cover image That This

That This

Susan Howe, with art by James Welling, New Directions, $15.95 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-0-8112-1918-1

In this very beautiful four-part book, Howe (Souls of the Labadie Tract) seeks to come to terms with the sudden death of her third husband, the philosopher and scholar Peter H. Hare. The four sections take radically different formal "approaches" to his loss, in the sense of going backwards in time, to the days just before Hare's fatal embolism, and in the sense of finding a means of understanding, or at least of moving forward. The first section uses a simple, diaristic prose through which Howe incorporates the terse capitals of Hare's autopsy, along with a variety of 18th-century epistolary condolences. The result conveys Howe's sense of "being present at a point of absence where crossing centuries may prove to be like crossing languages." The next section, "Frolic Architecture," comprises densely layered photocopied text fragments whose three-dimensional quality seems to extend into a fourth—time. The title section follows with seven pages of strophic, hymnlike verse, where "Grass angels perish in this// harmonic collision because/ non-being cannot be ‘this.' " By the final, untitled collage, Howe has made her grief speak as much through textual interstices and shifts in diction and form as through each singular elegy. (Dec.)