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About this poet

Marie Howe was born in 1950 in Rochester, NY. She worked as a newspaper reporter and teacher before receiving her MFA from Columbia University in 1983.

Her most recent book, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time (W. W. Norton, 2009) was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Her other collections of poetry include What the Living Do (1998) and The Good Thief (Persea, 1988), which was selected by Margaret Atwood for the 1987 National Poetry Series.

What the Living Do is in many ways an elegy for her brother, John, who died of AIDS in 1989. In 1995, she co-edited the anthology In the Company of My Solitude: American Writing from the AIDS Pandemic (Persea, 1995).

About poetry and everyday life, Howe notes:

This might be the most difficult task for us in postmodern life: not to look away from what is actually happening. To put down the iPod and the e-mail and the phone. To look long enough so that we can look through it—like a window.

The poet Stanley Kunitz called her poetry "luminous, intense, and eloquent, rooted in an abundant inner life." He selected her for a Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets in 1988.

Her other awards include grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the Bunting Institute, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She has taught at Tufts University and Dartmouth College, among others. Currently she teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, New York University, and Columbia University. She lives in New York City with her daughter.

What the Living Do

Marie Howe, 1950
Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won't work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up
 
waiting for the plumber I still haven't called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It's winter again: the sky's a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through
 
the open living-room windows because the heat's on too high in here and I can't turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,
 
I've been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,
 
I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.
 
What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.
 
But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I'm gripped by a cherishing so deep
 
for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I'm speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

From What the Living Do, copyright © 1998 by Marie Howe. Used by permission of W. W. Norton. All rights reserved.

From What the Living Do, copyright © 1998 by Marie Howe. Used by permission of W. W. Norton. All rights reserved.

Marie Howe

Marie Howe

Marie Howe was born in 1950 in Rochester, New York. She worked as a newspaper reporter and teacher before receiving her MFA from Columbia University in 1983.

by this poet

poem
It was like the moment when a bird decides not to eat from your hand,
and flies, just before it flies, the moment the rivers seem to still
and stop because a storm is coming, but there is no storm, as when
a hundred starlings lift and bank together before they wheel and drop,
very much like the moment, driving
poem
My friend Michael and I are walking home arguing about the movie.
He says that he believes a person can love someone
and still be able to murder that person.

I say, No, that's not love. That's attachment.
Michael says, No, that's love. You can love someone, then come to a day

when you're forced to think "it's
poem

You know it was funny because he seemed so well the night before
I stayed over to meet a student before class

—sitting at the picnic table...already so hot so early.
I must have been looking for a pen or something

when I thought of the car keys and, rummaging through my bag,