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About this poet

In 1940, Fanny Howe was born in Buffalo, New York. She is the author of more than twenty books of poetry and prose. Her recent collections of poetry include Second Childhood (Graywolf, 2014); Come and See (Graywolf, 2011); The Lyrics (Graywolf, 2007); On the Ground (2004); Gone (2003); Selected Poems (2000); Forged (1999); Q (1998); One Crossed Out (1997); O'Clock (1995); and The End (1992).

Howe is also the author of several novels and prose collections, including, The Winter Sun: Notes on a Vocation (Graywolf, 2009); The Lives of a Spirit / Glasstown: Where Something Got Broken (Nightboat Books, 2005) and Nod (Sun & Moon Press, 1998). She has written short stories, books for young adults, and the collection of literary essays The Wedding Dress: Meditations on Word and Life (University of California Press, 2003).

Poet Michael Palmer commented: "Fanny Howe employs a sometimes fierce, always passionate, spareness in her lifelong parsing of the exchange between matter and spirit. Her work displays as well a political urgency, that is to say, a profound concern for social justice and for the soundness and fate of the polis, the "city on a hill." Writes Emerson, 'The poet is the sayer, the namer, and represents beauty.' Here's the luminous and incontrovertible proof."

Howe was the recipient of the 2009 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. She also won the 2001 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for her Selected Poems, and has won awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Poetry Foundation, the California Council for the Arts, and the Village Voice. She has received fellowships from the Bunting Institute and the MacArthur Colony. She was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2001 and 2005.

She has lectured in creative writing at Tufts University, Emerson College, Columbia University, Yale University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is currently a professor of writing and literature at the University of California, San Diego.

Loneliness

Loneliness is not an accident or a choice.
It’s an uninvited and uncreated companion.
It slips in beside you when you are not aware that a
choice you are making will have consequences.
It does you no good even though it’s like one of the
elements in the world that you cannot exist without.
It takes your hand and walks with you. It lies down
with you. It sits beside you. It’s as dark as a shadow
but it has substance that is familiar.
It swims with you and swings around on stools.
It boards the ferry and leans on the motel desk.

Nothing great happens as a result of loneliness.
Your character flaws remain in place. You still stop in
with friends and have wonderful hours among them,
but you must run as soon as you hear it calling.
It does call. And you climb the stairs obediently,
pushing aside books and notes to let it know that you
have returned to it, all is well.
If you don’t answer its call, you sense that it will sink
towards a deep gravity and adopt a limp.

From loneliness you learn very little. It pulls you
back, it pulls you down.

It’s the manifestation of a vow never made but kept:
I will go home now and forever in solitude.

And after that loneliness will accompany you to
every airport, train station, bus depot, café, cinema,
and onto airplanes and into cars, strange rooms and
offices, classrooms and libraries, and it will hang near
your hand like a habit.
But it isn’t a habit and no one can see it.

It’s your obligation, and your companion warms itself
against you.
You are faithful to it because it was the only vow you
made finally, when it was unnecessary.

If you figured out why you chose it, years later, would
you ask it to go?
How would you replace it?

No, saying good-bye would be too embarrassing.
Why?
First you might cry.
Because shame and loneliness are almost one.
Shame at existing in the first place. Shame at being
visible, taking up space, breathing some of the sky,
sleeping in a whole bed, asking for a share.

Loneliness feels so much like shame, it always seems
to need a little more time on its own.

From Second Childhood (Graywolf Press, 2014) by Fanny Howe. Copyright © 2014 by Fanny Howe. Used with permission of the author.

From Second Childhood (Graywolf Press, 2014) by Fanny Howe. Copyright © 2014 by Fanny Howe. Used with permission of the author.

Fanny Howe

Fanny Howe

The author of more than twenty books of poetry and prose, Fanny Howe received the 2001 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for her collection Selected Poems.

by this poet

poem
The rain falls on.
Acres of violets unfold.
Dandelion, mayflower
Myrtle and forsythia follow.

The cardinals call to each other.
Echoes of delicate
Breath-broken whistles.

I know something now
About subject, object, verb
And about one word that fails
For lack of substance.

Now people say, He passed on
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poem

In my sleep Mohammed spoke
and I woke up
struggling with equipment
a helpless elder with fingers too weak
to bend the bits around the neck.

The Prophet expressed his relief
that his words
were of no interest
to postmodern theorists.
He was (he said) just another

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