BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Like a prophet in her own country, Susan Howe's
reputation as a distinguished and pioneering poet and literary
theorist is virtually unknown to most of her suburban Western New
York neighbors and her colleagues at the University at Buffalo,
where she has been a member of the faculty since 1989.
This month, at the height of a career distinguished by stunning
literary achievement, Howe was elected by some of the most lionized
figures in American literature to the Academy of American Poets'
Board of Chancellors, the academy's advisory body of eminent
She will join such luminaries as Louise Gluck, Lucille Clifton,
W.S. Merwin, Adrienne Rich, Richard Howard, Charles Wright and UB
colleague Robert Creeley, as well as other current members of the
board. Previous members have included W.H. Auden, Marianne Moore,
Ezra Pound, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Gwendolyn
Brooks, Denise Levertov, Jay Wright and Robert Hayden.
Howe was elected, along with poets Philip Levine and Charles
Simic, to succeed board members John Ashbery, John Hollander and
David Wagoner, whose terms ended in November.
The author of 13 books of poems and two volumes of criticism,
most recently "Pierce Arrow" (New Directions, 1999), Howe is widely
known as the author of the groundbreaking, 1985 book "My Emily
Dickinson" and 1990's "Europe of Trusts."
She has received two American Book Awards from the Before
Columbus Foundation, a 1996 Guggenheim Fellowship and in 1998, was
named a Distinguished Fellow at the Stanford University Institute
of the Humanities.
A brilliant and intense writer, scholar and teacher, she is
recognized internationally for her path-breaking work in the field
of poetics. The reason for this, says Barbara Bono, chair of the UB
Department of English, is that Howe is "a strong poet and critic
working in the sinew and bone of poetic creation -- the actual
material being of the poem, its image and inscription.
"She's the real thing," Bono continues. "For Susan Howe, writing
is a physical act. Her beginnings were as a visual artist and she
brings this sense of the physical process of creativity to her
explication and modeling of poetry."
Bono says Howe's most successful graduate students have become
editors and textual artists with a deep understanding of the
holographic or handwritten process of making. Their emphasis, she
says, is not on the narrative aspects of the poem, but on the point
at which the poem comes into being.
"Howe's study of deeply introspective writers, such as poet
Emily Dickinson and American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce,
fueled her own poetic making," Bono says. "Her students come for
Literary scholar Susan Schultz describes Howe's unorthodox work
as melding and altering genres and performing typographical
experiments that challenge ideas about what the written word is,
how it operates and how it can be operated upon. Howe's books, in
fact, sometimes have to be turned upside-down or sideways in order
to be read -- as intended -- as both picture and text.
Nevertheless, "despite her distinctly avant-garde surfaces,"
Schultz says, "Howe straddles the lines between modern and
"She may be postmodernist in her method, but her intentions
often appear to be those of a last modernist. Her fragments are
every bit as artful as Eliot's, and her desire to make them cohere
(in literary and religious terms) is equal to that of Eliot, Pound
or Hart Crane."
Schultz writes that if poems exist in order to communicate
meaning, as Howe -- unlike her UB colleague, poet and theorist
Charles Bernstein -- maintains, "then the radical nature of her
texts reflect nothing so much as the difficulty of communicating
new meanings, new histories."