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About this poet

Susan Howe was born on June 10, 1937, in Boston, Massachusetts. She is the author of several books of poems and two volumes of criticism. Her most recent poetry collections are That This (New Directions, 2010), The Midnight (2003), Kidnapped (2002), The Europe of Trusts (2002), Pierce-Arrow (1999), Frame Structures: Early Poems 1974-1979 (1996), The Nonconformist's Memorial (1993), The Europe of Trusts: Selected Poems (1990), and Singularities (1990).

Her books of criticism are The Birth-Mark: Unsettling the Wilderness in American Literary History (1993), which was named an "International Book of the Year" by the Times Literary Supplement, and My Emily Dickinson (1985).

Her work also has appeared in Anthology of American Poetry, edited by Cary Nelson (Oxford University Press, 1999); The Norton Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry (2003); and Poems for the Millennium, Volume 2, edited by Pierre Joris and Jerome Rotherberg (1998).

She has received two American Book Awards from the Before Columbus Foundation and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1999. In 1996 she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and in the winter of 1998 she was a distinguished fellow at the Stanford Institute of the Humanities. In 2011, Howe received Yale University's Bollingen Prize in American Poetry.

She was a longtime professor of English at the State University of New York at Buffalo and held the Samuel P. Capen Chair of Poetry and the Humanities. She was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2000. She lives in Guilford, Connecticut.


Susan Howe, 1937

Iseult stands at Tintagel
on the mid stairs between 
light and dark symbolism 
Does she stand for phonic 
human overtone for outlaw 
love the dread pull lothly 
for weariness actual brute 
predestined fact for phobic 
falling no one talking too 
Tintagel ruin of philosophy 
here is known change here 
is come crude change wave 
wave determinist caparison 
Your soul your separation

But the counterfeit Iseult 
Iseult aux Blanches Mains 
stands by the wall to listen 
Phobic thought of openness 
a soul also has two faces 
Iseult's mother and double
Iseult the Queen later in T 
Even Tros echoes Tristan's 
infirmity through spurious 
etymology the Tintagel of Fo 
not the dead city of night 
Wall in the element of Logic 
here is a door and beyond 
here is the sail she spies

Tristran Tristan Tristrant 
Tristram Trystan Trystram 
Tristrem Tristanz Drust 
Drystan these names concoct 
a little wreathe of victory 
dreaming over the landscape 
Tintagel font icon twilight 
Grove bough dark wind cove 
brine testimony Iseult salt 
Iseut Isolde Ysolt Essyllt 
bride of March Marc Mark in 
the old French commentaries 
your secret correspondence 
Soft Iseut two Iseults one

The third of Tristan's overt 
identities is a double one 
his disguise as nightingale 
in Tros then wild man in Fo 
Level and beautiful La Blanche 
Lande of disguise episodes 
the nocturnal garden of Tros 
Fo recalls the scene in Ovid 
Orpheus grief stricken over 
the loss of Eurydice sits by 
the bank of a river seven days 
I see Mark's shadow in water 
Mark's moral right to Iseult 
David's relationship to Saul

Lean on handrail river below 
Sense of depth focus motion 
of chaos in Schlegel only as 
visual progress into depth its 
harsh curb estrangement logic 
Realism still exists is part 
of the realist dual hypothesis 
Dual on verso as one who has 
obeyed acceleration velocity 
killing frost regenerative thaw 
you other rowing forward face 
backward Hesperides messenger 
into the pastness of landscape 
inarticulate scrawl awash air

Insufferably pale the icy 
limit pulls and pulls no 
kindness free against you 
Deep quietness never to be 
gathered no blind threat 
Assuredly I see division 
can never be weighed once 
pale anguish breathes free 
to be unhallowed empty what 
in thought or other sign 
roof and lintel remember 
Searching shall I know is 
some sense deepest moment 
What is and what appears

The way light is broken 
To splinter color blue 
the color of day yellow 
near night the color of 
passion red by morning 
His name of grief being 
red sound to sense sense 
in place of the slaying 
Tristram must be caught 
Saw the mind otherwise 
in thought or other sign 
because we are not free 
Saw the mind otherwise 
Two thoughts in strife

Separation requires an 
other quest for union 
I use a white thread 
half of the same paper 
and in the sun's light 
I place a lens so that 
the sea reflects back 
violet and blue making 
rays easily more freely 
your nativity and you 
of light from that of 
memory when eyelids close 
so in dream sensation 
Mind's trajected light

