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Scott Bentley

On the Day the Blood Let Fall:

The Mastery of Mystery in Fanny Howe’s [SIC] and Forged

This piece is 16,000 words or about thirty-five printed pages long.

Notes are given at the end of this file, with links that look like this: [125]. Click on the link to be taken to the note; likewise to return to the text. If your browser employs JavaScript, just hover your mouse over the link: the note will appear in a pop-up window.

I would like to thank Fanny Howe for her divine assistance with this and other projects over the years; Stephen Ratcliffe for his insightful guidance in class ‘English 274, Listening to Reading’, at Mills College, where this paper originated; and Todd Ableser for maintaining his station as friend while exercising his surgical hand as editor at the times and in the places when and where it counts most.

Over the last decade or so, in experimental writing magazines like O-blek, Five Fingers Review, Conjunctions, and Hambone, we have seen forming a series of pieces by poet and novelist, Fanny Howe. Most of these pieces are based on the Gnostic’s belief that human experience is always Hell on Earth. Howe tells us that ‘the Gnostic view is hidden in all religion which is why it emerged among all religions for a time, as a separate point of view. Plotinus, Augustine, all would feel the same outpouring of matter from a distant unknowable’ (‘Re: Re: Query’). These texts, in part as a result of this Gnostic foundation, contain speakers whose disembodied voices we hear through the walls of their prisons. Generally as a direct result of their macro-structures in terms of stanzaic arrangement and repetition, connotatively rich diction (including allusions which pepper the pages), and a playful free-association that arises out of the sound of the words as a means to generate the language, two particularly delightful and troubling books that we will here focus on at once engross and puzzle the reader who must play the part of the detective with bloodhound unleashed in an attempt to master the mystery, hoping to discover the ‘distant unknowable’ of these books’ particulars.

[SIC] and Forged are each very brief books. Stapled at the spine, [SIC] contains 19 pages made up of sometimes fragmented verse couplets that, indulging in the speaker’s/ protagonist’s [1] erotic discourse of desire, revolve around the word ‘suck’ and tend to interrupt the narrative, creating gaps; and sometimes proverse [2] stanza fragments that at once tend to fill in the gaps made in the story while simultaneously creating new ones. Speaking of her sources of inspiration, Howe says that ‘[i]n [SIC] I was coming from visiting a friend in prison for life,’ this biographical fact then translating into the ‘story’ that inheres the piece, one which refers to the particular events leading up to the incarceration of the speaker/ protagonist, May (‘Re: Query’). Forged contains 21 perfect-bound pages (21 poems?) and each page/ poem contains seven lines, nearly each set of lines arranged differently on nearly each page (but for some pattern repetitions to be discussed in more detail later). About the stanzaic structure in Forged Howe writes, ‘Just a task set for self. That many lines that many days,’ but I would suggest that seven being the number of Divinity adds a certain quality of awe to the text (‘Re: Re: Query’). These lines and stanzas in Forged largely exist without punctuation, a fact which does, yes, bring some enjambment into the poem but moreso tends to focus our attention first on the line as a thing in itself; and then secondly without the punctuation the reader is free to track nearly any sort of narrative progression, semantic resonance, or syntactic combination, a fact which seems particularly apt given the book’s travel content, its focus upon resisting any fixed position. Howe tells us that ‘[i]ncreasingly [her] stories joined [her] poems in their methods of sequencing and counting’ (‘Bewilderment’ 42); and in terms of any sort of narrative, a reader of Forged gets but a general sense, if perhaps entirely fictive, of England, as if the speaker is riding on a train, looking perhaps at one of ‘London’s seven prisons’ out a fogged window as the train speeds past, contemplating her Gnostic notions that life on Earth is prison, musing ‘over Wandsworth Brixton Latchmere/  Belmarsh Holloway Pentonville and Wormwood Scrubs’ (14, 15). In fact, Howe informed me of her travels that ‘[i]n Forged I was going to see my daughter who was giving birth to a daughter (the long red jar, cherryflowers) outside London’ (‘Re: Query’). Here, speaker and author in some measure collide.

In both of these lyric [3] works the gravity of the somewhat submerged content of any ‘story’ may upon a first or second reading flee from a reader. Describing processes of textual absorption and anti-absorption, Charles Bernstein writes in Artifice of Absorption that

A poem can absorb contradictory logics,
multiple tonalities, polyrhythms... —
There are relative degrees
or valences of impermeability that can be angled
against one another to create
interlinear or interphrasal gaps that act
like intervals in musical composition. (22)

In [SIC] the interplay between Howe’s verse couplets and proverse paragraphs narrated in the first-person (but for the exception of one passage), and moving back and forth between the past- and present tenses, creates for a reader, by virtue of the interruption, the kind of anti-absorptive experience that one experiences when coming up against a [SIC] in a cited passage. Bernstein continues:

Pushing further, impermeable elements may fuse together
dysraphically to create a hyperabsorptive textual
gravity in which the different originary elements
are no longer isolable. In this sense,
the absorbed & unabsorbed cleave,
since cleave means both to divide
& to hold together. (23)

As a result of these two battling forms of narrative found in the verse couplets and the proverse sections that are at once anti-absorptive and absorptive, impenetrable and engaging, a reader of [SIC] is continually drawn in and deflected onto trajectories outward and away from the story; that is, while the reader of both books is tossed out of the covers by the occluded narrative, the intoxicating beauty that is immediately evident on the surface of Howe’s language serves always only to draw the reader back in as s/he tries once again to construct a narrative from the rags. Indeed, the experience of reading both [SIC] and Forged recalls a certain jarring sensation felt when suddenly struck awake by a memory, a confrontation with history.

The problem that Howe’s work presents for a reader is that absorptive and anti-absorptive energies operate at the same time, drawing the reader in and out. As such, Howe’s reader, in the guise of detective, remains continuously in hot pursuit, trailing down her verse lines which, despite the semantic difficulty presented by their fragmented form, serve to suck a reader back into the vortex of the work by virtue of their suggested sexiness, for few could resist lines like: ‘I longed for a lick of the drip/  you left on the bottle’ or ‘I’d like to wet/  the gully where you upped your lips’ (n.p.). [4] The reader’s process-oriented experience with these works can therefore best be described by again citing May, who says in [SIC], ‘When I grabbed hold of things, they rejected me. There was at first a surfeit of angles. By now I know each one by heart.’ And since in both books any narrative impression is so fragmented, the reader, seduced by Howe’s language, turns the pages backward and forward again and again, almost in a state of reverie, to make a case for his or her response to the densely clue-laden texture of these texts.

I suggest then that from the very start, between the warp and weft of the writing, among a whole scattering of possible associations, Howe lays clues for the reader on an associative, intuitive level. Addressing this use of richly connotative diction, Howe says that ‘The serial poem reflects [her] sense of the spiral in all things, the curling around and back of act and thought, and the vertigo that this creates’ (‘Re: Query’). And elsewhere Howe describes: ‘In so many senses making these spiral, or serial poems, is very close to dream-construction, where we collect pieces of emotionally charged moments and see how they interact, outside of the usual story-like narrative’ (‘Bewilderment’ 62). Romana Huk further explains, ‘By having ‘no known goal’, Howe refuses the traditional ‘aesthetic’ role of creator or shaper, entering instead into the processes of ‘evolution’ with supplies she has chosen from her lexical inheritance’ (71). As a result of this serial application of richly connotative diction, Howe’s pieces are never explicit in making any specific connections for the reader; therefore, in order to avoid a post hoc fallacy, I will only suggest during the course of this essay that the texts utilize in nearly imperceptible ways, sound memories that readers, especially American readers, have of a shared (shattered?) history, a sick Puritan history, in order to cause readers to make certain associations between the sociopolitical conditions described in the fictive worlds of the texts and the ‘real’ world outside the ink and pages, a world in which we still in many ways embrace Puritan ideology. As an antidote to this history Howe anoints us with a kind of post-industrial Gnostic mysticism at the cusp of the millennium. In the otherwise open field of [SIC], certain clues create a specific link between the varied forms of oppression expressed by May, representing the common American woman, and the oppression endured by one or another of the women accused or tried for witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. And in Forged the reader experiences a shattering of connotation as if peering at the words through tempered glass, smashed, a web-like veil of fault-lines spreading across the window of the page. As we proceed, I offer here one among countless static readings of these books that flood intention desirous with simultaneity and flux; that is, I ask that my reader allow for merely a possibility of resonances as I dust for the smudges and prints left by Howe’s language.

