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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Susan Howe, That This, New Directions, 2010

Words found among piecemeal fragments, useful to me in my work: “soft,” “shadow,” “melancholy.” Here is a book that as its subject has a shadow of a shadow that embodies the loss of a loved one. A shadow of a shadow that does not appear in the light and is not detectable at night. These words from “Frolic Architecture” are clues to the mindscape of Susan Howe’s That This. Sense skips over line endings and falls between verses, as it does in the first lines of the sequence that gives the poem and the book its title, “That This.”

Does a type when visible

objects change then put 


on form but the anti-type

That thing not shadowed

 A shadow not shadowed insisting as before, but the words that most call attention to themselves now are “type” and antitype.” The careful reader of “Frolic Architecture” has just navigated 58 pages of broken type, much silence and static. “Anti-type” appears as if it were an antidote, among other possibilities, an antidote to sorrow, the death of the beloved so exquisitely parsed in the prose of the first pages of the collection, “The Disappearance Approach.” In “Frolic Architecture,” enigmatic fragments, polyvalent in the extreme, emerge from the clutter of clippings that have been borrowed from the “private writings” of Hannah Edwards Wetmore and pasted as if to form an acrostic or some other word-puzzle in the shambling architecture of mourning. Hannah is the sister of Jonathan Edwards. Reading and research  of this order, as is Howe’s wont, registers interference patterns, later to be embodied in the muted electronic and digital clicks and burrs of David Grubbs’ electronic transformation of Howe’s work: Words leap out, from the 17th century source into echoing consciousness. Static and shadow suspend sounds. Mysteries, the drone reaching a crescendo, are particles in an insectivorous Brownian motion. Comfort emerges from these depths, “comfort” as a word. Howe’s voice, when performing, is mellifluous. I am soothed as I wander through meditations on my losses.

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