It is precision we have 
to deal with we can pre-
scind space from color if 
Thomas was only using a 
metaphor and metaphysics 
professes to be metaphor 
There is a way back to the 
misinterpretation of her 
message TheseusTristan is 
on the ship AegeusIseut 
is a land watcher she is 
a mastermind her frailty 
turned to the light her 
single vision twin soul half

Dilemma of dead loyalty 
Mark's speeches are sham 
Gottfried shows Tristan 
only hunting for pleasure 
Emerald jacinth sapphire 
chalcedony lovely Isolt 
Topaz sardonyx chrysolite 
ruby sir Tristan the Court 
sees only the beauty of 
their persons that they 
appear to be represented 
Isolt sings for your eyes 
Surveillance is a constant 
theme in lyric poetry

Le Page disgracié his attempt 
to buy a linnet for his master 
from a birdcatcher he hoped 
to comfort him with bird song 
but gambled the money away 
and in desperation bought a 
wild linnet that didn't sing 
His first words occur in the 
linnet episode the young master's 
perplexity about the bird's 
silence so just the linnet's 
silence provokes Tristan's je
hero his shared identity the 
remarkable bird list in L'Orphée

L'Orphée--the lanner falcon 
takes pigeons the sparrow-
hawk sparrows the goshawk 
partridge when Tristan was 
young he would have watched 
hawks being flown his own 
little hunting falcon his 
observation of the way in 
which other birds refrain 
from their characteristic 
habit of "mobbing the owl"
Vignette of the birdcatcher
in the street that day the 
linnet's mimic reputation

Parasite and liar of genius 
even emptiness is something 
not nothingness of negation 
having been born Not born 
wrapped in protective long
cloak power of the woodland 
No burrowing deep for warmth 
The eagle of Prometheus is a 
vulture the vulture passions 
go to a predator tricked up 
forever unexpressed in half-
effaced ambiguous butterfly 
disguises authentic regional 
avifauna an arsenal of stories

Ysolt that for naught might 
carry them as they coasting 
past strange land past haven 
ruin garland effigy figment 
sensible nature blue silver 
orange yellow different lake 
effect of the death-rebirth 
eternal rush-return fragment 
I cannot separate in thought 
You cannot be separate from 
perception everything draws 
toward autumn distant tumult 
See that long row of folios 
Surely Ysolt remembers Itylus

Antigone bears her secret in 
her heart like an arrow she is 
sent twice over into our dark 
social as if real life as if real 
person proceeding into self-
knowledge as if there were no 
proof just blind right reason 
to assuage our violent earth 
Ysolt's single vision of union 
Precursor shadow self by self
in open place or on an acting 
platform two personae meeting 
Strophe antistrophe which is 
which dual unspeakable cohesion

Day binds the wide Sound 
Bitter sound as truth is 
silent as silent tomorrow 
Motif of retreating figure 
arrayed beyond expression 
huddled unintelligible air 
Theomimesis divinity message 
I have loved come veiling 
Lyrist come veil come lure 
echo remnant sentence spar 
never never form wherefor 
Wait some recognition you 
Lyric over us love unclothe 
Never forever whoso move

From Pierce-Arrow by Susan Howe. Copyright © 1999 by Susan Howe. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

From Pierce-Arrow by Susan Howe. Copyright © 1999 by Susan Howe. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

Susan Howe

Susan Howe

Susan Howe was born in 1937 in Boston, Massachusetts. She was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2000.

by this poet


age of earth and us all chattering

a sentence   or character

steps out to seek for truth   fails 

into a stream of ink   Sequence 
trails off

must go on

waving fables and faces   War 
doings of the war

manoeuvering between points 

any two points     which is 
what we want   (
Day is a type when visible
objects change then put

on form but the anti-type
That thing not shadowed

The way music is formed of
cloud and fire once actually

concrete now accidental as
half truth or as whole truth

Is light anything like this
stray pencil commonplace

copy as to one aberrant

For here we are here
daylight does not reach 
Vast depth on the wall

Alapeen Paper Patch Muslin
Calico Camlet Dimity Fustian
Serge linsey-woolsey say

A wainscot bedsten & Curtans
& vallains & iron Rodds