It must be said at the outset that Fanny Howe’s concerns as a writer are unflinchingly experimental in nature; still, even though some of Fanny Howe’s work does appear in Ron Silliman’s anthology of avant-garde ‘language’ writing, In the American Tree, and in other ‘language-centered’ contexts such that she is often associated with the ‘language’ school, Howe cannot easily be termed a ‘language’ writer, for inherent in her program as a writer are two concerns that some members of the ‘language’ school would most probably reject: her works are always founded on the assumption that stories are fundamental to human experience, and her works are often mimetic in regard to religious subjects. ‘...Howe considers the human space of non-acquisitiveness and non-transgressiveness — one which she marks as that of  ‘the poor,’ referring to both the social condition and an orientation towards materiality — as that which interfaces with the otherness of the beyond-human’ (Huk 66). As Romana Huk next pointedly asserts, ‘Howe is able to translate the New Testament notion of God as servant, as ‘the least of our brothers/ sisters’, into the powerful unseen/ unnamed force that shapes the discursive world despite being excluded from it’ (72). And regarding Howe’s religious subject matter Huk continues, ‘...this is her vision of the incarnate God, the sacrificed Christ figure within language, the one into which faithful subjects also subsequently die in order that ‘others’ might live’ (76-77). Finally, to further situate Howe in a larger context, Huk offers us this:

She cannot take the transcendent position of the avant-garde poet erasing the lyric self from texts, nor can she take the transcendent position of negative theology as it supposes possibilities of kicking away the ladder of language en route to the ‘beyond’ of God, nor can she take the transcendent position of Derridean philosophers whose critique of language depends on their transhistorical view of it working from far above the mire of day-to-day necessities of taking or displacing one’s own stances within it. (78)

Despite Howe’s then somewhat tenuous relation to a certain avant-garde idiom, to linguistic theory, to ‘language’ writing, I would still like before proceeding further to engage a bit of a digression to present the poetics of some of these ‘language’ writers in order to situate Howe’s poetics in some sort of ‘experimental’ context.

When discussing the typical ‘language’ poet’s poetics (if such typicality can even be claimed), ‘language’ poet and critic, Michael Davidson, in an interview conducted in 1985, reveals much about Howe’s agenda for causing the reader to have such a process-oriented reading of the material which comes between the covers of this book, the closed brackets of the [SIC]. Davidson says in interview, ‘For language writers the poem generates itself, but it also produces a lot of difficult questions that tag on to the problem of meaning in the world in general’ (43); and describing the ‘language’ writer’s response to the linguistic structures of language that surround, he says, ‘...it’s an attempt to expose the fact that we do speak and communicate in predictable, logical patterns that perhaps govern what it is we can think...’ (39). It is at least in part Howe’s agenda in [SIC] and perhaps moreso in Forged to create the illusion of an authorless text that seems to generate itself, merely to present, as if unmediated, quietly unlocking the gates that bar the prison house of language despite, paradoxically, the difficulty that such works create for a reader.

Howe writes against a kind of ‘traditional’ and puritanical poetry made with the canonized assumption that the poet is seer and the reader is blind. The program for this kind of poetry is that ‘the poet is simply to transfer an unproblematic meaning to the reader. The reader of such poetry is supposed to accept it like eating the wafer in church’ (Davidson ‘Talking’ 39). Clearly, out of her densely woven language Howe operates in opposition to the mistaken assumption that, as Davidson states in the interview, ‘to be accessible is politically generous’ (46). Perhaps beginning to enable a reader to begin to come to terms with his or her dizzying experience while located in Howe’s lyric wordscape, May says in one of the proverse passages in [SIC]: ‘You understand nothing of your actual location but move around with a sense of uneasiness, because only motion itself can alleviate this anxiety which persists, no matter what names you choose to give it.’ It is as if the events of the narrative consist elsewhere, beyond the book, the page. Riding the rail of postmodernity, Howe’s texts — albeit to a lesser extent than, say, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée or Robert Grenier’s Sentences — blur the ‘conventions of genre, further troubling the categories’ upon which dominant ‘literary canonizations depend’ (Lowe 37). Hence we explore our difficulty with the work, our jittery excitement.

At a certain point Howe’s language begins to take on a life of its own, forcing the reader into an active role of writer, constructing narrative events, grasping for fragments, knotting stray strands, for in this writing, as if ‘...in the roundness of dreaming there is an acknowledgment of the beauty of plot, but a greater consciousness of randomness and uncertainty as the basic stock in which it is brewed’ (Howe ‘Bewilderment’ 42-3). As experimental poet Rae Armantrout writes in Chains: ‘...associations are neither transparent and direct nor arbitrary, but somewhere in between. One proceeds not without effort, wonder, and argument. Doubt and choice can coexist in the reader’s mind. For me this better corresponds to the character of daily experience’ ( 94). In this context, the word draws breath: ‘...my voice pretended to be me, the way each one of my thoughts begins in my mind but ends up out there...’ (Howe [SIC]); ‘a fiction as fixed as the crucifixion’ such that ‘...a self has no rights/ in relation to its words but bears false witness’ (Howe Forged 3, 4). In these works the sound that a line makes and the line that makes us sound are always only one and the same thing, one and the same sound. ‘The poem may be said to reside in disrupted, dilated, circulatory spaces, and it is the means by which one notates this provisional location that evokes and demonstrates agency — the ear by which the prosody by which to calibrate the liberative potential of writing, storehouse of the human’ (Kim 111). The political virtue of difficulty, looking at language as a thing — the word world as a tool to construct perception:

Poets ‘do’ things with words, as do readers and listeners, both acts grounded in the fact that words are themselves things, ‘objects,’ ‘material,’ ‘phenomena’ as such. The shapes of letters in words and the music of those shapes read aloud are intimately engaged in the production of lexical meaning, which is itself different from yet inextricably bound to whatever any poem can be said or thought to ‘mean.’ (Ratcliffe ‘Sound’ 147)

When applied to literature, this concept is usually not so pressing; when discussing, say, political rhetoric or advertising, our very souls are at stake. From an idealistic point of view, Howe’s work tenuously fulfills the promise of the ‘language’ experiment of the 1970s and ’80s, for inviting a reader to make way through such difficulty, through the inner-mechanisms of poetry, may in fact somehow paradoxically bring about the ability in the political arena to wrest power away from our oppressors and thus see what they are up to, as readers come to terms with the fact that ‘they,’ [5] through their use of persuasive rhetoric, continually create texts that work against us by appealing to our sense of intellectual or aesthetic pleasure which, more often than not, can be turned into a means of strengthening, justifying, or concealing a someone’s hidden agenda. These little books then expose the myth of individual identity, engaging with feminism, Marxism, and Gnosticism from an untold number of perspectives. Through the gaze of history these works invite us to ask the pressing question: ‘What is English now, in the face of mass global migrations, ecological degradations, shifts and upheavals in identifications of gender and labor? What are the implications of writing at this moment, in precisely this “America”?’ (Kim 110). For the detective in pursuit, detail is everything; the word and the world begin to merge.


