Saturday, March 15, 2008

Thoughts on Howe’s The Good Thief

I have been a pretty avid reader of Marie Howe for the last five years or so – reading whatever she puts out, and I have always been pretty interested in her work. Her last book, The Good Thief affected my writing a lot. Here are some thoughts submitted for my MFA program on the book:


    Marie Howe's The Good Thief, much like her book What the Living Do, is a very careful collection of poems. On the surface her poetry is colloquial and may be defined as "narrative" or "confessional." However, a demanding level of precision always underscores her work. Every poetical choice in her book serves a purpose and everything unnecessary is omitted. This level of care separates Howe's work from other "narrative" or "confessional" works because it remains focused, not rambling, but direct. Howe never simply tells, but instead uses her life as a vehicle to explore deeper issues.

    One of the most impressive aspects of The Good Thief is its remarkable unity of thought. The book almost always focuses on the mysteries of death and spirituality; Howe uses her writing to explore her past religious history and discover new answers. She presents retellings of biblical stories in "Part of Eve's Discussion," "The Mountain," "The Unforgiven," and "Mary's Argument." She also delves into the realm of ghosts in "What the Angels Left," "Gretel, from a sudden clearing," and "The split." In addition she tackles the issues of an apparently abusive, drunk, father, and an apparently split family. Though her writing seems like a catharsis, it never feels like Sharon Olds' writing, which does exactly the same thing. Marie's Howe's writing is fresh; it's poetry that often challenges the reader to follow distant and abstract, non-linear images. It also presumes a faith and a desire to understand the unknown. These two aspects, in addition to a very distinct, believable voice separate Marie's writing from the linguistic masturbation of other confessional poets.

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