II perceived as a child and addressed as an adult; formed in the newsreel fires of film, it is a perception and reception of war as ancient male praxis in a Jacob-wrestling tension (and torment) of female questioning. "For me there was no silence before armies," she writes in "There Are Not Leaves Enough to Crown to Cover to Crown to Cover": "Malice dominates the history of Power and Progress. History is the record of winners. Documents were written by the Masters. But fright is formed by what we see not by what they say. /From 1939 until 1946 in news photographs, day after I saw signs of culture exploding into murder. Shots of children being herded into trucks by hideous helmeted conquerors—shots of children who were orphaned and lost—shots of the emaciated bodies of Jews dumped into mass graves on top of more emaciated bodies—nameless numberless men women and children, uprooted world almost demented. God had abandoned them to history's sovereign Necessity."

Howe's interrogation of history, and subsequently its official and marginal languages, commingles with both experimental and high lyric richness in Defenestration of Prague and The Liberties. The latter awakens out of Swift's allegorical name, Stella, for Esther Johnson. Her voice completes the unheard other that Journal to Stella was addressed to. Howe interweaves rich Gaelic sensitivity with serious play, entangling Shakespeare's Lear as seen through Cordelia's eyes.

A poet of original intelligence, Howe has offered critical revelations on Emily Dickinson—My Emily Dickinson -that represent a landmark in creative scholarship, showing once again the possibility of poets being invariably the most potentially profound readers of poetry. The book is a marvel of feminist criticism that disrupts many normative feminist assumptions of Dickinson. Howe's grasp and use of historical texts enable her to fuse Calvinist and Indian captivity texts into influences, entering into the languages of early American rhetorics of spiritual and material ideologies. Howe writes that "categories and hierarchies suggest property. My voice formed from my life belongs to no one else. What I put into words is no longer my possession. Possibility has opened. The future will forget, erase, or recollect and deconstruct every poem. There is a mystic separation between poetic vision and ordinary living. The conditions for poetry rest outside each life at a miraculous reach indifferent to worldly chronology."

—David Meltzer

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Howe, Susan

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