‘...So long shall Christians be born there; and being first made meet, shall from thence be Translated, to be made partakers of the Inheritance of the Saints of Light.’
from Phænomena quædam Apocalyptica ad Aspectum
Novi Orbis configurata
. Samuel Sewell, 1697

Though we have thus far been considering both books in tandem, let us now begin the closer part of our analysis with [SIC], with an example of how this anti-absorptive, fragmented work contains within it an absorptive density, an almost prison-like tightness of language. This can be best illustrated by describing the kind of detective-like process that a reader wanting to experience this writing at its fullest must engage, dictionary in hand. I’ll begin by discussing some various absorptive resonances and relevant connotations present in a single unifying thread in the piece: the connotatively rich word, the name of ‘May.’

Howe frames the symbolic system of the word world of [SIC] with the closed brackets of feminine articulation in a patriarchal economy of signs; the closed brackets of the spirit trapped unfulfilled in a body mad with desire; and the closed brackets of the Gnostic’s belief in the illusory quality of life on Earth where the innocent find existent in living that Hell is already inescapably everywhere. The narrative lay submerged somewhere in the leading just beyond the reader’s ability to apprehend, wedged in the material between the letters, words, paragraphs, stanzas on the previous or following page. To inform a reading of this seemingly infinite concatenation of closed brackets, Michael Davidson writes about narrative frames:

These frames are read not only at the level of structure but at the level of historical understanding insofar as we all participate, however unwittingly, in a story over which we have no control. ‘Breaking the frame’ is not some kind of avant-gard nihilism; it is a way of ‘reading’ the nature of framing itself. (‘Framed’ 77)

As such, Howe’s speaker/ protagonist in [SIC] is given permission to voice a response to these entrapping narrative frames which surround her by admitting: ‘There was NO WAY OUT of anywhere.’

It as if we find ‘[t]he self like a little reflecting plate trying to catch the image of that original. The tragedy (‘original sin’) of arrival in such alienated territory. A whole life spent trying to get the cut right, into the First, before it is too late, and one flies loose forgotten’ (Howe ‘Re: Re: Query’).

If we open Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, we find that the word ‘may’ derives from the Middle English ‘mey’ and the Old French ‘mei’ and has some association with ‘Maia,’ the goddess of increase. The word is probably also a merging with the Anglo Saxon ‘mæg’ which means ‘kinswoman’ or ‘woman.’ It is also a cognate of the Anglo Norman form of Old Norman ‘mær’ which means ‘girl’ or ‘maiden.’ Thus, on one level at least, the word archaically means ‘maiden’ and as such is apropos in its ironic naming of a female character who, as Howe writes, because she has been placed in ‘The sucker’s position’ has been made ‘into the Huck of women.’ Further, the suggestion that May is a maiden is made even more ironic as Howe’s use of double-entendre implies May’s subservient role in society as giver of fellatio to men: ‘You see I move/ lips down, sucking up, the green bottle/ shakes cockily.’ Too, note here, by virtue of a metonymic transpositioning of the vowels ‘U’ and ‘I,’ the phonic resonance the word ‘suck’ has with the title, [SIC]. This transpositioning of letters carries a direct correlation made between May’s sickness, which will be discussed in detail below, and her position as a sucker in a patriarchal society. Note as well the homophonic relationship that these vowels bear to the second- and first-person pronouns, ‘you’ and ‘I,’ a gesture which opens the possibility that ‘where the ‘you’ and the ‘I’ are no longer clear, there is much to be hopeful about the lyric in the beginning of the twenty-first century’ (Rankin and Spahr 13).

Further, ‘may’ also connotes ability, power, or permission as in ‘You may go,’ or possibility or likelihood as in ‘It may rain’ and is used in offering a wish, hope, or prayer as in ‘May you go in peace.’ The word is often used interchangeably with the word ‘might’ as in ‘We might not have the strength to proceed.’ These connotations of permission, possibility, wishing, and strength are then highly ironic, given the fact that a reader learns through a series of oblique references that ‘they...laughing like trolley tracks threw [May] in jail’ where, being held captive, she ‘lies in her cell and pretends she’s in a courtyard.’ May says of this prison, ‘These places were built with me in mind, just as the projects, welfare offices, unemployment lines, Bible schools and homeless shelters were.’

Finally, the word ‘may’ connotes the fifth month of the year situated between the springtime of life and the warmth of oncoming summer in the Northern Hemisphere, a great irony amidst the overall oppressive weight of this chilly piece. There are festivities on the first day of May, May Day, [6] on which is crowned a May Queen; and more recently — and certainly germane to [SIC] — the day has marked an international labor holiday of American origin begun by the I.W.W. (a.k.a., ‘the Wobblies’) which is observed in many countries by parades and demonstrations. [7]

The reader thus ties together the clues, emotively positive and negative connotations resonating back and forth simultaneously, detailing May’s story more completely, the composite of her character in the ‘real’: May is a woman, a sucker; as she is in prison, it seems that issues of permission and strength are important to her; she has been a blue collar worker; she is in distress; it is spring time; she listens to Motown. And having come this far, I will begin to return more directly now to my earlier discussion of a subtle connection between the character, May, and our Puritan history.

Turning the pages of the book back to the beginning, back to the title, a connection can now be drawn here with the way the title is a pun on the word ‘sick.’ It is shown in the text that May is afflicted with a sickness, an existence, that is necessarily incurable; this sickness is however an infirmity which everyone as language users, especially women, necessarily shares. Illustrating the sickening incarceration common to everyone, especially women, May says, ‘I wish I could tell my sister how sore my stomach is, how my skin itches, but she doesn’t write me anymore, now that she’s in prison too.’ As feminist critic, Toril Moi, summarizing Julia Kristeva’s account of subjectivity and language, states, ‘We have to accept our position as already inserted into an order that proceeds us and from which there is no escape. There is no other space from which we can speak: if we are able to speak at all, it will have to be within the framework of symbolic language’ (170).

Writing about the symbolic language which he argues brought about the breakdown of the kind of dominant ideology that created witch hunts in England, Keith Thomas writes of the change that began to happen toward the end of the seventeenth century in the individual’s relationship to evil. He claims that the interpretation of the Devil as a symbolic figure was ‘becoming more acceptable in orthodox circles,’ and continues:

The metaphorical interpretation of the demonic possessions in the New Testament was also gaining ground. ‘To have a devil’ explained a writer in 1676, ‘was a kind of phrase or form of speech.’ ...These trends were emphasized by the tendency of many seventeenth century intellectuals to question the existence of Hell as a localized place of physical torment, and to re-interpret it symbolically as a state of mind, an inner-hell. (160)

In the Puritan era, supposed dæmonic possession was named ‘Maleficium’ and equated with illness. Thomas goes on to discuss how it became increasingly difficult ‘to distinguish maleficium from natural illness,’ thus leading to an increasing inability to definitively accuse women of dæmonic possession (162). This is obviously most interesting to me. At a time when superstition was increasingly replaced by reason, the language changed in tandem with that ideological change; indeed, the culture for its very existence increasingly relied upon reason, the reason out of which much of the American governmental system is forged; yet, despite these linguistic changes toward the rational, the sickness with which women were afflicted has remained, to a large extent, unchanged. An articulate woman is a sick woman, a mistake, and is to be contained.

Despite the fact that in our own age of secular Humanism it is claimed that reason is embraced above all else, Howe’s speaker/ protagonist, having realized at some time prior to the beginning of her narrative the falsity of any claim to a steadfast empiricism, speaks of the unreasonable treatment which she, and by extension all women, continues to endure: ‘If a warden looks at you and makes you feel guilty by that look, you are allergic to authority.’ Indeed this truism finally suggests an illness that everyone, men and women alike, shares in common. Peering back at this country’s early Puritan history, Joyce Bednarski writes:

There is also the possibility that the Salem witch trials served as nothing more than a valve by which the community let off steam. They adopted the desperate piety and sense of impending doom from late medieval religion, but rejected the festivities and color which softened the harshness of that theology. As the pressure built up, the society looked for a release, and it pounced on the first opportunity — the witch trials. (198)

The women accused of witchcraft were only scapegoats for larger crises of faith in the community and, as I see it, the trials were an event which hastened the end of the Puritan era and ushered in a new age of supposed reason. Yet despite this softened theology and look toward reason, we come no closer to naming the craziness with which Native Americans and Blacks have been treated throughout this country’s entire history. This country, despite its declarations of ‘liberty and justice for all,’ needs it seems an ‘Other’ (an Iraq, an Al-Queda, etc.) in order to survive, for in supreme bad faith these Humanist ideals of liberty and justice only take on any real meaning against a backdrop of their opposites.

