Susan Howe


Griffin Poetry Prize 2018
International Winner

Book: Debths

Poet: Susan Howe

Publisher: New Directions

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Susan Howe


Author of more than a dozen books of poetry and two of literary criticism, Susan Howe’s recent collection of poems That This won the Bollingen Prize in 2011. Howe held the Samuel P. Capen Chair in Poetry and the Humanities at the State University New York at Buffalo until her retirement in 2007. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1999 and served as a Chancellor to the Academy of American Poets between 2000-2006. In 2009 she was awarded a Fellowship to the American Academy at Berlin. Recently, she was an Artist In Residence at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Howe has also released three CDs in collaboration with the musician/composer David Grubbs, Thiefth, Souls of the Labadie Tract, and Frolic Architecture. In 2013 her word collages were exhibited at the Yale Union in Portland, Oregon, and in the Whitney Biennial Spring, 2014. Most recently, a limited press edition of Tom Tit Tot (word collages which amount to a series poem) with artwork by R. H. Quaytman has been published by MoMA in New York, and Spontaneous Particulars: The Telepathy of Archives by Christine Burgin and New Directions.

Judges’ Citation

“In a lecture of 2014, Susan Howe quoted Robert Duncan on how poetry’s secret lies in the “keeping of time”: “Counting the measures … one image may recall another, finding depth in the resounding.” It’s an apt description of Howe’s own method in her extraordinary new book, Debths, which continues to plumb the intertextual depths (also at once debts and deaths) of the archives and collections that have fed her work for almost thirty years. Across the book’s four sections, we hear its poems resound in sympathy not only with their reinvented source materials, but with earlier moments in Howe’s career – one of the most significant, innovative and humane in recent American letters – whose varied threads this new work draws triumphantly together. As Howe writes in her evocative foreword, “Secret connections among artifacts are audible and visible and yet hidden until you take a leap … It’s the mystery of strong music in the soul.” The strong music of Debths reveals itself in poems to be returned to again and again with growing astonishment and gratitude.”

Susan Howe reads from Periscope

from Periscope

God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom.

Closed book who stole
who away do brackets
signify emptiness was
is a rift in experience

Mackerel and porpoise
was this the last of us

These tallied scraps float
like glass skiffs quietly for
love or pity and all that

What an idea in such a time
as ours Pip among Pleiads

Mystical accidentalism for
sound-hemmed naught in
night’s botanical glossary

Over unnamed cycles see
the rich on that rust heap

Once when the real world
was our world in its nature
to mind our would-world
Threshold word little hinge
hope of bewilderment its
parchment memory sign

A coverlet has drifted down
in double compass with sled
loom as if it were patterned

Many shuttles many treadles
That beam was only a straw

So long as one fact stands
isolated and strange one
fact supported by no fact

I can spin straw by myself

If to sense you are
alive is pleasant itself
or can be nearly so –
If I knew what it is
I’d show it – but no

What I lack is myself

Come lie down on my shadow
Being infinitely self-conscious
I sold your shadow for you too

Let’s let bygones be bygones
Dust to dust we barely reach

Hut running on chicken legs
Achilles has his heel what’s
left to a thirdhand sightseer

Caves and rivers imagine
having to bury yourself over
and over knock on wood

Telling the story of a man
who is responsible for his
own ruin and is inexplicably
condemned to wander in
a one-horse chair eternally
around Boston from which
historical song he himself
cannot free himself with a
wave of his hand whither –

In the old days I used to sit
up late till an owl appeared
Negative infinity melodrama

I shall never forget you half-
way owl shadow marauder
How you flew over and over

Unseen in canoe or cut glass
skiff scudding past centuries
on another map kept secret

from earth moon vision each
reflecting an end point where
is will remain as is etcetera

This side I will show miniature
network entanglements comma
Blessings full stop yours very

half-hesitation semi-colon semi-
colon yes the sea lies about us
Our tininess on earth as such

A day without yesterday
Mackerel sky over Boston

See tossing waves at ice
front doorstep nonfiction
prosepoem my icicle hair

These quiet stars each free
intelligence sealed from us
Days and hours are blinds

These screens these means
each new extreme outvies
each quickening after after

After the millennium a little
before at brink at the brink

Humming octaves with wild
trills of magic and symbolic
logic a not-being-in-the-no

From Debths by Susan Howe
Copyright © 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Susan Howe

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