cover image Souls of the Labadie Tract

Souls of the Labadie Tract

Susan Howe, . . New Directions, $16.95 (127pp) ISBN 978-0-8112-1718-7

Over the past three decades Howe has worked as a kind of poet-scholar manqué, mixing into her books prose explorations of early American spiritual and historical chroniclers and her own distinctive poems, usually terse, four-stress snippets that themselves seem like fugitive fragments from a larger suppressed text. In her newest book, Howe stands in thrall to a 17th-century history of Deerfield, Mass., and then chases down an obscure reference to “Labadist” in Wallace Stevens's family tree, which brings her to the story of a short-lived Utopian “quietest sect,” followers of Jean de Labadie who established a community in Maryland in 1684 that vanished within 40 years. It is in these vast tracts of time made intimate by texts, by language, that Howe operates: “I keep you here to keep/ your promise all that you/ think I've wrought what// I see or do in the twilight/ of time but keep forgetting/ you keep coming back.” Beginning with a quote from Jonathan Edwards equating the silkworm to “a type of Christ” and ending with a photograph of a fragment of the silk wedding dress of Edwards's wife, onto which Howe projects a text (“I have already shown that space is God”), this is intense stuff. Published simultaneously with a new edition (prefaced by Eliot Weinberger) of Howe's classic critical work My Emily Dickinson . (Nov.)