May says that she had ‘a record of “incendiary ideals”’ and, giving some insight into the anarchistic nature of her unnamed crime, she says, ‘Find an enlightened criminal and I will show you a potential revolutionary.’ And discussing Kristeva’s concept of marginality, Toril Moi writes:

The working class is potentially revolutionary because it is indispensable to the capitalist economy, not because it is marginal to it. In the same way women are central — not marginal — to the process of reproduction. It is precisely because the ruling order cannot maintain the status quo without the continued exploitation and oppression of [women] that it seeks to mask their economic role by marginalizing them on the cultural, ideological and political levels. (171)

In obverse response to the above societal condition noted by Moi, May rails against the corrupt capitalist wielders of authority, and the police who arrested her, when she tells us:

They are the winners out there, ambitious to a point where only their flesh and blood matters. Nothing is lower than a white collar criminal but that is what they are. They came into my apartment armed with warrants. Red light, two cars, deep blue flashes. It was hell.

Also, May tells us of a man (her lover) with whom she once drove, who told her, ‘Where a broken line meets heartbeats along the mount to solitude, lift up your fist for freedom in the five-fingered light.’ Women are still required to fight, for they are still scapegoats, and though they are no longer accused falsely of witchcraft, they are still, as May says, at the mercy of ‘the officers’ who ‘decide if you are worthy or not — that is, sick enough — to receive this favor’ of ‘the tender touches of a nurse.’ The definition of the illness has changed but the illness remains.

Having amassed so many clues, the reader returns again to the first page of the book where May says that ‘Mayflowers in the Cape woods were pink and shivering.’ The image brought with the word ‘Mayflower’ absorbs the attention, but then attention is drawn away from the page as the reader recalls that ‘Mayflower’ is the name of the ship that brought to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in 1620, the first settlers of America, the Puritans, who hoped for the promise of a new beginning in America, the land of freedom and possibility. Here, Howe’s hegemonic language brings the reader to create most directly an associative relationship between the seventeenth century Puritans of Massachusetts and the character, May.

Evidenced by the fact that May says that she, perhaps in a time prior to her imprisonment, called her ‘boyfriend in Queens,’ let’s assume that May may hail from New Jersey. Further, when May says that ‘Mayflowers in the Cape woods were pink and shivering,’ let’s assume that the woods of which she speaks are not on Cape Cod but on Cape May, in New Jersey. By serendipity we have stumbled on page 42 of ‘Bewilderment’ upon a further clue regarding Fanny Howe’s concerns at the center of this book: ‘I would have to say that something like the wave and the particle theories troubled the poetics of my pages: how can two people be in two places simultaneously?’ Therefore, while the reader reads the word ‘Mayflower’ and thinks of the Puritans and Massachusetts, the reader is simultaneously led to locate May in New Jersey, and the connection is made between the seventeenth century Puritans of Cape Cod and the character, May, in a contemporary New Jersey.

The word ‘Mayflower’ also denotes one of any various plants that flower in white, yellow, or pink, usually during the month of May or in early spring, and may also be called in America, an ‘anemone’ or ‘windflower,’ or in England, a ‘hawthorn’ or cowslip. Howe writes that the Mayflowers were ‘the size of snowdrops,’ and she writes that ‘Pink is hidden, yellow is prison.’ Apart from the fact that all of this mention of flora creates for the reader an ambient setting of springtime on the American east coast against which to juxtapose the gloomy story of May’s imprisonment, an interesting thing to note is that the word ‘anemone’ is from the Greek word ‘anemos’ which means ‘wind,’ and ‘anemnesis’ means ‘inspiration.’ These two words connote at once a corporeal indwelling of the Divine (a Divine madness which is necessary for the making of sagacious, artistic utterance), and an empty, arrogant persiflage (as in being puffed up, or ‘blowing hot air’). Alluding to her hayfever, May speaks of the wind, mentioning the ‘gales of hay laughing and rolling down the meadows outside in the wind.’ May also says of the sneeze-like quality of her arrest, her containment: ‘One day — BLAM to all my hopes,’ and she says, ‘I felt like a face in a towel, confused, soiled.’ Inspiration has become an illness, an allergy, and ultimately a crime.

The history of feminine utterance, especially artistic, is at stake here. If a woman dare make an artistic utterance, men run to the rescue of her virtue, claiming that she has arrogantly overstepped the bounds of propriety. As a result, these same men, wrenched with fear, contain and marginalize the woman who is in ‘danger.’ Or, the articulator is dismissed as mad, or of no consequence. The Salem witch hunt is not too far off; tragedy is rising with the wind. Indeed, as Joyce Bednarski writes:

The Salem witch-scare began quietly and gradually in the home of Reverend Samuel Parris, minister in the local church. Several of the young girls of the village had taken a liking to listening to Parris’s colored domestic servant, Tituba, tell stories of the supernatural which she had learned in Barbados.... At what point this harmless pastime turned into the tragic action which was to sweep the community, no one knows.... By the end of the winter, several of the children began to suffer from a strange malady. They would, for no apparent reason, fall into convulsions, scream inhumanly, and engage in other extraordinary behavior. (191)

If Howe’s reader, searching for clues, makes certain inductive and deductive leaps and associations, there emerges the collaged image of poor, pathetic May, overcome with fitful, convulsive sneezing, as a result of breathing in the pollinated air of spring; overcome even by the dæmonic spirit; and is thus thought to be dangerous by those who are the products of the same Puritan ideology responsible for persecuting the women at the Salem witch trials in 1692. Repeating history, May is cast out of society, even killed. As Howe writes in the anti-absorptive verse fragments that come near the end of her book: ‘I see your past/  steps, witness from one chair/  and note an electric/ you in sequence.’ We find here May’s death sentence not as an antiquated decree to be hung in the gallows of Puritan New England, but given as a modernized judgment to be executed in the electric chair: the death sign directing the contemporary American judicial system.

All of these accounts then lead the reader by inference to construct the character of the speaker/ protagonist, May, an intelligent woman of meager economic means who, living in New Jersey with Marxist ideals intact, is — by virtue of her gender, indeed her very existence as a sexually active female in a puritanical country — a subversive, a revolutionary. She has as a result, through no fault of her own, been pronounced unfit for life in society. May, a woman with an allergy, an allergy to authority, has during the month of May (perhaps, on the first of May) been incarcerated, held in captivity, held between structures of authority and an exhausting awe at the springing forth of life, a life of which she cannot, try as she may, partake. May tells us of the smug voices of authority that she hears clamoring about her always: ‘...you CHOSE to get pregnant twice. You CHOSE to get bored in the factory. You CHOSE to drop out of school. It’s no one’s fault you ended up here, so why complain?’ Why, indeed. ‘Though political reality (the fact that patriarchy defines women and oppresses them accordingly) still makes it necessary to campaign in the name of women, it is important to recognize that in this struggle a woman cannot be: she can only exist negatively, as it were, through her refusal of that which is given’ (Moi 163).

