Howe is the author of more than 20 books, encompassing both fiction and poetry, most of which have been published by small presses (the most recent in 1997). This marks her first collection of
earlier and more recent poems published by a university press. She is Professor of Writing and Literature at the University of California at San Diego. This volume traces the odyssey of Howe's evolution as a poet over the past two decades, from Boston (the setting of some of her earliest poems) to Ireland (her ancestral and spiritual homeland) to California (her current home). Considered one of the leading `experimental` poets in the US, Howe is noted for her spare, almost austere style, yet there is much tenderness and even joy in life expressed in these verses. At times she proves herself capable of Zen-like detachment, as in her oft-quoted stanza, `Zero built a nest in my navel.` But she occasionally loses that composure, as in her lament that, `Loss is the fulfillment of the Law,` or when she asks, `Why be obedient to a world that will end?` Her convictions may appear tentative, but only because her reality remains nascent, always in the process of becoming. She strives to get to the source of meaning, to `concentrate on the consciousness the sea comes out of.` She is not afraid to stare into the gaping maw of the horror vacui, but, unlike a good many of her contemporaries, she does not accept the over-the-counter existential palliatives.
Howe's poetry is fabricated from questions rather than certainties and arises, like the revelations of more conventional mystics, from contemplation in solitude.