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PAPER TRAIL by Richard  Howard

PAPER TRAIL

Selected Prose, 1965-2003

By Richard Howard

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-374-25885-6
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Well-crafted essays, forewords, and afterwords on poets and poetry by the critic, translator, editor, and poet.

Howard brings sterling credentials to bear; as he writes in an lecture from 1996, with a mixture of irony and pride: “I am not merely a poet, though I am that, and I am not merely a critic of poetry, though I am that. . . . I address you now as a man who has scrutinized the current product (product!—I use the word with a certain compliant twinge) in extenso for thirty dutifully attentive years.” So he has. But not just the current product: the collection opens with a sparking essay, from 1973, on Emily Dickinson, who was just then being rediscovered and needed her champions in a rhymeless time. Howard’s consideration is highly illuminating, and it well illustrates his magpie technique of turning up glittering oddments: here, for instance, he stops briefly to ponder Dickinson’s evident discomfort with the letter n, “as they have always seemed unfinished M’s,” closing that essay with a modest plea to allow a writer idiosyncrasies and tics that might otherwise bore or provoke us, for these may well “turn out to be that writer’s solution to his own problems of composition and utterance.” Elsewhere the noted translator of Baudelaire and other French writers turns his attention to Francophone literature, and especially on writers who are not much read today, such as Marguerite Yourcenar (Howard’s magpie finding: she irritated Virginia Woolf), Claude Simon, and even the irreplaceable Stendhal. These admiring pieces, for those who care about such things, constitute a welcome antidote to John Miller and Mark Molesky’s wooly anti-French screed Our Oldest Enemy (see below), and in any event they ought to awaken interest in those writers, which would be a grand service to them. Elsewhere still Howard praises then-new poets such as J.D. McClatchy, the writings of Brassaï, the power of storytelling, and kindred matters, giving variety to an altogether satisfactory collection.

Of interest to Howard’s admirers and students—and anyone with patience for formal concerns, close reading, and “alien eloquence.”