That is, in a primarily masculinist system of signs, a system which lives in fear of losing its authority as a result of the woman’s ability to reproduce, the best way to maintain the authority of the status quo; the best way to stave off chaos and death is still to eradicate women, especially excluding them from, most dangerous of all, feminine articulation. May accepts her lot, if equivocally in tone, and claims, alluding at once to the title of the book and to the implicit theological critique that inheres this narrative, ‘Now I AM a mistake.’ [8] Note here the irony in the punning relationship between ‘I AM’ and ‘iamb.’ Then, proving the mistake of the iamb we find a kind of iamb-spondee combination in the bacchic, ‘Now I AM.’ Then, after a caesura we find an anapest in ‘a mistake,’ which functions as a kind of mirroring of that first rather ungainly bacchic, all of which function to highlight vis-à-vis juxtaposition the words ‘I AM’ and ‘mistake,’ bespeaking a terrible sacrilege. The sound is repeated, the word made flesh in a mirroring tautology that reflects this rather ideologically dangerous and anti-absorptive line, paradoxically, back into an absorptive rhythm of necessary containment, so that the word can simultaneously and perpetually burst out and make a break for it, busted and laughing. [9]

The composite of May’s character thus completed allows for May to say, ‘Where I am is one thing, but where I am NOT is bigger. The real difficulty is seeing what you are not doing.’ This book is ultimately a utopian project and, ironically in this case, as a result of the astonishing success of its carefully crafted form, the book, like all utopian projects, fails. In other words, while on the one hand this book is an absorptive and most uncommon lyric presentation of a most common story about a woman, it is on the other hand primarily an anti-absorptive, difficult language event, for in the end ‘May’ is a word first, richly connotative, weighty; that is, the word ‘May’ is an opaque thing in itself first, and then second a transparent vehicle of a fictive narrative. The writer of this book would like to believe in Paradise, would like to believe in the masses: ‘...this indeterminable number of blended voices, this mobile of non-identified sexual marks whose choreography can carry, divide, multiply the body of each “individual” whether he be classified as “man” or “woman” according to the criteria of usage’ (Moi 173).

Though the trouble with this book, and this goes for almost all ‘language’ writing, is that in its supposed attempt to empower and engage a reader, it in fact presents that reader with such overwhelming possibility, such impermeable difficulty of form, that it undoes its itself (unwittingly?), never realizing its agenda; for although the focus of the text is the fictive blue collar speaker/ protagonist, May, the book would, I suggest, become too difficult for many ‘working people’ to navigate. This is not Danielle Steele. Imagine the difficult reading experience that this book would present to a typical reader (one who is the mother of twins, who leaves the television on, who has a problem with addiction, who holds down two jobs and eats supper from the microwave while fearing what life would be like as a single parent after she leaves that sonofabitch who hit her in the face last night), especially in the context that Marjorie Perloff describes regarding:

...when [she] recently gave an invited lecture to the Engineering Honors Club at the University of Southern California on the topic of ‘What is Poetry?’ [Perloff] learned that most of these juniors and seniors — high I.Q. students, all of them — had never read any poetry and couldn’t cite the name of a single poet. (n.p.)

And I would argue, based on my experience as both a writer and teacher at CSU, Hayward, an arguably more ‘working-class’ institution than USC, that Perloff’s assessment is not far off the mark as a fair generalization for the entire country. In such a context, we need to question the relevance to ‘the average reader,’ even in university, of Howe’s perhaps central questions in this work: Can gender ever really be expunged, collapsed? Can genre? That is, it is unlikely that any but the most experienced of sleuths (those to be found in Howe’s fiction, say) — ‘women and children, and even the occasional man,’ who consciously and deliberately ‘rushed backwards and forwards within an irreconcilable set of imperatives’ (Howe ‘Bewilderment’ 41) — would be able to respond to this work with anything but a too deep sigh of exhaustion. In fact, I can imagine that even the most well-to-do Harvard gruaduate would in the end have perhaps insurmountable trouble with this book, for it goes against the grain of some widely shared cultural assumptions of what a poem is, what a poem should do, what the experience of reading should be like. This text, as a characteristic piece of ‘language’ writing, challenges habits of attention to such a degree that many a reader would respond to it mistakenly with the confession, ‘I can’t read this,’ or ‘I don’t get it,’ or ‘this is nonsense.’

What the cause of this impediment is I cannot say for certain. I can only offer the supposition that writing has always been concomitant with the creation of cities and empires: the integration of large numbers of individuals into a political system, and their grading into castes or classes. Such, at any rate, is the typical pattern of development to be observed from Egypt to China at the time when writing first emerged: writing seems to have favored the exploitation of human beings rather than their enlightenment. This exploitation, which made it possible to assemble thousands of workers and force them to carry out exhausting and inhumane tasks, is the fulcrum upon which civilization rests; that is, the fact is that the primary function of written communication has always been to facilitate a master-slave relationship between authors and audiences, between those who sell the material of consciousness and those who buy it, between those who are empowered and those who are disenfranchised. And it is this fact that Fanny Howe is up against.

But this criticism is offered almost in a whisper, for what Howe presents to a reader is poetry; and true poetry, let it be said in the utmost Puritan spirit, is best when gotten to by hard work. One may draw a comparison here to, say, James Joyce’s Ulysses, a book which is highly artificial, nearly impossible for most readers, bearing no resemblance at all to anything ‘real’ or familiar; yet, ironically, despite the difficulty, after the first hundred pages or so Leopold Bloom, Joyce’s protagonist, all but gets up off the page and walks around, for the book, like so much contemporary poetry, is ‘...more like life than life itself, whose predictability and hence coherence is often, barring accident, all too obvious’ (Ratcliffe ‘Listening’ 141). Indeed, by the end of the book, chapter eighteen, ‘Penelope’ (by now eighteen hours into June 14th, 1904), Dublin, Ireland, flickers ‘real’ before the reader’s eyes, a reader who has spent weeks, months (years?) struggling though this document of hard work; and when Leopold’s darling, Molly, rants sexy and undone for thirty-six unpunctuated pages, I can’t think of a reader who would not be quaveringly moved, Joyce’s Molly permanently etched into memory, by her closing words:

...how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will yes. (643-44)

And like Molly, May, before her silencing, defiantly takes up the pen, giving everlasting life to her voice. Though May’s voice is ultimately stilled by death, she gives birth to herself through the enduring materiality of ink on the page. Fanny Howe closes her book with an open letter composed by May which is addressed to ‘Mama’:

Mama, do push-ups and thank you for the sardines and crackers — and cigarettes. But I won’t be a good girl ever. You know that. When poverty comes in at the door, please leap out the window. I miss you but I’ve got to say I never knew where the value of my life really lay until it was too late, away, small as the stars inside my cosmic gaze. Signed May.

With the above letter a case for the freeing knowledge of writing is solidly made. May, like a true Gnostic, says to all women: ‘I say, Solid God, let them know that they are serving time, too, only they don’t know why.’ The only power, the only salvation, the only freedom, is in the acquiescence of knowing. ‘Poverty of spirit means lack of hubris and a non-aggressive approach to the world’ (Howe ‘Re: Re: Query’). And it is that belief, that faith, which remains the spectral aspect of Fanny Howe’s attraction.


The zoetrope...uses the persistence of motion principle to create an illusion of motion. It consists of a simple drum with an open top, supported on a central axis. A sequence of hand-drawn pictures on strips of paper are placed around the inner bottom of the drum. Slots are cut at equal distances around the outer surface of the drum, just above where the picture strips were to be positioned. To create an illusion of motion, the drum is spun; the faster the rate of spin, the smoother the progression of images. A viewer can look through the wall of the zoetrope from any point around it, and see a rapid progression of images. Because of its design, more than one person could use the zoetrope at the same time.
—from Zoetrope (on the Internet), William George Horner, 1834. See Works Cited, below.

