A few weeks ago, I heard an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air between Terry Gross and the poet Marie Howe. I’d never heard of Howe…but the poems she read on the air were riveting. I was equally captivated by the interview itself: Howe spoke about her late brother with a tone all weary insight and wise love. I knew I wanted to read her work. But then again, we’re talking about poetry in 21st century America. None of the indie bookstores in my area carried Howe. The same was true of Barnes and Noble. I came up empty at my public library and a local university library as well.
I realize that the phenomenal number of books published each year make it impossible for any one store (or chain) to carry everything. But the absence of Howe had me worried. If not for that NPR interview, how would a reader learn about her? Howe’s last two books were published by W.W. Norton. And, theoretically at least, Norton has established channels for getting her work into the world. But I couldn’t find her locally. If I had missed that interview, would I ever have encountered the work of Marie Howe?
I learned that I could order all three of Howe’s books from Amazon, but was informed there would be a delay in getting a copy of her first collection, The Good Thief (1988), which won the 1987 Open Competition of the National Poetry Series, and was selected by Margaret Atwood. Amazon was my least favorite option. I take delight in browsing bookstore shelves, reading titles, studying the cover art on books, the construction of the books themselves. Amazon doesn’t afford me any of these pleasures. But to their credit, they had the books.
I’ve now read all three of Marie Howe’s collections: The Good Thief (1988); What the Living Do (1998) and The Kingdom of Ordinary Time (2008). These books are wonderful, soulful encounters and I encourage you to discover them for yourself. Below, here’s an excerpt of a poem titled The World, from The Kingdom of Ordinary Time:
“I couldn’t tell which stars were which or how far away any one of them was,
or which were still burning or not—their light moving through space like a
late train—and I’ve lived on this earth so long—50 winters, 50 springs and
and all this time stars in the sky—in daylight
When I couldn’t see them, and at night when, most nights, I didn’t look.”
I also encourage you to download the Fresh Air interview that first introduced me to Marie Howe. Thank you, Terry Gross!