cover image The Quarry

The Quarry

Susan Howe. New Directions, $16.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2246-4

Acclaimed poet Howe (That This) touches on literary criticism, film, her personal history, and other wide-ranging topics in these 10 essays, five previously unpublished. The first selection centers on Wallace Stevens, whom Howe uses as a jumping-off point for her own ruminations on reality. She also draws in philosophers Baruch Spinoza and George Santayana and painter Nicolas Poussin. The subsequent essays have a similar give-and-take structure, beginning with the nominal topic before segueing into reflections on art, history, philosophy, and human nature. They also reflect a remarkable breadth of reference, as in Howe’s essay on her family history, which seamlessly ranges from Boston to Nigeria, and from poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to jurist Felix Frankfurter. Howe is often in rarified intellectual waters, and her writing can be demanding. She manages, however, to balance the most cerebral passages with a sharp eye for just the right detail. For example, in an essay on literary critic Charles Olson, she explains that bikinis were named after the atomic testing ground Bikini Island “because they were supposed to produce an equivalent explosive effect on the libido.” Howe is not for casual readers, but serious ones will be amply rewarded. [em](Nov.) [/em]