How to talk about lacunae, to give voice to the ineluctable, standing on the limnal of what we can think and say in an attempt to let ‘others’ speak? Fanny Howe strives to show us that language, besides a framer of history, is a meaning-making object in itself, not a transparent veil through which we peer at the objects of the world. Consider as an analogy the popular myth that audiences of the first films had to learn gradually that a sequence of images on-screen equaled a narrative, some viewers even shocked at first that the locomotive that appeared to be bearing straight down on them was in fact nothing but light and shade projected. At first, it seems many may have seen these images as discrete and isolated from one another. Over time, however, audiences came to understand moving pictures as representations, a concatenation of such amounting to fluid narrative. From a slightly different angle, I imagine that the first viewers of images on the walls of caves (if in fact there ever were such viewers) didn’t necessarily understand that the buffalo-looking thing on the wall was a representation of the angry animal in real-time. Or perhaps the image was meant to be understood not as a representation at all, but instead inside a completely different paradigm as something ‘other’ made in worshipful reverence to the gods of the hunt. Perhaps the trouble is that over time this worshipful reverence of the material world that may have once been the goal of art has been forgotten, audiences becoming gradually and variously complacent. We, these many centuries later, have now forgotten to take note of the spectral in the common.

Let us then generalize that, on some level, as the culture proceeds through history, as passivity and entropy set in, members of a reading culture increasingly take representation and narrative as fact, audiences for example supporting a wicked and violent action taken against a sovereign nation in part because Colin Powell says that the fuzzy black and white images projected on a screen are actual satellite photos of ‘weapons of mass destruction.’ Fanny Howe, tenuously situated as a member of the avant-garde, is starkly keen to this derailment. Thus, she steadfastly maintains as a lyric poet that the painting of the tree as a green leafy thing outside the window is somehow false and simplistic, that the word ‘tree’ stops the action of the object that we experience in the ‘real’ world and therefore does not do it justice. As such, Howe in her work has a pedagogical, even Messianic, agenda: She wants to help get the culture back on-track, to jump tracks in order to get to the other side, de-mystifying the act of reading; she wants her readers to unlearn their lazy habits, to become more like writers, distinguishing with intention, deliberation, between signifier and signified.

Discussing her preference for reading Howe and writers of her ilk, Rae Armantrout tells us that:

The work I like best sees itself and sees the world. It is ambi-centric, if you will. The writers I like are surprising, revelatory. They bring the underlying structures of language/ thought into consciousness. They spurn the facile. Though they generally don’t believe in the Truth, they are scrupulously honest about the way word relates to word, sentence to sentence. (‘Why’ 546)

This generalization seems a particularly helpful description of what is involved in reading Howe. Howe hopes in her work to get closer to actual experience by rejecting simple representation, suggesting that actual life in the Diaspora is in fact much more complex and difficult and mysterious than a simple story of a green leafy thing blowing in the wind; that a tree is in fact impossible to capture, ever, in all of its beauty and history and biology and weather and existence in time and space; that the very desire to capture the tree in the first place is somehow wrong-headed. The tree and the buffalo and the cast image of the animal, the plant, are creations of the godhead to be approached with worshipful awe as we read in Howe’s system the audible call of ‘this’ and story about ‘this’ in response, vibrating.

On the one hand, for Howe, writing which is not overtly representational, which rejects narrative, in fact comes closer through difficulty to revealing actual experience, in fact does some actual degree of justice to things as they are in themselves. Or perhaps, on the other hand, Howe just doesn’t even bother the things in the first place, simply and worshipfully letting the things be as they are, the poem created then simply existing as yet another thing in a concatenated population of things already underway. Howe’s work in Forged therefore represents an attempt at an absolute democracy of de-mystified readers of things.

Still, Howe hardly lets us forget that strangely her work is made in historically mediated response to the declaration of John Winthrop, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony: ‘...in all times some must be rich, some poore, some highe and eminent in power and dignitie; others meane and in subjection’ (Qtd. in Zinn 48). Is Winthrop right, despite Howe’s utopian hopes? If few in a readership are ‘highe and eminant’ enough to understand, what good is the democracy? Does that democracy then simply become the strong-armed clatter of an elite fascist brigade? But whence comes the impediment to ‘understanding?’ Why do so many audiences throw up their hands at an avant-garde? Do we forget that we have two separate discourses: one of utility and one of art? That is, in order to get by in life at this particular moment in history, one has to be able to say: ‘Please pass me the salt,’ and then one can reasonably expect a beaker of sharply tasting, white mineral grains to be placed in one’s hand. If one however were inspired to say, ‘The white, the so white and the bleak to me my food should taste the birds unless,’ one could expect either to be ignored or locked up somewhere safe, the disparate discourses of the quotidian and the artistic, if such a distinction exists, having collapsed into a chaos of wild aesthetics to be feared, even erased. One thinks here of, say, the fool or Seer in Greek tragedy, that one enigmatic character who speaks the truth that none of the other characters (even sometimes the audience) can interpret. Or rather, is it all simply a matter of historical relativity? That is, is it possible that what is an avant-garde use of language now will become mainstream in time? In light of these questions, Howe is interested in a social praxis that engages readers in an enabling dialectic of discovery with texts in pleasure. Poetry, for Howe, promises the right sounds whispered sweetly enough in ears waiting to hear.

Pondering the relationship between [SIC] and Forged, Howe writes in an email: ‘I see that they both deal with imprisonment, motion as an antidote to that, female concerns with children and money, and the way the soul is Forged by the physical world.’ Forged is a book that comes eleven years after [SIC]; it is a book which is located between ‘...the two fundamental life views that coexist in many of us. That is the materialist-atheist view and the invisible believing view’ (‘Bewilderment’ 49). The Puritans left England to escape religious oppression, sailing to the New World to build a new society, a society that ultimately collapsed under the weight of its own oppressive paranoia, and it is to England that we return in Forged. As we proceed toward conclusion, considering Forged more closely, we will focus on the connotatively rich title, and on Howe’s reliance upon a highly musical word association as means to generate the words, a strategy which operates parallel to her use of repetition, specifically as it informs her sense of line and stanzaic arrangement, and word choice.

The detective, still looking for clues, opens the covers of this mysterious little book. As it pertains to the title of that book, let us begin again by considering the following aspect of Howe’s process: ‘Spotting word-associations and what their sounds suggest and prove about the “point” of this emergent poem forces me to remove my body from the action; to let the words write the words’ (‘Bewilderment’ 61). This book, itself based on the notion of travel, of movement, even from the moment of its title, spreads horizontally, outward, in rivulets of ramification; or sounds vertically in layers of meaning. ‘Trains made me happy,’ Howe divulges in a March 2001 interview with Daniel Kane, ‘and even now I feel most at rest in motion. On my way’ (Poets Chat, on the Internet; see Works Cited, below.).

This focus on travel interests me here; in fact, Howe’s poems set the record straight on the notion of going. Take for example the simple act of traveling to the grocery store. If someone were to ask a person who had just come from the store what they had done, that person would likely respond with something like ‘Oh, nothing. I just went to the store’ when in fact a godzillion number of things had actually come about. Take for example the simple act of pulling out of the driveway on the way to the store: One unlocks the car door, sits in the seat, wonders if the house door is shut, shuts the car door, feels anxious over the deadline of the grant proposal on the desk at work, adjusts the mirrors — ‘Hit that fly!’ and turns over the ignition, releases the break, changes into Reverse, ‘Did she get the oil changed like I...’ and touches the accelerator, checking for obstacles in the path, the brain instantly reversing and adjusting to images in a mirror while — ‘Remember that time...’ — making slight adjustments with the hands, ‘The Grants, dinner tonight with the Grants,’ changes into Drive, ‘What the...!’ and checks a pocket, again, for the shopping list, the radio — ‘I hate that one...’ — as we fly, ah, my fly, the end of the film sputtering through the machine, the wow and flutter, and on the screen we see white flashes of light, a little red, the splash of numbers, the half-visage of a naked woman, seconds of pleasure as the stereo pops, the needle drug across the sketch the odor in the memory of something beyond seconds the minutae insecticide in a brain under attack to yield in shutters afraid of childhood sudden and shivery beyond asleep drive, drive... Howe’s writing attempts to reflect this more honest, more ‘real’ presentation of the quotidian in time, in memory; to sound a Divine order in the muck that is a sentient internal monologue of the quotidian. Objects, ideas, language colliding.

