Selected Poems


One of the best and most respected experimental poets in the United States, Fanny Howe has published more than twenty books, mostly with small presses, and this publication of her selected poems is a major event.

Howe's theme is the exile of the spirit in this world and the painfully exciting, tiny margin in which movement out of exile is imaginable and perhaps possible. Her best poems are simultaneously investigations of that possibility and ...

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One of the best and most respected experimental poets in the United States, Fanny Howe has published more than twenty books, mostly with small presses, and this publication of her selected poems is a major event.

Howe's theme is the exile of the spirit in this world and the painfully exciting, tiny margin in which movement out of exile is imaginable and perhaps possible. Her best poems are simultaneously investigations of that possibility and protests against the difficulty of salvation.

Boston is the setting of some of the early poems, and Ireland, the birthplace of Howe's mother, is the home of O'Clock, a spiritually piquant series of short poems included in Selected Poems.

The metaphysics and the physics of this world play off each other in these poems, and there is a toughness to Howe's unique, fertile nervousness of spirit. Her spare style makes a nest for the soul:

Zero built a nest

in my navel.

Longing. Blood too—

From violent actions

It's a nest belonging to one

But zero uses it

And its pleasure is its own

—from The Quietist

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Editorial Reviews

Voice Literary Supplement
Provides an introduction to one of our most vital, unclassifiable writers.
San Francisco Chronicle
Fanny Howe is that rarity, an experimental 'art' poet who never lets linguistic tricks overwhelm the heart and humanity of her song.
The Nation
This beautifully designed and produced book is the third in a series called New California Poetry from the University of California Press. On the dust jacket, one person compares Fanny Howe to Emily Dickinson, a comparison all too easily invoked for writings by women. But in this case, there is justification.
San Diego Union-Tribune
A find. Howe is a precise and evocative poet; her private, bizarrely furnished landscapes speak to the universal quest for spiritual understanding.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The author of more than 20 books of poetry and fiction, Howe is here revealed to be working out a project of enormous consistence, clarity and grace. In 16 serial poems culled from small-press releases over the last 20-plus years, Howe (One Crossed-Out, etc.) has staked out an idiom that permits an impressive range of experience to enter the simple church-like structures of the poems, allowing them to move back and forth between a transparent self and ideas of transcendence: "Every glance works its way to infinity./ But blue eyes don't make blue sky./ Outside a grey washed world, snow all diffused into steam/ and glaucoma. My vagabondage/ is unlonelined by poems." A religious metaphor is not inapt, as several of the poems directly concern or address a God, but do so with a mix of archaism and skepticism that purposefully makes the distance too big to bridge fully, as in "The Quietist": "Mad God, mad thought/ Take me for a walk/ Stalk me. Made God,/ Wake me with your words./ Believe in what I said." A feminist thinking-through drives poems like "Conclusively" ("I was eliminated as a locus of mothering") and "The Vineyard," which contemplates indentured servitude, "a workplace torn by a union" and how "Love's body and mouth lie down together/ It's hidden parts soft inside." "The Sea-Garden" looks autobiographically back to childhood, where "hottentot figs/ Burst green water." Sensuous and intellectual pleasures commingle beautifully here, showing most recent conventional lyric to be sorely lacking in imagination. This collection should bring Howe the readership she deserves. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Melanie Rehak
"We know where love is by its stillness,'' Fanny Howe writes in one of the spare, muscled poems gathered in Selected Poems, work culled from 20 years of her poetry. Indeed, it's stillness more than anything else that tempers this volume; its quiet, forceful poems carry an existential weight that belies their small size.She's on a private quest through the metaphysical universe, and the results are startling and honest. ''If goals create content stealth creates form,'' she writes. Her Selected Poems proves she's absolutely correct.
New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
paper: 0-520-22263-6 Howe is the author of more than 20 books, encompassing both fiction and poetry, most of which have been published by small presses (the most recent in 1997). This marks her first collection of earlier and more recent poems published by a university press. She is Professor of Writing and Literature at the University of California at San Diego. This volume traces the odyssey of Howe's evolution as a poet over the past two decades, from Boston (the setting of some of her earliest poems) to Ireland (her ancestral and spiritual homeland) to California (her current home). Considered one of the leading `experimental` poets in the US, Howe is noted for her spare, almost austere style, yet there is much tenderness and even joy in life expressed in these verses. At times she proves herself capable of Zen-like detachment, as in her oft-quoted stanza, `Zero built a nest in my navel.` But she occasionally loses that composure, as in her lament that, `Loss is the fulfillment of the Law,` or when she asks, `Why be obedient to a world that will end?` Her convictions may appear tentative, but only because her reality remains nascent, always in the process of becoming. She strives to get to the source of meaning, to `concentrate on the consciousness the sea comes out of.` She is not afraid to stare into the gaping maw of the horror vacui, but, unlike a good many of her contemporaries, she does not accept the over-the-counter existential palliatives. Howe's poetry is fabricated from questions rather than certainties and arises, like the revelations of more conventional mystics, from contemplation in solitude.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520222632
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 4/11/2000
  • Series: New California Poetry Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 213
  • Sales rank: 976,561
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Fanny Howe is Professor of Writing and Literature at the University of California, San Diego. She is the author of more than twenty books of fiction and poetry (most recently, One Crossed Out, 1997).

