In “The Wedding Dress,” she recounts her experiences as a well-born Brahmin turned community activist, a white woman married to a person of color, and a mother of three mixed-race children during the city’s violent busing crisis — and recalls feeling that she’d never be the same again. “[The late anti-busing activist] Louise Day Hicks and the vociferous Boston Irish were like the dogs and hoses in the South . . .,” she writes. “Some worldview was inexorably shifting in me.”
Her daughter Danzy Senna, whose bestselling 1998 novel “Caucasia” drew upon her own memories of growing up in Boston in the early `70s, says Howe “had an epiphany: As the mother of nonwhite children, she was no longer comfortable in the blind spot of the white world. She became a race traitor and a keen analyst of whiteness, in all its complacency and complicity.” As Howe herself writes in “The Wedding Dress,” she often feels “that my skin is white but my soul is not, and that I am in camouflage.”
Kenyon Review interview.
Howe may be best known as a poet, but it is her fiction — elliptical, richly emotional, and mostly out of print — that makes it clear just how impossible it was to inhabit the no-man’s land in which she found herself.
In the Spirit There Are No Accidents
by Fanny Howe
God is already ahead and waiting: the future is full.
One steps timidbly over the world; the other is companionable.
The house is there. The door is… others…
But for you they make no sound when you’re so far.
I know the bench is by the pond tomorrow
when I can follow the streets to it by heart.
Yes, streets. Yes, heart.
Nightwalk of faith, chromosomes live in the past.
The land is an incarnation
like a hand on a hand on an arm asking do you know me?
by Fanny Howe
Thrice I croaked
before the sun was up;
the scared bed jumped
to catch my falls; and
the mouth in the shade
exposed a galaxy of snow.
Surprise: the sky was tinsel
on the Christmas trees.
I made an angel of myself
and hung from an icicle
choking. Since you went off
the sun is black sackcloth.
Everything was religious
then. Even our walk
by factories and riverbeds
produced the kingdom of heaven
with you its hot and tender king,
with me adoring or loving.
Now black winds blow
and take away my breath.
Again the night is dying on my lips.
If only I told you before:
without you I feel
I’m skating past innumerable monuments:
no facts, no laws to stop my fall.
The University of California has the Fanny Howe collection here.
“Bootprints (Hot Chip Remix)” — King Creosote (mp3)
“Eisenstein” — Slowlands (mp3)
Mrs. Howe is currently a professor at The University of California, San Diego.
by Fanny Howe
White slides over
rows of windowed eyes
stone housing, that is, a hundred years snowed.
Surrounded by more craft
than need, the dross of winter:
stations the day and passes on information.
See birds beat the ice off their wings
for bites dressed in white,
how the world contains everything
the mind has to live by.
Some human sailed to a distant island
Way before the birth of Christ
The North Pole was in darkness and everything white
Snowbirds, marten, ermine
And the berry wearing a fur of ice.
Why? Hubcaps hang on lines and shine
Under increasing clouds in the Northeast
Reindeer and the musk ox
Live poor but not with us. Why?
Our place in time is insecure, and space.
Far from early glass a peach of light
Braves the morning chill
Close to space probes and telescopes
In a lowly bed
My dreams are servants wreathed in sleep
Its body inverted flannel in a mound of rubble
Leopards, men and colorful birds
Come rearing over a mountain
And race into the head’s habitat, at
The wall of the moon inside, and as black
A daring blue heron
Hops into place
And a cloud
Sends showers down
Provoke endless patterns
Each thing is sewn into time, then
Having a child
Is the most extreme caprice
A smashing of space
The Vineyard, 1988.
“Either Way” — The Twang (mp3)
These poems are from a collection titled Moving Borders.
Buy Introduction to the World here.
Howe’s a bit spacy, but that’s kind of why we like her. Check out this 2004 Boston Globe profile.
EG: Your first poem in your book, Gone, ends with the line: “my face shining up I lost faith but once.” I have read that line so many times. It’s like a mathematical equation.
FH: Yes, it is a mathematical equation.
EG: I lost faith but once equals once I had faith. The point is, if you have faith, even just once, that is very powerful.
FH: Exactly. I had this artist friend, Italo Scanga, who said that he was happy for five minutes once in his life on a train in Italy with his mother during the war. He remembered happiness down to a matter of specific moments. Happiness in this case can be equated with God.
PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING
Molly went the George Michael route.
Our legal analyst took down one of Michael Vick’s accusers. Way to go there.
Jasper Johns untitled.
“Because It’s Not Love (But It’s Still a Feeling)” — Pipettes (mp3)
“Remind Me” — Royksopp (mp3)