Howe’s pages appear as if thought in motion, words in motion more like — what? — ice that has built up on a pond over the winter, and as the spring approaches, the ice reaches a point — all at once — when it cracks and splinters and fingers out into a scatter of veins, shattered possibilities just below the surface. Yet the ice as a whole remains in tact, frozen, still. It’s just that at a certain point Nature tensing to spring allows us to peer into this clear glaze, the sun glinting off a fracture of geometric patterns. Now, with this certain slant of light we can look in and see the moving waters below, drip dropping, forming. And if we were to stand on this ice, delicate, frigid; if we were to trouble this ice at all, it would collapse beneath — the beauty, splash! And we’d never be seen again... This ‘hands off’ approach to her own work, this awe-struck communion with language, begins in fact to get at what is meant by the term ‘realistic,’ witnessed as we begin to examine the connotations of the title, Forged. Howe explains in ‘Bewilderment’ her own sense of inspiration:

First I receive the impression of a time period as an experience of pure language, glimpses of actions, emotions and weathers. I jot down whatever comes through — in a rush of words.

Then I begin to see what is being said and to see it as it unfolds, as if from afar and sometimes I actually stand at a distance from the words that are there....

Literally it is like watching someone else take form in the dark and I am weirdly disassociated from the action, an observer, a voyeur, though all the objects in the room, and the body, are familiar, are even ‘mine.’ (61)

I want to begin with taking note of the word ‘mine’ in the previous passage, a word which Howe has herself placed in quotes. Clearly uncomfortable with possessing language, for such possession violates her politics, Howe is simply aware that attempts at claims to colonize or control language are un-real and suspect. One must approach language with humility, for language can raise the spirits or be used to bury the dead. The word ‘mine,’ in fact, if we delve into layers of connotation found in the pages of the Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, not only suggests the possessive form of ‘I’ used predicatively, but is also both a verb for ‘an excavation made in the earth for the purpose of getting out ores, precious metals, stones, coal, etc.,’ and a noun for the place where such minerals may be obtained. Not unhappily, and purely by serendipity, this noun/ verb connotation within ‘mine’ resonates with ‘forged,’ which is both a noun that signifies a sort of fireplace or furnace where such mined metal is heated before shaping and a verb to signify the act of shaping that metal into a form. Here then the pounding action of forming metal into shape functions as a representative metaphor for writing, the manhandling of ‘...the difficult unruliness of language that has been the lyric’s territory since its origins’ (Rankine and Spahr 5). It is as if, even if by serendipity, Howe can’t help but work language in irony and paradox that absorbs, melds and settles, outward.

We should note that ‘forged’ is in the past tense, taking us out of the immediate moment and locating us in the pages of history, which works to expose language as an object, in that when the word is placed in the past the grammar may become slightly more apparent to the reader; whereas, if Howe had simply kept the word in the transparent present, the grammar would remain essentially invisible. In addition, the origin of ‘forge’ is unknown. Thus, it is a word without a past history, or at least a history that is beyond our ken. As we shuffle through the papers in her workshop for some sort of break, Howe insightfully informs us that ‘...ultimately [she] see[s] the whole body of work as existing all but untitled and without beginning or end, an explosion of parts, the quotidian smeared’ (‘Bewilderment’ 63). The word maintains a kind of continuous present, or perhaps occupies a kind of aporia, outside of time.

Further, in common usage one makes a forgery either of one’s signature or of a work of art, and it is thus difficult to think of forgery outside of an economic context. The title of this book because of the economic resonance of ‘forge’ seems to call the value of the book, as a forgery, into question. The name used to inscribe the true identity of both the book and its maker is thus construed as a falsehood, further calling into question the relationship between maker and object: ‘Personality likewise imitates/ fakery like this’ (Howe Forged 14).

Looking still longer at ‘forged’ as a word, we witness this movement from ‘impression’ to ‘unfold[ing]’ that Howe describes above. The word suggests the act of writing insofar as it connotes making something that resonates with the fact discussed elsewhere in this essay that the word ‘poet’ comes from the Ancient Greek word for ‘maker’ or ‘forger.’ Paradoxically though, ‘forger,’ the noun, simultaneously connotes one who does not in fact create but only copies; or rather, the word suggests a ‘creator of false tales,’ a fiction writer. In this regard, the title of this book calls into question the very act of writing itself, since all language, at least all mimetic language, is a forgery insofar as the signifier is but a copy of the signified. As such, built into such mimetic writing is failure, for Thing A can never be Thing B, try as it may. Thus, Howe on some level concedes right up front, in the title of her book, the inadequacy of the project, for all language is — no matter what — at least on some level mimetic, a forgery; yet, in so doing Howe simultaneously throughout the book exposes language as a thing, revealing her humility as a language participant, a poet, thereby illustrating her defiant will toward honoring the sanctity and awesome beauty of words in the world. Howe wants as little to do with the making of this book as is possible.

Thus we see in the arrangement of this book that the inspiration comes out of history from somewhere else, the language let loose to work of its own accord, the speaker admitting in the first line: ‘I always knew I had no right to be,’ followed by ‘eating filling becoming,’ and then immediately thereafter a kind of strange enjambment inside the second line in time — a gap in the frame, white space, if for only a second, filling the page, the continuous present crashed into the past, the zoetrope to spin the locomotive smoking jet clouds down the track in a kind of mise en scène, a jump-cut in the mechanism, light magic: ‘becoming wept.’ Because of this last word in the line, the utterance works neither grammatically nor semantically; it’s something else, strange and unfamiliar. We may here recall Toril Moi’s notion described above a naming of an indeterminable number of blended voices that divide and multiply the body of each ‘individual’ whether he be classified as ‘man’ or ‘woman’. And then we hear here the allusion to the most simply perfect sentence in the Bible, proper noun against past-tense verb: ‘Jesus wept’ (John 11:35). The anti-absorptive gesture of the allusion throws us out of the loop before we’ve had time to even find our seats, and we think of Jesus — half-man and half-god, born in a stable while, still, the son of YHWH, a man in love who cried out of compassion for a prostitute, sympathetic to the loss of Lazurus, her late brother. The word ‘Jesus’ is of course curiously absent from Howe’s book although this lacuna is countered by the line ‘as long as the name of God can just come first’ (12), and the presence of Jesus that can be felt throughout the text in lines like ‘a fiction as fixed as the crucifixion’ (3), or ‘from a block of crush and Christmas drinks’ (4), or ‘Made tracks to King’s Cross’ (6), or ‘in this century’s model Cross’ (18). A feast of the assumption, the mystery of the Holy Trinity — the one word in the beginning (‘becoming’) an action to name a kind of ineluctable ‘liberation theology, which proposes a beginning and an end to the natural world, and one in which the economy of labor and spirit are inseparable’ (Poets). As Howe writes in an email: ‘The subversion by greed and ambition, undermining this poor minimal desire, is where Marx comes in. But this is all through the gospels!’ (‘Re: Re: Query’).

