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"Gripped by a cherishing"
on April 23, 2014
In the poem "What The Living Do," Howe writes: "I'm gripped by a cherishing/so deep/for my own blowing hair, chapped face,and unbuttoned coat that I'm/speechless:/I am living, I remember you." Though these lines appear on the penultimate page of the book, they might as well function as a sort of spiritual and artistic thesis statement for its entirety. There is something exquisite in almost every poem here.
As in her collection The Kingdom of Ordinary Time, Howe rescues the sacred trapped in the husk of the profane. The collection reads almost like a novella, as repeating and subsequently familiar "characters" appear in dreams and doorways, talk in italics, die after painful illness, leave her and return.
Howe's poetry is at its strongest when she allows her imagery to do much of the meaningful heavy lifting. Luckily, she's at her best quite a lot here as in "Reunion," which "tells" about Howe's partner coming back to her after a separation. But Howe is too great to just tell, and so we get this: "The very best part was rowing out onto the small lake.../the long sigh of the line through the air,//and the far plunk of the hook and the sinker-/lily pads, yellow flowers//the dripping of the oars/and the knock and creak of them moving in the rusty locks." Howe knows that when there is so much to say, it's best to say little and show the beauty she's after through close attention to concrete detail.