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I'd speak if I wasn't afraid of inhaling
A memory I want to forget
Like I trusted the world which wasn't mine
The hollyhock in the tall vase is wide awake
And feelings are only overcome by fleeing
To their opposite. Moisture and dirt
Have entered the space between threshold and floor
A lot is my estimate when I step on it
Sorrow can be a home to stand on so
And see far to: another earth, a place I might know

* * *

Hide the name away in the Secret
Jesus of the little Brothers and Sisters
Those born on the last day will have no name
But Mother, Father and the above
Till now the lips of hardened hearts used politics
To speak of love until they lost it
You couldn't argue with their logic
The oppression of realism is consensus
To those who raise what they value
Out of reach until it's magic

* * *

Sea mist surprises my heavy eyes
I know at last I don't exist
This register is only a certainty
If evolution's over and the created world
Is done developing this place
And its laws. Always fixed and free
You never know what you were or are
Like mathematics around a head
On rising from a siesta

* * *

Small birds puff their chests and feathers
With the pleasure that they know better
High morning clouds unload themselves
On the world. Blue peeps through
Sunny boys have spacious souls but killers
Build war zones in the sky where they go to die
Blue poems. Blue ozone. A V-sign
Sails into the elements: an old ship
Named Obsolete though Lovely is easier to see
Now visualize heaven as everything around it

* * *

Concentrate on the top of the mast, father
Arms up. You won't be needing them
On the swaying sea to heaven. One last goodbye
Makes each hand impotent
Like false mirth or some stupid mutant
I'm off to see people because you don't need me
Yet, where don't doesn't ever mean never
And I'm crossing my own stony ocean
Consciousness has nothing to do with me either
I'm just moving inside it, catch as catch can't

* * *

There is nothing I hear as well as my name
Called when I'm wild. The grace of God
Places a person in the truth
And is always expressed as a taste in the mouth
Walking with your arms wide open
And 263 days to follow, four morning stars
And Yuri Gagarin orbiting Earth
I know I may never be found or returned
When Peter, Henri or Mary call me
Fanny, as if they know who owns me

* * *

Come, tinkers, among droves of acorn trees
Be only one third needful, O
Name the things whereby we hope
Before the story scatters. A cardinal
Is red for fever where you passed
The suffering world's faith
Is a scandal. Tests of facts
Bring dread to aptitude
You who loved the people and the world
Tell us our failings and if we're home

