Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Susan Howe, Spontaneous Particulars: The Telepathy of Archives

The English word “text” comes from Medieval Latin textus “style or texture of a work,” literally “thing woven,” from the past participle stem of texere: “to weave, to join, fit together, construct.” In several notebooks she labeled “Sentences” (1928 – 1929), Gertrude Stein writes: “A sentence is partly softly after they write it. What is the difference between a sentence and a picture. They will sew which will make it tapestry. A sentence is not carrying it away. A sentence furnishes while they will draw. A sentence is drawers and drawers full of drawings. A sentence is an imagined masterpiece. A sentence is an imagined frontispiece. In looking up from her embroidery she looks at me. She lifts up the tapestry. It is partly.… Think in stitches. Think in settlements. Think in willows.”

I continue to be amazed by how American poet Susan Howe constructs her poem-essays as long, complex, singular thoughts, such as in her newest title, Spontaneous Particulars: The Telepathy ofArchives (Christine Burgin Books/New Directions Books, 2014). Approaching the work from the direction of the poem, her essay weaves through a series of patterns, stitching together ideas of the archive, considerations of the sentence, and how poetry itself can be fashioned into a form most appropriate for its purposes. It is as though she attempts to explore the poem through an essay disguised as a poem disguised as an essay, an exploration similar in many ways to the current explorations Ottawa poet Brecken Hancock has been engaged in via non-fiction on ideas of confession, and utilizing one’s own story. Howe’s work has long favoured the archive, using historical documents, literary fragments, family story and mementos, and a deep curiosity to thread together wayward considerations into a single, unbreakable strand.

Poetry has no proof nor plan nor evidence by decree or in any other way. From somewhere in the twilight realm of sound a spirit of belief flares up at the point where meaning stops and the unreality of what seems most real floods over us. The inward ardor I feel while working in research libraries is intuitive. It’s a sense of self-identification and trust, or the granting of grace in an ordinary room, in a secular time.

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