Susan Howe's That This
New Directions, 2010: $15.95
reviewed by Cooper Renner

Like Anne Carson's Nox, also released last year by New Directions, Susan Howe's newest book is a meditation on loss and continuance, how those who survive carry on. Beginning with an essay, "The Disappearance Approach," Howe investigates her own reactions to her husband's sudden death in early 2008 while echoing her loss against that of Sarah Edwards, widow of 18th century American preacher Jonathan, and even of mythical Greek poet Orpheus. The book's second and most experimental section, "Frolic Architecture," is an arrangement of mostly found text, snipped most frequently from the writings of the Edwardses' daughter Hannah and delivered only in often interwoven fragments. Accompanied by James Welling's photograms, these incomplete texts ask both to be approached as visual art and to be revivified by the reader, whose mind will almost automatically work to link, in a "sensible" fashion, the isolated pieces of syntax as well as to frame complete words from those only partially present: to make completions of the absences. The title poem follows, a short sequence of block-like verses written in static incomplete sentences whose imagery, drawn from both nature and art, approaches the issue of spirit and mystery. The book closes with a final untitled pasting of three overlain snippets which ends with the French for, I believe, "I have neglected nothing." Thoughtful, somber, human, and puzzling, Howe's elegy is masterful, inviting, and far worthier of your time than the more ballyhooed recent collections by certain prize-winning "name" poets.