[Wgcp-whc] WG/CP--Session on Fri 17th F. Howe

richard.deming at yale.edu richard.deming at yale.edu
Mon Nov 13 12:08:52 EST 2006

Dear All,

Just a reminder that we will be meeting this Friday at 3-5 in Rm 116 in the
Whitney Humanities Center.  We will be discussing the work of Fanny Howe.  A
reading packet has been put together and I believe that there are still copies
available at the WHC at our mailslot in the main office.  Of particular
interest will be the ways that Howe engages and works against a kind of faith
and spirituality by means of an austere poetics.Ammiel Alcalay wrote of her
Selected  Poems: Fanny Howe's Selected Poems, drawn from nine of her more than
20 books, provides an introduction to one of our most vital, unclassifiable
writers. Defying what she calls the contemporary "proliferation of perfect
poems," Howe's poetry clings tenaciously to "life itself" without lapsing into
the fallacy of the poet having an identifiable voice or persona, something the
reader can easily latch onto: "I'd speak as if I wasn't afraid of inhaling/A
memory I want to forget/Like I trusted the world which wasn't mine." The
transparency of her music is deceptive, encompassing the complexities of
philosophic and ethical speculation, always testing: "Creation was the end that
preceded means." But life is always there, to cajole, intrude, and awaken: "At
the old Boston Lunatic Asylum/the windows are smashed, packs of dogs live in
the basement,/elegant freezers unfold. Your heart you can hold in your hand/and
did, approaching from the side, my head bent with shame/at having been in the
world so long, and still feeling young." Howe's work is full of leaps of faith
and logic. By ceding authority over any unifying voice, her language dictates
its own paradoxes about the world back to us, in an inspired effort to at least
record the contradictions.

Below I will post a short staement of poetics by Howe that will help
contextualize her work perhaps.  Here is a useful interview with the poet:

Before that I would like to take this opportunity to make mention of reading by
the poet and translator, Peter Cole, that will also occur this Friday.  Peter
has joined our sessions a number of times this semester whilst he and his wife
the essayist and film critic Adina Hoffman are serving as fellows at the WHC.
Peter is another hyphenate (poet/translator/editor) and is as meticulous,
precise, and resonant a poet as one could hope for.  The information follows

?The Working Group in Contemporary Poetry and Poetics meets every other Friday
at 3.00 PM in room 116 at the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale University to
discuss problems and issues of contemporary poetry within international
alternative and /or avant-garde traditions of lyric poetry. All are welcome to

See everyone on Friday.

Richard Deming, Co-ordinator/Secretary




Friday, November 17 at 7pm

PETER COLE has published two collections of poetry, Rift and Hymns & Qualms.
What Is Doubled: Poems 1981-1998 was recently published in Great Britain.  Cole
has published many volumes of translations from medieval and modern Hebrew and
Arabic, most recently, So What: New & Selected Poems, 1971-2005, by Taha
Muhammad Ali (Copper Canyon Press). The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from
Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492 is forthcoming from Princeton University
Press?s Lockert Library of Translation series. Cole has received numerous
awards for his work, including a TLS Translation Prize for Selected Poems of
Solomon Ibn Gabirol and the MLA Translation Prize for Selected Poems of Shmuel
HaNagid (both Princeton), as well as fellowships from the NEH, the NEA, and the
John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. Winner of the 2004 PEN-America Translation
Award, for J?Accuse, by Aharon Shabtai (New Directions), he lives in
Jerusalem, where he co-edits Ibis Editions, a small-press dedicated to the
publication of Levant-related literature. He is currently a Franke Fellow at
Yale?s Whitney Institute of the Humanities.

An open mic will start the evening.

For more information, please visit the website at www.allgallery.org or call

Arts & Literature Laboratory ERECTOR SQUARE BUILDING 2, 319 PECK STREET, NEW



by Fanny Howe

What I have been thinking about, lately, is bewilderment as a way of entering
the day as much as the work.
Bewilderment as a poetics and an ethics.
I have learned about this state of mind from the characters in my fiction--women
and children, and even the occasional man, who rushed backwards and forwards
within an irreconcilable set of imperatives.
What sent them running was a double bind established in childhood, or a sudden
confrontation with evil in the world--that is, in themselves--when they were
older, yet unprepared. This is necessity at its worst.
These characters remained as uncertain in the end as they were in the beginning,
though both author and reader could place them within a pattern of causalities.

Within the book they were unable to handle the complexities of the world, or the
shock of making a difference. In fact, to make a difference was to be inherently
compromised. And for me the shape and form of their stories changed in response
to the perplexities of their situations.

Increasingly my stories joined my poems in their methods of sequencing and
counting. I would have to say that something like the wave and the particle
theories troubled the poetics of my pages: how can two people be in two places
simultaneously and is there any relationship between imagination and character?

There is a muslim prayer that says, "Lord, increase my bewilderment," and this
prayer is also mine and the strange Whoever who goes under the name of "I" in
my poems--and under multiple names in my fiction--where error, errancy and
bewilderment are the main forces that signal a story.

A signal does not necessarily mean that you want to be located or described. It
can mean that you want to be known as Unlocatable and Hidden. This
contradiction can drive the "I" in the lyrical poem into a series of techniques
that are the reverse of the usual narrative movements around courage,
discipline, conquest, and fame.

