“[P]oetry of intimacy, witness, honesty, and relation.” —The Boston Globe
“Marie Howe’s poetry is luminous, intense, and eloquent, rooted in an abundant inner life. Her long, deep-breathing lines address the mysteries of flesh and spirit, in terms accessible only to a woman who is very much of our time and yet still in touch with the sacred.” —Stanley Kunitz
Marie Howe is the author of three volumes of poetry, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time (2008); The Good Thief (1998); and What the Living Do (1997), and she is the co-editor of a book of essays, In the Company of My Solitude: American Writing from the AIDS Pandemic (1994). Stanley Kunitz selected Howe for a Lavan Younger Poets Prize from the American Academy of Poets. She has been a fellow at the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College and a recipient of NEA and Guggenheim fellowships. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Poetry, Agni, Ploughshares, Harvard Review, and The Partisan Review, among others. Currently, Howe teaches creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College, Columbia, and New York University. She is the 2012-2014 Poet Laureate of New York State.
Marie Howe wowed readers and critics alike with her first book of poems, The Good Thief. Selected by Margaret Atwood as the 1989 winner of the National Poetry Series, the book explored the themes of relationship, attachment, and loss in a uniquely personal search for transcendence. Said Atwood, “Marie Howe’s poetry doesn’t fool around…these poems are intensely felt, sparely expressed, and difficult to forget; poems of obsession that transcend their own dark roots.” Howe sees her work as an act of confession or of conversation. She says simply, “Poetry is telling something to someone.”
Howe’s equally acclaimed second book, What the Living Do, addressed the grief of losing a loved one. “The tentative transformation of agonizing, slow-motion loss into redemption is Howe’s signal achievement in this wrenching second collection,” said Publishers Weekly, in choosing it as one of the five best volumes of poetry published that year. Part of the urgency and importance of Howe’s poetry stems from its rootedness in real life—just ten minutes into her 1987 residence at the MacDowell Colony, Howe received a call from her brother John telling her that her mother had had a heart attack. Two years later, John died of AIDS, and her book What the Living Do is in large part an elegy to him. Howe’s poetry is intensely intimate, and her bravery in laying bare the music of her own pain—but never the pain alone—is part of its resonance. Inside each poem there is also a joy, a new breath of life, some kind of redemption. “Each of them seems a love poem to me,” says Howe.
In her final days as New York State Poet Laureate, Howe organized, with Brooklyn Poet Laureate Tina Chang, the Say Something NYC Poetry Rally: Justice for Eric Garner and Michael Brown—A Call for Unity, Equality, Empathy, Imagination and the End of Oppression, held in Washington Square Park
Marie Howe lectures and gives workshops on the topics of Faith, Poetry, and Prayer.
Poetry as Prayer
From our earliest time on earth prayer has been uttered as poetry. The earliest chants and spells, the psalms of praise, beseeching and complaint, the intimate discourse with the divine in the poems of Donne, Herbert, Hopkins, and Dickinson brings us to the contemporary voices of Sexton, Berryman, Gluck, Manning, and the modern translations of the ancient odes of Rumi and Kabir. Humans have cried out to the unseen in faith and in doubt, in loneliness and joy, in bewilderment and in confidence. Through poetry, we shape our cry into something essential and we sing it into space.
Writing as a Gate to Faith
Howe illuminates ways to pay attention to our own intimate discourse with the divine—and how writing can become a gateway to faith. When we write we write into the unknown. Faith is not a destination but a muscle. Our arrival is evidence of the experience of faith in transformative alchemy of words, silence, music, imagination. The poem is the residue of this experience—both the residue and the way.
Marie Howe is the author of three volumes of poetry, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time; The Good Thief; and What the Living Do, and she is the co-editor of a book of essays, In the Company of My Solitude: American Writing from the AIDS Pandemic. She has been a fellow at the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College and a recipient of NEA and Guggenheim fellowships, and Stanley Kunitz selected Howe for a Lavan Younger Poets Prize from the American Academy of Poets. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Poetry, Agni, Ploughshares, Harvard Review, and The Partisan Review, among others. She is the 2012-2014 Poet Laureate of New York State.
THE KINGDOM OF ORDINARY TIME (Poetry, 2008)
Hurrying through errands, attending to a dying mother, helping her own child down the playground slide, the speaker in these poems wonders: what is the difference between the self and the soul? The secular and the sacred? Where is the kingdom of heaven? And how does one live in Ordinary Time—during those periods that are not apparently miraculous? These are astonishing poems by a poet known as “a truth-teller of the first order.”
WHAT THE LIVING DO (Poetry, 1999)
This compassionate memorial to illness and the loss of Howe’s brother, John, and other friends ably depicts the growth and development of personal bonds against which “post-modern brokenness” is measured. This thoughtful analysis of elements of grief (“a living remedy”) will perhaps help to ease trauma of death, as does Robert Frost’s “Home Burial,” but full comprehension of “cherishing” and pain after “the wake and the funeral” seems impossible. The best of these empathetic poems demonstrate a longing for wholeness and appreciation of the “terrified and radiant” mysteries of silence. —Library Journal
The rules, once again applied
One loaf = one loaf. One fish = one fish.
The so-called three kings were dead.
And the woman who had been healed grew tired of telling her story.
and sometimes asked her daughter to tell it.
People generally worshipped where their parents had worshipped—
The men who’d hijacked the airplane prayed where the dead pilots had been sitting,
and the passengers prayed from their seats
—so many songs went up and out into the thinning air…
People, listening and watching, nodded and wept, and, leaving the theater,
one turned to the other and said, What do you want to do now?
And the other one said, I don’t know. What do you want to do?
It was the Coming of Ordinary Time. First Sunday, second Sunday.
And then (for who knows how long) it was here.
—from The Kingdom of Ordinary Time