The Winter Sun: Notes on a Vocation


Beautiful essays by Fanny Howe, a poet praised for her “private quest through the metaphysical universe . . . the results are startling and honest” (The New York Times Book Review)

Fanny Howe’s richly contemplative The Winter Sun is a collection of essays on childhood, language, and meaning by one of America’s most original contemporary poets.

Through a collage of reflections on people, places, and times that have been part of her life, Howe ...

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Beautiful essays by Fanny Howe, a poet praised for her “private quest through the metaphysical universe . . . the results are startling and honest” (The New York Times Book Review)

Fanny Howe’s richly contemplative The Winter Sun is a collection of essays on childhood, language, and meaning by one of America’s most original contemporary poets.

Through a collage of reflections on people, places, and times that have been part of her life, Howe shows the origins and requirements of “a vocation that has no name.” She finds proof of this in the lives of others—Jacques Lusseyran, who, though blind, wrote about his inner vision, surviving inside a concentration camp during World War II; the Scottish nun Sara Grant and Abbé Dubois, both of whom lived extensively in India where their vocation led them; the English novelists Antonia White and Emily Brontë; and the fifth-century philosopher and poet Bharthari. With interludes referring to her own place and situation, Howe makes this book into a Progress rather than a memoir.

The Winter Sun displays the same power as found in her highly praised collection of essays, The Wedding Dress, a book described by James Carroll as an “unflinching but exhilarating look at real religion, the American desolation, a woman’s life, and, always, the redemption of literature.”

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Poet Howe's collection of autobiographical essays, interspersed with poetry and meditations, overcomes a haphazard construction and a measure of obscurity through the author's intuitive control of tone. Pinging from her Boston childhood to French philosopher Simone Weil to a poem by a 9th century Irish monk, in the course of one essay, Howe does not slow down to explain the relationships among her disparate elements, taking for granted her audience's literacy (historical and otherwise). Closer to poetry than memoir, Howe's dense pastiche of references and memories hides many intriguing connections-for instance, when reading Howe on the blind, imprisoned French Resistance member, Jaques Lusseyran, who recorded his experiences on a Braille typewriter while starving to death, it's worth knowing that the frequently-referenced Weil died is the same way. Suicide is itself a recurring theme, handled with great sympathy: "people commit suicide when they cannot recognize what it is to be a human being." Howe struggles to reconcile darkness with the hope offered by religion, mysticism, art and philosophy, but rather than reaching a validation of life, or of literature, Howe wonders at their messy relationship, encapsulated in part by a concluding thought on Hans Christian Anderson: "whatever he described as terrible was what he loved most about life."
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The Barnes & Noble Review
By this point, Fanny Howe, who was born in 1940, has had many lives and many sorts of intellectual hunger. Nevertheless, some of her deepest questions seem unchanged from when she was about eight and did not like to speak to anyone. At this time, the woman who would give her life over to creating fine and lasting writing was a girl who did not like to believe in the reality of time, and wished to feel her own presence as timeless. Looking back now, Howe meditates, "I was often mute the background, sucking my thumb and daydreaming. In this posture, I was conscious of being coherent inside my skin, but it would take a while before I found out that I could test this coherence to see if it could survive changes in time and space -- by moving great distances." It is fitting that Howe should focus in on her own early feeling of coherence, because it is exactly what she is trying, in complex ways, to reassemble in this book. She is not after physical, narrative, or even linear coherence, but a philosophical coherence. Her essays are made partly by leaping through a meditation whose whole transcends the sum of the parts. This collage-like book of essays is in fact a kaleidoscope. The reflective fragments grow into wider, seemingly geometric patterns. Howe's early struggles to find what coheres lead to later, brooding preoccupations with finding God. And while her essays meander and seem often to splinter into fragments, they frequently catch themselves in refractions of an original delight. The older Howe writes: "For we gather and discard simultaneously as we move in time.... Only recognition can serve us in the end." She's after that recognition, and finds it, in moments. --Tess Taylor
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555975203
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publication date: 3/3/2009
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 826,817
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

FANNY HOWE is the author of more than twenty books of poetry and prose. She has won a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation and an award from the Academy of Arts and Letters.

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Table of Contents

A Vocation 3

The Message 9

Branches 13

America 57

Person, Place, and Time 61

Waters Wide 155

The Chosen 181

The Land of Dreams 185

Evocation 189

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2012

    highly recommended

    Fanny Howe's "Winter Sun" is like that "love letter" she talks about in the Water Wide section of the book, a letter you read "over and over again." Every time seeing "a different level of love."

    This is not the kind of reading taking you from one point to another.
    Instead it invites you to stand still, and then to begin digging
    into the rich soil of the ground you stand on.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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