cover image Debths


Susan Howe. New Directions, $15.95 trade paper (244p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2685-1

Howe (The Birthmark and The Quarry) collects poems and text collages to produce a complex and winding exploration of memory, history, and storytelling (and -making) amid her ever-deepening poetics of the archive. As always, subtle slippages lead to divergences in narrative paths that she happily follows. She opens with “Foreward,” a variation on a foreword that illuminates some of her inspirations: a story about her childhood summer camp; Wallace Stevens’s “Chocorua to its Neighbor”; short stories set near the area by William Austin, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and others; a retrospective of Paul Thek’s art; and her time as the artist/scholar-in-residence at the Isabella Gardner Museum. In the poems that follow, Howe draws from various early American writings, with “Titian Air Vent” operating like prose, while “Periscope” comprises a series of brief lyrics: “These tallied scraps float/ like glass skiffs quietly.” In “Tom Tit Tot” and “Debths,” Howe collages elements of Yeats’s final manuscripts. These collages deploy similar strategies to those in previous work, but are in many cases smaller, more number-oriented and layered, and more formally accomplished. They also incorporate multiple type sizes, handwriting and hand-drawn lines, and other manuscript paraphernalia. Howe’s latest work constitutes a further excursion into poetic territory that few American poets have explored. (June)