Tuesday, March 31, 2015

slat box light

The light through the slatted blinds in the Beinecke reading room was lovely and moist – a languid light like the rarefied climate. Scholars and researchers (not me) sort through rare books or other archives at wide library tables. Dissertation ideas float in the air. I want to walk around and look over the scholars' shoulders. This is my third week and third box of SH notebooks. This box has about 25 notebooks. And since the journals seem to contain long entries, I will be returning. 

Just inside the cover were several typed pages folded together, including the Stevens poem pictured above. The House was Quiet and the World was Calm. You can see how she marked the poem, highlighting repetitions and patterns, to read closely. Below the first stanza of Tennyson's poem, Tithonus. Which I had to google to figure out. How unexpected to open the notebook and find those treasures. Her hand quite present. Handwriting looser than in the later notebooks. Her life from 1984-86 and how it bumps into mine, the years of my mother's illness and death. I was lost in her life, also remembering my own. And thinking about where this is going. And how easy it is to fall into her pages and musings. Years ago I went through a phase of reading all of Woolf's letters. A similar sensation. 

I'm reading her life out of order. So I know what's coming as SH, here in her late forties, describes struggles, insecurities about her work, the poetry community, family, money, marriage. The first entry is about a reading she's done in Buffalo, where her family lived when she was very young. The quiet sadness as SH recalls her father, considers her reading of a particular poem in his memory. How much of her childhood in the city rises up in memories during the visit. "How the world tosses one about like a tiny flag -- what direction time moves in." 

Saturday, March 21, 2015


This week I went to the Beinecke library at Yale to read from the Susan Howe archive. It was the last day of winter. I ordered 4 boxes – notebooks mostly and drafts. To see a mind at work. To read her musings and worries and plannings. How this fits with what I’m doing. I will never have an archive. From the Greek arkheia for public records. I went with an idea for a book about the brain and its family and how the brain hurts and worries and sees and doesn't see and repeats and patterns and frays. I read 13 small notebooks. I took notes and some photos of individual pages. Her handwriting is small. She filled the books with quotations and lovely small drafts of poems -- at least I think they are drafts. "The deep truth is imageless," -- a quote from Shelley contained in the first notebook. 


I worked at a library table in the reading room. I could hear her voice as I read and turned the small pages, even though I've only heard her speak on a recording. But there's something about handwriting that's akin to sound. Perhaps the physicality of the pencil marks on the page. She used pencil and pen. Along with quotations, the books included what I came to think of as her "container" poems -- because they're small and intense and hold much energy. And then some personal entries about the usual -- work, health, money, family. The room was quiet except for the clicking of keyboards. Later I thought of when a blog friend Rebecca Loudon visited the home of outsider artist Henry Darger in Chicago and how she sensed his presence/ghost. Susan Howe is still alive. And more so as I read and took notes and thought. I'll go back next week. What am I looking for? A mentor. A process. Words.