Accomplished New England poet Howe (Sorting Facts, or Nineteen Ways of Looking at Marker, 2013, etc.) channels her personal story through a series of singular creative sources.
A meandering excursus on the work and correspondence of Wallace Stevens marks the first essay in this hodgepodge collection. From her perch in Guilford, Connecticut, Howe found that Stevens’ depiction of the icy Hartford landscape in “The Snow Man” resonated perfectly with the February chill at the quarry where she walked. In his correspondence of the 1940s and ’50s, Stevens recalled the fondness he held for his early Harvard philosophy professor (and former poet) George Santayana, who in turn cherished the thinking of Spinoza for the “courage, firmness and sincerity with which he reconciled his heart to the truth.” As the nonchronological essays unfold, Howe peppers them with extracts from the writings of early Connecticut observers such as Henry David Thoreau and the ten “unusually tall” sisters of Jonathan Edwards, as well as his widow, Sarah, which brought the author solace at the time of the abrupt death of her husband, Peter Hare, in 2008. Earlier access to Yale’s Sterling Library yielded rich research in the work of the Rev. Hope Atherton and meteorologist Charles Sanders Peirce, among other deceased local souls, allowing Howe to “take my life as a poet from their lips, their vocalisms, their breath.” In the long, tedious essay “Sorting Facts,” Howe examines the work of French documentary filmmaker and photographer Chris Marker, while “Frame Structures” returns to the history of Buffalo, where the author (b. 1937) lived early on as a child. Ultimately, this collection is a kind of working notebook for the poet to explore her research—e.g., on Melville or Ad Reinhardt—and it provides a window to her sources and inspiration.
For fans of Howe’s poetry and readers fascinated by artistic process.