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The Midnight Paperback – May, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Howe continues to unsettle easy assumptions about contemporary experimental American poetry, and, simultaneously, origin myths of the U.S., with carefully measured doses of early history, national and personal: "I am assembling materials for a recurrent return somewhere. Familiar sound textures, deliverances, vagabond quotations, preservations, wilderness shrubs, little resuscitated patterns. Historical or miraculous. Thousands of correlations have to be sliced and spliced." More immediately autobiographical and less uniform than books like The Europe of Trusts or Pierce-Arrow, Howe's latest can seem scattered on a first reading, but soon resolves itself into a remarkably cohesive invitation to imagine oneself into historical roles that have been laid away in books: "Come away-This way, this way-Calvinists, Congregationalists, Anabaptists, Ranters, Quakers, Shakers, Sandemans, Rosicrucians, Pietists, reformers, pilgrims, traveling preachers, strolling players, peddlers, pirates, captives, mystics, embroiderers, upholsterers, itinerant singers, penmen, imposters." Howe finds resonance in the smallest inscription on a family ledger, taking as guidance Emersonian aphorism: "The poorest experience is rich enough for all the purposes of expressing thought." The smallest details thus come to replace the big picture, as when hearing a midnight sound "echoed and re-echoed only." Like Agnes Varda in her film The Gleaners and I, Howe demonstrates that the artist's unpredictable path to knowledge, generous in its digressions and attentions to the obscure, is revealing, suspenseful and necessary.
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“The germ of this extraordinary book is an elegy for the poet's mother, the Irish actress and playwright Mary Manning. But in The Midnight, 'elegy' resides in the space between verse and prose, word and image, text and textile, lyric and narrative, the everyday and the fantastic, Ireland and the United States. Susan Howe is our great poetic chronicler of what it means to dwell in possibility, to live on the Edge.” (Marjorie Perloff)
“For nearly thirty years, Howe has occupied a particular and invaluable place in American poetry. She's a rigorously skeptical and a profoundly visionary poet, a writer whose demystifying intelligence is matched by a passionate embrace of poetry's rejuvenating power.” (John Palattella - The Boston Review)
“Monomania has its rewards.... The verse has an incantatory power, that shines through.... Howe's images, being historical as well as biographical, have the eerie shading of ghosts half-believed in, giving a surreal, dreamlike atmosphere reminiscent of Borges at his sharpest.” (Kirkus Reviews)
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Top Customer Reviews
THE MIDNIGHT is fairly shaking with sadness, regret, and the stern obligations of memory, as Howe again scans the marginalia of another. This time it's her late uncle and the books he left behind in a seemingly otherwise blank (or pathetic) existence, specifically his copies of R L Stevenson-the novelist admired above all others by Howe's hero Henry James. As she turns the pages of the novel, parts of her uncle's life (and family photographs) seem to pop out like something from a Nick Bantock novel, but it's all part of Howe's finely tuned poetry machine, the unexpected choice of word and quotation, the sizzle of disjunction and more than anything else, the shiver of anticipation that one is getting something from this poetry unavailable elsewhere, a direct pipeline into a strain of American experience that the past has otherwise denied us. It's suspenseful, and fun too, like an Indiana Jones movie. Don't let people tell you differently.