Susan Howe: On Susan Howe and History

My poems always seem to be concerned with history. No matter what I thought my original intentions were that's where they go. The past is present when I write.

Recently I spent several months at Lake George where I wrote Thorow. If there is a Spirit of Place that Spirit had me in thrall. Day after day I watched the lake and how weather and light changed it. I think I was trying to paint a landscape in that poem but my vision of the lake was not so much in space as in time. I was very much aware of the commercialization and near ruin at the edge of the water, in the town itself, all around --but I felt outside of time or in an earlier time and that was what I had to get on paper. For some reason this beautiful body of water has attracted violence and greed ever since the Europeans first saw it. I thought I could feel it when it was pure, enchanted, nameless. There never was such a pure place. In all nature there is violence. Still it must have been wonderful at first sight. Uninterrupted nature usually is a dream enjoyed by the spoilers and looters -- my ancestors. It’s a first dream of wildness that most of us need in order to breathe; and yet to inhabit a wilderness is to destroy it. An eternal contradiction. Olson's wonderful sentence "I take SPACE to be the central fact to man born in America." I am a woman born in America. I can't take central facts for granted. But then Olson really doesn't either.

Sometimes I think my poetry is only a search by an investigator for the point where the crime began. What is the unforgivable crime? Will I ever capture it in words?

I can't get away from New England. It's in my heart and practice. The older I get the more Calvinist I grow. Inspite of all the pettiness and dour formalism of the Puritans, as we have learned to think of them, and it is all certainly there, and more -- I am at home with them.

Hidden under the rigid exterior of a Cotton Mather, under the anger of Mary Rowlandson, under the austerity of Jonathan Edwards, is an idea of grace as part of an infinite mystery in us but beyond us. What we try to do in life is a calling. Carpentry, teaching, mothering, farming, writing, is never an end in itself but is in the service of something out of the world -- God or the Word, a supreme Fiction. This central mystery -- this huge imagination of one form is both a lyric thing and a great "secresie," on an unbeaten way; the only unbeaten way left. A poet tries to sound every part.

Sound is part of the mystery. But sounds are only the echoes of a place of first love. The Puritans or Calvinists knew that what we see is as nothing to the unseen. I know that if something in a word, or in a line in a poem or in any piece of writing doesn't sound true then I must change it. I am part of one Imagination and the justice of Its ways may seem arbitrary but I have to follow Its voice. Sound is a key to the untranslatable hidden cause. It is the cause. Othello said that. "Othello is uneasy, but then Othellos always are, they hold such mighty stakes," wrote Dickinson. In the same letter she added "The brow is that of Deity -- the eyes, those of the lost, but the power lies in the throat -- pleading, sovereign, savage -- the panther and the dove!"

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Title Susan Howe: On Susan Howe and History Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Susan Howe Criticism Target Susan Howe
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 14 Jun 2020
Publication Status Original Criticism Publication No Data
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