Academic journal article Chicago Review

Annus Mirabilis

Academic journal article Chicago Review

Annus Mirabilis

Article excerpt

Although she's been publishing poetry and prose at a fairly steady clip for the last quarter century, the past year appears to be something of an annus mirabilis for Fanny Howe. In addition to the high-profile volume of Selected Poems published earlier this year by the recently inaugurated "New California Poetry" series of the University of California Press, committed readers might like to get their hands on two collections published further from the mainstream in 1999. The handsome chapbook Forged, put out by Simone Fattal's Post-Apollo Press (35 Marie Street, Sausalito CA 94965), is a twenty-three-page poem sequence, which seems to be Howe's preferred mode. This sequence, which is not included in the Selected Poems, involves a seamless pairing of the specific landscape of London and its environs with a more abstract meditation on the meanings implicit in its title. In this zone somewhere between London and the self, Howe renders versions of simple but unanswerable metaphysical questions: "Did I have faith o r was it hype" and "Did I believe or was it hope." Invariably, the question is followed by a forging ahead in spite of, or even because of forgery--"hope" against "hype." The remarkable last poem in the sequence encapsulates this making-do, and harnesses a good deal of its energy from the pun on "forge," in which the verb suggests counterfeiting a signature, while the noun conjures the annealing atmosphere of a blacksmith's workshop:

Grind and forge

for minimal spark and speed

Time is so intimate

then it is finished

and on you go burning to a cinder

a forgery in figure only

signature cut to the wheels. (23)

The riddling tendency of Howe's verse is a source of a certain pleasure for many readers, but it may also explain why there has been less critical attention paid to her writing than one might expect. The bland certainty of statements such as "Time is so intimate // then it is finished" proffers a different kind of difficulty from what we have come to expect from "difficult" poetry. Another way of putting this would be to say that the inviting generosity of her poems can seem at odds with the quick turns and somersaults one ends up doing to keep up with them. One gets the sense that there aren't enough critics (academic or otherwise) out there willing to do the work of matching these kinds of mental gymnastics, which veer into phonetic and syntactical ambiguity while retaining a steady grip on the personal voice and private experience. …

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