Love and I: Poems
There is a gift that surprises in the poems of Fanny Howe’s latest book of poetry, Love and I, and that gift is trust. From the first lines, the work welcomes you in simple, familiar terms, openly telling you, the reader, exactly what has been bothering it.
“The ordeal of dying must be memory, so much seeing and loosing forms.
Friends whacking at invisible ankles and you.
The action is done in a dream. Who did what? The closed book, the feet sleep.
Proof that you lived is that you kept notebooks.” (Spacing, the poet’s.)
It is, indeed, the idea of approximating death that most animates this collection, some of the poems titled simply, by year, then scattered and arranged so they ascend and recede, like lampposts, the effect that of a timeline of life, its end seemingly in sight for the narrator attempting to come to terms with this new (unwanted?) mission, that of a detective or rescuer of moments, conscious that in those moments now gone is the life being looked for.
“When one brain was weary
one heart was not.
The brain can be shucked
when all the air is gone but the heart
is slippery and needs a touch of
spirit to nourish it.
How am I still here
at every thump?”
Here the narrator’s path would seem to merge with the poet’s. Howe has published dozens of poetry books throughout her 60-year career. She has been a finalist for the National Book Award and the Man Booker Prize, and the recipient of a Ruth Lilly Award, an honor bestowed on living US poets “whose lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition.”
And yet even as the poems speak of long life almost over, of moments gone, of death and memory and love’s refusal (a regret?), there is pushback in the notion of travel, in the recurring metaphor of flight, of airplanes specifically, as the vehicle for starting all over if one wants to:
“Give up your wires, plugs, laptop, pills, water, cellphone, passport, ticket and shoes.
Give up your water, your wine, your songs and stories.
Put your arms up, your feet down flat and face ahead.
You have not reached the end yet.”
And that, precisely, is where Love and I: Poems is most different from Howe’s earlier work. There is new urgency in the retrieval of what feels about to be lost. What is slipping through our fingers. There is also fear of what one has missed and, a clear effort, on the page and with the book as a whole, to secure the results of time, of a life lived.
“To be described as a note that separates from a song and blows away.
When you are down to nothing more to call on.
You can say I walked Manhattan from sundown to dawn.
‘So I have traveled the world.’”
Otherwise, fans will also find here more of what Howe’s work is most known and admired for: the small moment, the everyday, minimal and restrained,
hers, a decidedly modern, experimental style that constantly favors the simple elegance of a declarative statement over the acrobatics of complex enjambment.
“I, little Eugenia, have written about this, but the writing was discarded even as it appeared.
It was a miracle: to produce what disappeared.
Next it was a molecule she was asked to accept as the measure of her life. That wasn’t difficult.
A cloud was already being prepared.” (Spacing, the poet’s.)
Love and I is an open book, hiding nothing, least of all the dread of endings, the anxiety of remembering what cannot be recovered. But even in fear, it remains open, almost grateful that here you are now, the reader as trusted friend, to listen, and to help the speaker figure things out, and make them count.
“Will our lives have meaning?
‘No meaning’ means
There’s no big bang, no beginning.”