On the Ground
Poet Fanny Howe's new collection On the Ground confirms that she is one of boldest lyric poets in the United States. Howe is the author of more than twenty books of poetry, fiction, and essays. Her Selected Poems (2000) was the recipient of the prestigious Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize 2001. Howe's bracing new poems respond with moving clarity to the contrast between the current sweeping political tides and the realities of life lived "on the ground."
In the title poem of her new collection, a serial poem "On the Ground," she writes:
Howe's most distinctive characteristic is her "intense stations of belief," and her abiding sense of the spiritualor what she calls "bewilderment." In her essay "Bewilderment," from The Wedding Dress: Meditations on Word and Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003) Howe writes, "One definition of the lyric might be that it is a method of searching for something that can't be found. It is an air that blows and buoys and settles. It says, "Not this, not this," instead of, "I have it." In the new serial poem "Medjugorje," she writes:
Formally, Howe's main mode is the serial poem(individual sections which form a larger associative aggregate poem). Again, in her essay "Bewilderment," Howe writes "To me, the serial poem is a spiral poem." She adds:
The central question running throughout her writing, and continuing in the new collection, may behow does art take place in a life? In the life of a woman and artist; in a life associated with childhood, children, and (the lowly station of) being a child; in a life that is seemingly or literally imprisoned, exiled, or erased. In her new serial poem "Forged," she writes:
Settings for her work often include Ireland, the birthplace of Howe's mother, and the geographic home for her magnificent series of poems O'Clock (1995), whose subject is, in part, the spirit articulated in her blunt lyricism. In the new collection the engaging serial poem "Kneeling Bus," is another noteworthy example of Howe's privately cultivated theology. She writes:
Throughout Howe's work the act of asking questions plays a sustaining role. For Howe, questions go to the heart of a poetics defined by a state of bewilderment. Howe writes, "The human heart…in a state of bewilderment, doesn't want to answer questions as much as to lengthen the resonance of those questions." Again in a later section of "Kneeling Bus," Howe emphatically writes:
Despite her commitment to social justice Howe's writing does not directly aspire to transform human nature to conform to a more ideal system. Confronted with perplexing realities, Howe does not seek to extinguish them, but instead embraces bewilderment. In the new poem "9/11" she writes:
The result is that while
Howe acknowledges bewilderment as an inescapable quality of life, she
necessarily endorses it throughout her writing as an act of artistic,
political, and spiritual agency, which may be the central achievement
of her most affecting work.