My previous post provides some of the background views that I have held about Marie Howe. I have always seen What the Living Do and The Good Thief as confessional yet lyrical – without the “linguistic masturbation” of most poets, and I feel (somewhat) the same way about her new book – The Kingdom of Ordinary Time.
It does, in many poems, provide a much wider context than simply her life, so, as a reader, I don’t feel like I am just hearing her thoughts poured out. Look, for instance, at a part of the poem “The Massacre:”
It moved through me like a clot – clear, cold,
and for an instant I knew myself – shouting in the careening
trucks with the rest of them
and what, in my exhilaration, I could become
These lines interest me because, although they are “confessional,” they don’t just share Howe’s personal ideas but help convey feelings to the reader – she is giving us the sensations of her thoughts, “shouting in careening trucks with the rest of them.” Like many of Lowell’s poems, this poem moves away from the self. Also, these lines are very lyrical – “It moved through me like a clot – clear, cold.” There is a very nice music in here, and throughout the book. In a sense, she doesn’t just spill her guts, but she also builds art. I value her for that.
Another thing I liked about this book, which I also admired in her previous two books, is the way they function as books (as opposed to individual poems). Howe does have a nice sense of building something greater than any one. And many of the poems in here really do create a dialogue. Thoughts and images are often started, repeated, and finished throughout the volume, and this builds a nice layering effect that connects the poems and allows the reader to consider them in each other’s context – often providing a much wider interpretation. Furthermore, by layering images and thoughts, Howe also invites the reader to connect similar themes – (ie) fear and the post 9/11 world. This (very contemporary connection) is referenced through her layering of images, but it isn’t beaten over our heads like war propaganda.
Although I really appreciate all this, in another sense (and perhaps it is myself as a reader), I also feel a little tired with this book. I was never expecting a radical change from her, but it would be nice to get something different. In many ways, the last section centering on the death of her mother mirrors (too closely I think) the poems of her brother’s death from What the Living do. As a poet, I think she needs to seek out some new territory. And while she does deal with new themes – post 911 skepticism, the depersonalization of society, and the failing of love – the tone, I think is too close to her other works – she needs a Dolphin to combat her life studies.