Weakness, fluidity, concealment, and solitude find their usual place in the
dream world, where the sleeping witness finally feels safe enough to lie down
in mystery. These qualities are not the stuff of stories of initiation and

But it is to that model that I return as a writer involved in the problem of
sequencing events and thoughts--because in the roundness of dreaming there is
an acknowledgement of the beauty of plot, but a greater consciousness of
randomness and uncertainty as the basic stock in which it is brewed.

There is literally no way to express actions occurring simultaneously.
If I, for instance, want to tell you that a man I loved, who died, said he loved
me on a curbstone in the snow, but this occurred in time after he died, and
before he died, and will occur again in the future, I can't say it
You would think I was talking about a ghost, or a hallucination, or a dream,
when in fact, I was trying to convey the experience of a certain event as
scattered, and non-sequential.
I can keep UN-saying what I said, and amending it, but I can't escape the given
logic of the original proposition, the sentence which insists on tenses and
words like "later" and "before".

And it is with this language problem that bewilderment begins to form, for me,
more than an attitude--but an actual approach, a way--to resolve the
In the Dictionary, to bewilder is "to cause to lose one's sense of where one
The wilderness as metaphor is in this case not evocative enough because causing
a complete failure in the magnet, the compass, the scale, the stars and the
movement of the rivers is more than getting lost in the woods.
Bewilderment is an enchantment that follows a complete collapse of reference and
It cracks open the dialectic and sees myriads all at once.
The old debate over beauty--between absolute and relative--is ruined by this
experience of being completely lost by choice! Between God and No-God, between
Way Out Far and Way Inside--while they are vacillating wildly, there is no
fixed position.

Bewilderment circumnambulates, believing that at the center of errant or
circular movement, is the axis of reality.

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May
and summer's lease hath all too short a date.

For poets, the obliquity of a bewildered poetry is its own theme.

The circumnambulation takes form as alliteration, repetition, rhyme.

Q--the Quidam, the unknown one--or I, is turning in a circle and keeps passing
herself on her way around, her former self, her later self, and the trace of
this passage is marked by a rhyme, a coded message for "I have been here
before, I will return".
The same sound splays the sound-waves into a polyvalence, a daisy. A bloom is
not a parade.

A big error comes when you believe that a form, name or position in which the
subject is viewed is the only way that the subject can be viewed. That is
called "binding" and it leads directly to painful contradiction and clashes.
No monolithic answers that are not soon disproved are allowed into a bewildered
poetry or life.
According to a Kabbalistic rabbi, in the Messianic age people will no longer
quarrel with others but only with themselves.
This is what poets are doing already.

For myself, a poem emerges by itself, like something developing in a dark place.
First I receive the impression of a time period as an experience of pure
language, glimpses of actions, emotions and weathers. I jot down whatever comes
through--in a rush of words.
Then I begin to see what is being said and to see it as it unfolds, as if from
afar and sometimes I actually stand at a distance from the words that are
Spotting word-associations and what their sounds suggest and prove about the
"point" of this emergent poem forces me to remove my body from the action; to
let the words write the words.
Letting the lines cohere on their own volition is crucial.
Literally it is like watching someone else take form in the dark and I am
weirdly disassociated from the action, an observer, a voyeur, though all the
objects in the room, and the body, are familiar, are even "mine".
My biggest risk comes when I begin to tamper with the act, when I must restrain
myself from intervening in an aggressive way.
During this phase, I might put the jottings away for days, weeks, even a few
I carry them around, I peek at them, and I sometimes intervene ahead of time.
This is when I can't watch certain of the words just fall and get kicked aside.
I must salvage them because I have what amounts to faith in the fact that they
will contribute to an as-yet unknown meaning.
In so many senses making these spiral, or serial poems, is very close to
dream-construction, where we collect pieces of most and emotionally charged
moments and see how they interact, outside of the usual story-like narrative.
But this is not a plan or an experiment. It is simply the way my poems come into
existence and carry something out of my stories that is having a problem taking
form there.
This is, I think, my experience of non-sequential, but intensely connected,
time-periods and the way they impact on each other, but lead nowhere.
This is what gives them their spiraling effect within the serial form.
And ultimately I see the whole body of work as existing all but untitled and
without beginning or end, an explosion of parts, the quotidian smeared.
In the meantime each little stanza expresses my infatuation with the sentence;
and each stanza is a sentence where the parts and phrases are packed and shaped
to bring out the best in them.
Like the disassociated stanzas in poems by Ibn Arabi, or Hafiz, I see my poems
as being composed of queer sentences with lots of space, a dreamlike narrative,
and a hidden meaning, so to speak, in that it is hidden from me.
The actual theological meaning of the word "salvation" is meaning.
To seek salvation is to seek a sense of meaning to the world, one's life.

And so somehow the business of bringing these poems to light is part of a
salvific urge.
Not gnostic--in the sense of seeing humanity as cast down, unwanted, unloved,
duped, expelled, tested and misunderstood--and not fearing that only a few are
chosen to be loved by God or history--I am a victim of constantly shifting
positions, with every one of those positions stunned by bewilderment--is it
here, is it here, is it there?--and by the desire to shuck the awful attributes
of my own personality. To toss the drek.

The illuminati used flagellation, levitation and starvation as a method of
accounting for the power of the invisible world over their lives. Public
suffering and scars gave the evidence of hidden miseries which had begun to
require daylight..

The poet uses words to do the same. From the lashes of whip and ink the secrets
become common, rather than signs of individual genius.

After all, the point of art is to show people that life is worth living by
showing that it isn't.

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