Loads of Learned Lumber

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Susan Howe, "Vagrancy in the Park"

AS A LONGTIME subscriber to The Nation (23 years and counting), I would not say that I read it mainly because of what it does and has done for poetry, but I am certainly grateful nonetheless.  There is a poem or two most weeks, usually quite good ones, plus the essays of Ange Mlinko, and this week (the November 2 issue) a great essay on Wallace Stevens by Susan Howe (drawn from a forthcoming collection of her essays, it appears).

Not only is the essay vintage Susan Howe--a distinctive hybrid of local history, personal history, aesthetic appreciation, and deep engagement of one writer with a crucial precursor, worthy of the author of My Emily Dickinson--but I am glad to have a reaffirmation of Stevens's power as a poet, given that he gives contemporary readers plenty or "urggh" moments of the WASP male complacency variety.

Howe does not get into Stevens's "urggh" moments, which is okay with me, because I know, as an admirer of the likes of Yeats, Pound, and Eliot, that there is really no good apologia for the many little dog turds one will be occasionally stepping in as one reads Yeats, Pound, and Eliot; any defense will just spread the mess further. About all you can do is say, "yep, that's there, too." The rest of what's there, though, is the real thing, and Howe's essay gets at a lot of the real thing in Stevens. Not that she is avoiding what is difficult--that last passage of the essay, on "The Irish Cliffs of Moher," is wrestling with some angel.

So, thank you, Susan Howe, and whoever (Mlinko? John Palatella?) decided to find to find give eight pages of The Nation to it.

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