“Marie Howe is widely admired for poetry that seeks answers to metaphysical questions in ordinary day-to-day experience. In Howe’s work, little incidents and inconsequential memories help to shed light on the nature of the soul and the self, as well as the meaning of life, death, love, pain, hope, despair, sin, virtue, solitude, community, impermanence, and the eternal.”
—New York State Writers Institute
“Poetry 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.”
Marie Howe is the author of three volumes of poetry: The Kingdom of Ordinary Time
(W.W. Norton, 2009); What the Living Do
(1997); and The Good Thief
(1988). She is also the co-editor of a book of essays, In the Company of My Solitude: American Writing from the AIDS Pandemic
(1994). Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Poetry, Agni, Ploughshares, Harvard Review, and The Partisan Review, among others.
The Kingdom of Ordinary Time
was a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize; of the collection playwright Eve Ensler said, “These poems made me gasp. Each one a revelation, a lifeline, a domestic galaxy. This is the poetry of our times, a guide to living on the brink of the mystical and the mundane.” What the Living Do
addresses the grief of losing a loved one and is a transparent, accessible documentary of loss. Publishers Weekly named the book one of the five best poetry collections of 1997, saying “The tentative transformation of agonizing, slow-motion loss into redemption is Howe’s signal achievement in this wrenching second collection.” In large part an elegy to her brother who died from AIDS, her intimacy and 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.The Good Thief
(1988) explores the themes of relationship, attachment, and loss in a uniquely personal search for transcendence, and was selected by Margaret Atwood for the National Poetry Series. In making her selection, Atwood said, “Reading it you feel interest always, delight often, and occasionally that cool wind at the back of the neck that makes you think there’s one more person in the room than there actually is. These poems are intensely felt, sparely expressed, and difficult to forget; poems of obsession that transcend their own dark roots.”
Part of the urgency and importance of Howe’s poetry stems from its rootedness in real life. Her mentor Stanley Kunitz once said, “Whether she is confronting the joys or terrors of existence, the light that falls on the page is suffused with grace and charity. In essence she is a religious poet, that rarity among writers of her generation.” Marie Howe sees her work as an act of confession or of conversation. She says simply, “Poetry is telling something to someone.”
In 1988, Kunitz selected Howe for a Lavan Younger Poets Prize from the American Academy of Poets. She has since been a recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College. In 2015 she received the Poetry Fellowship from the Academy of American Poets, an honor that recognizes distinguished poetic achievement—in the word of the Academy Chancellor Arthur Sze, “Marie Howe’s poems are remarkable for their focused, intense, and haunting lyricism. Her poems characteristically unfold through a series of luminous particulars that gather emotional power as they delve into the complexities of the human heart. Her poems are acclaimed for writing through loss with verve, but they also find the miraculous in the ordinary and transform quotidian incidents into enduring revelation.”
She lives in New York City and teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, New York University, and has taught at Columbia University. From 2012-2014, Howe served as the Poet Laureate of New York State. During her tenure, she worked with the MTA and Poetry Society of America on a series of Public Poetry events, including The Poet is IN: a celebration of poetry in public settings—such as Grand Central Terminal or the Fulton Street Landing—where an array of award-winning poets sit in a booth (inspired by Lucy from the Peanuts comic strip) and write a poem for passers-by who request one. It is Howe’s hope that this will become a perennial event in New York City. In her final days as 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.
Biographical profile and photograph courtesy blueflowerarts.com
Photograph © Brad Fowler