Saturday, April 24, 2010

Marie Howe's Words of Wisdom



78ยบ ~ all storms have moved eastward and taken the heat/humidity with them, aside from the wind gusts, a perfect afternoon

Once the sun returned, I headed out to the deck to catch up on some reading. What Marie Howe says in her interview with Christian Teresi in the current issue of The Writer's Chronicle struck a resonant chord with me.

Early in the interview, Teresi asks about the pressure to publish and notes that Howe's three books have ten-year gaps between each publication. Here is Howe's response:
"In all those years that I was writing poetry by myself at home, what mattered to me was not a book but a poem. Each poem. One poem. It was a world. You know what happens when you read a true poem. It sees you, you see it. There's a profound sense of mutual recognition in that moment, and it cures, for a moment, the profound loneliness we feel on this earth. We feel kindred to someone... ."

I love how Howe uses the word "kindred" here. This is exactly how I feel about the poetry I return to over and over again to read and the poetry I hope to write.

Later, she adds this, "This new notion about book projects is really beyond me. I don't understand it at all. I like a lot of books that are written that way. I don't feel in any way critical of them, don't misunderstand me, but I don't understand it. What I understand is one poem. To write one poem seems to me worth living for. So that you have 'To Autumn,' or you have 'After great pain a formal feeling comes,' or you have 'Whose woods these are I think I know, / His house is in the village though." You have something sturdy, and you can clamour all over it and climb inside and rattle it and shake it and howl and it stands there, this human voice, this human-made thing. And you can inhabit it."

Here, I love the idea of the poem as a body or a building.

Howe goes on to state that she believes the process of writing and publishing is different for all poets. I wish there were more of this kind of recognition and less worrying about schools and cliques.

That's just a bit about the opening of a quite in-depth interview, but it's the bit that stuck. What's funny is that later in the issue, there is an interview of H.L. Hix conducted by John Poch. The very first question echoes what I found so right on in Howe's interview. However, Hix has the exact opposite answer. He states: "For me the book is a more fundamental unit than the individual poem" and goes on to talk about how his first exposure to contemporary poetry was not by reading journals or anthologies, rather it was through reading individual collections.

I'm still with Howe on this one, but I'm glad the Hix interview was there to provide another voice in the conversation.