* * *

I am the people never so alone
As when abiding
in history, broken
No God but a causality moral
As a socialist. Success
Hardly ever exists on these nights
Which intervene in secret with a don't
and a so! For then I can't lead
The little into the day but run
Like a heart blind to advice

* * *

The sea at last lies over this place
And registers expressly
During my siesta
I know evolution is done developing
Its laws of mathematics must be correct
In my created head I don't exist
As rising bed-heavy the mist
Is fixed though always full of surprises
And the world in my eyes
Is hardly a certainty

* * *

If you have to die
Puff and visualize
The ozone of heaven
As easy seen high as seen through
And peep on the world as if it's obsolete
An old ship in new elements
Everything will sail into pleasure then
Unload your spacious soul
Whose chest full of killers is zoned
For the sun now in its feather blue building

* * *

When mirth sways like a mast
On top of a goodbye
I don't need oceans to move myself over stones
One hand up and arms
Which show I'm impotent
To people or some false father
Who have nothing to do with what I'm here for
Inside I cross myself
And concentrate on the consciousness
The sea comes out of

* * *

I'll pay and bow out
For not hardship but the judiciary
Connected the test of time
To penalty
I in my life spent my days
Escaping the creator, seedy as a man
Who disappears from his tricks
Now I ache at the strange
Creations, mine, which like women
Look new in the Court of God


* * *

We moved to be happy
Like a remote sensing tool each body
in the family
adapted to earth's urbanity and travelled
When the water went south for the winter
it carried us down like storm-driven gulls
to this crash that we call a city

* * *

One black wing was blowing down the road
(Rain-washed road)
In the old days horses wearing green shoes
would trot on that grass
Our caravan has sought a remedy for memory
by moving over the same path

* * *

Snow rises as it falls
on small seaside resorts and on capital
premier personal country castle and well-equipped hotels
on pullmans flats canoes and fishing boats
on a fairy house and a crack house
on holiday and airport inns on tents and crypts and cars
and caravans
Roads end where only trees greet them
like brides in terrified feminine dress

* * *

I was sick of my wits
like the kids in Landscape In The Mist
hammered down into a sequence
like climbing onto a train
and sitting down
I had to keep moving the books around

* * *

After a good beating on a cold day
slowed my recovery
Cotton replaced my lace
and peals of laughter
only overcame me later
when the ground covered
the way to my door like lava
and I really hoped
the hoping was over
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Table of Contents

From inside my eyes, looking out 9
The Third Time 9
By the Parks 10
For Lesley 10
Animula 11
Hares Boxing 12
Spring Grazing 14
Titchwell 15
Equinox 16
Winter Economy 16
Carnage 17
The Hitch-Hiker 18
Strix 19
B Roads 22
The Emperor Hadrian's Farewell to His Soul 23
Buzzard Soaring 23
Four Windows 24
Blue 25
Crows in Snow 27
Gardening in Avernus 28
Three Stanzas in memoriam W. H. Auden 29
Rosehill 30
The Broken Road 33
Culvert 34
Rites of Passage 34
Homage to James K. Baxter 38
Waiting for the Day 39
Buzzards 40
In Transit 40
The Doppel Gang 43
The Hooded Gods 44
The Night Self 45
Lower Lumb Mill 45
Skara Brae 54
At Vanishing Point 56
The Roof Tree 59
From the Pampas 61
Death Song 62
El Dia del Amor 63
Vivir Pobre 67
Tierra Caliente 68
Living in Colombia 69
Walking Off the Fear 70
From the Ridge 85
The Flying Horse 90
A Final Flourish 100
Footsteps on a Path 100
The Workshop in the Quarry 101
Jack the Lad 102
The Spirit of Lumley Hall 103
After the Vintage Procession 105
The Country over My Shoulder 106
An Accommodation 106
Working Through Resistance 107
Smokey 108
Valentines 110
Oyster Mushroom 113
Two Poems from Presences of Jazz 114
In All My Holy Mountain 116
Border Songs 126
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