The bloodhound, sniffing out a particular lead, veers for a moment and circles back to this second line in Forged: ‘eating filling becoming wept.’ While this line may not make immediate mimetic ‘sense’ to a reader, the individual words out of which the line is built are completely and immediately intelligible to any fluent speaker of English as representing actions and a state of being. This absence of ‘sense’ in the line arises here from Howe’s use of parataxis coupled with the rather shocking and anti-absorptive non sequitur at the end of the line: ‘wept,’ a word which has little or nothing to do with the other words in the line (‘eating,’ ‘filling’ and ‘becoming’). In an attempt to avoid mimesis, Howe instead focuses our ears and eyes on the aesthetic quality of the words rather than their representational function, the line for example utilizing a syntax of epistrophe in the concatenation of gerunds in triplicate. On the one hand, this list is quite absorptive, for it simply sounds pretty in the ear, is pleasurable to say with the mouth, looks sexy on paper; on the other hand, this line still disturbs because of its anti-absorptive rejection of set grammatical rules. Perhaps to further avoid mimesis and maintain her politics of absolute democracy, Howe describes in interview how she conceives that ‘...poems are sentences, which may be why they are getting shorter.’ She continues, ‘I love a complete sentence, and all that it contains in the way of balance and aspiration. I love prose sentences. But a whole poem of mine is a sentence composed of sound-lines (bars), each line being the equivalent of a complex word’ (Poets). Thus, by refiguring an entire line as a single word, the poem as a sentence (mathematical impossibilities), Howe with the use of parataxis, non sequitur, and sonic devices, steers clear of direct representation, the language free to operate as it will, communing with a reader, for ‘[l]etting the lines cohere on their own volition is crucial’ (‘Bewilderment’ 61). As Bob Grenier reminds us, ‘Words don’t have to say or be anything but what each is & does. A word space’ (543).

Perhaps more interesting though is to ponder the significance of this book’s arrangement around the number seven, a number with a solid grounding in mysticism and the early sciences. The speaker in Forged refers to ‘London’s seven prisons/ for seven sins in seven days’ (14). Since ancient mathematics divided things into twelves and sixes, 13 and seven have always held special significance. The Ancients noted seven celestial bodies: sun, moon and five planets. There are seven days in the week because we read in the book of Genesis that the world was created in seven days, although the seven-day week is also useful when tracking the moon; and the number seven is itself associated with the moon in many esoteric systems. Plus, the seventh day is the Sabbath, the holy day, a day which we return to again and again and again ad infinitum unto death’s separation. For this reason, spiritual systems rooted in the Bible will identify the number seven with perfection or completion. For some examples, consider that in Wicca, three is Divinity and four is Materiality (earth, air, fire and water). Thus seven (3+4) equals Perfection. Perhaps most significantly, in Tarot, which has held traces of Christian Cabbala in the last century, the seventh card is the Chariot, which would have a secondary association with divinity vis-à-vis II Kings 2:11: ‘Then it came about as they were going along and talking, that behold a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven.’ A chariot, a train.

Forging ahead to consider more macrocosmic aspects of Forged, this book of travel, we encounter along the way two systemic uses of repetition that deserve some discussion: redundant stanzaic arrangements and echoing word-choice. Howe writes in ‘Bewilderment’:

For me, bewilderment is a repetitive pause on a circular route and in both my stories and my poems, it could be the shape of the spiral that imprints itself in my interior before anything emerges on paper.

For to the spiral-walker there is one plain path, no up and down, no inside or outside. But there are strange returns and recognitions and never a conclusion. (46)

As I mentioned in the introduction, each of the 21 pages of this book contains seven lines, these lines grouped into for the most part different stanzaic arrangements on each page, but we do encounter some redundant stanzaic arrangement of considerable note. Again, as before, just as we begin to move forward through this text we recognize a repetition in that the poem on page 12 has the same stanzaic pattern as the one on page one: two lines, then three lines, and then a circling back to two lines. The poem on page 13 echoes back to page six with an arrangement of a tercet and then a quatrain, a pattern we see again on page 21. The poem on page 12 repeats the stanzaic arrangement of the poems on pages three and 15: couplet-tercet-couplet. Are we circling back and back, endlessly insular?

By the fourth page we begin as well to observe some words in repetition. For example on the first page we read: ‘or tracks hammered into banked quarters’ and then on page six we read: ‘Made tracks to King’s Cross.’ Meanwhile, this connection between the first and fourth pages as a result of the repetition of ‘tracks’ alerts us to the significance of a repetition that we saw between the second and third pages but most likely overlooked. First we read on the second page: ‘An end constructed as an opening’ and then on the facing page we read the line: ‘ended then remembered.’ Now, as a result of the repetition of ‘end,’ we suddenly suspect that, yes, we are in a prison of repetitions, a suspicion which proves true as we proceed.

As the images created by these repetitions flash past, we realize that the repetitions sometimes are exact redundancies as in ‘red’ and ‘red’ or ‘paper’ and ‘paper’ and sometimes are slightly altered as in ‘banked’ and ‘banks’ (a kind of innovation on slant rhyme). The more or less 21 words repeated include: ‘fiction’/  ‘crucifixion’/  ‘transfixed,’ ‘tracks,’ ‘bank,’ ‘end,’ ‘block,’ ‘building,’ ‘thick,’ ‘blind,’ ‘Cross,’ ‘bird,’ ‘red,’ ‘east,’ ‘paper,’ ‘grass,’ ‘traffic/  terrific,’ ‘sweet,’ ‘parcel,’ ‘leaves,’ ‘prison,’ ‘seven,’ and ‘wheels,’ which together form a machine-like system of relations. William Carlos Williams’s claim in his essay ‘Introduction to the Wedge’ that ‘[a] poem is a small (or large) machine made of words’ is never more true than with a Fanny Howe creation (138). Most of the repeating words in the world of this text repeat just once but for the exception of ‘end,’ ‘bird,’ and ‘red,’ each of which we see repeated four times. Apart from creating a kind of hypnotic, absorptive sound throughout, in the absence of an overt narrative these repetitions create a complex of narrative relations, the words by virtue of the significance implied by a repetition telling stories about themselves. A reader noticing a word repeating says, ‘Ah, this must be important!’ And indeed in Howe’s work those words are important, first because they’re words; and then because they resonate with a playful noun/ verb ambiguity [10] as in ‘leaves,’ which adds a richness to the texture of the text for its own sake; because they either contribute to the conceit of movement around which everything revolves (as in ‘traffic’ and ‘end’); or because the language resonates with some sort of religious or economic connotation as in ‘cross’ or ‘bank.’ [11] In addition, these repetitions work on some level as a kind of formal innovation of more antiquated poetic forms like, say, the sestina or villanelle while at the same time locking this forward-looking poem in a prison of historical reference.

And just as we begin to get absorbed in some semblance of narrative in the present moment, we stumble clueless across yet another allusion which sends us out of the time and space of this particular moment in the text, backward through history, beyond. The first line of the poem on page 11 reads: ‘Yes luck we cause and pleasures too,’ and herein we hear a subtle echo of Christopher Marlowe’s line in ‘The Passionate Shepherd to His Love’: ‘Come live with me and be my love,/ And we will all the pleasures prove’ (ls. 1-2), a poem which has set off a ricochet of allusions throughout history. [12] Howe’s line works as an allusion on a purely sonic level, first because it is written, like Marlowe’s lines, in iambic tetrameter; second, because the ‘l’ as the second consonant sound in Howe’s line reverberates with the same in Marlowe’s line, which then alliterates throughout the couplet; third, because the diphthong in Howe’s ‘cause’ mirrors the vowel sound in Marlowe’s ‘love’; and because Howe’s ‘pleasures too’ is a slant rhyme with Marlowe’s ‘pleasures prove.’ Interestingly, this trope is anti-absorptive because, like any allusion, it throws us out of the text. In addition, this allusion does not appear to resonate with any ‘extra-textual’ significance, a move which is anti-absorptive because the lack of any reverberating significance reveals the trope as a gesture in itself for its own sake.

And then as if to bracket off the ends of this book, we find one more repetition of note. The first line of the second page reads: ‘Did I believe or was it hype,’ and then the first line on the penultimate page reads: ‘Did I believe or was it hope,’ a repetition by virtue of one of Howe’s favorite tropes, the transpositioning of vowel sounds. And juxtaposing the words ‘hype’ and ‘hope’ exposes something of the transmission that drives Howe’s work:

This is when I can’t watch certain of the words just fall and get kicked aside. I must salvage them because I have what amounts to faith in the fact that they will contribute to an as-yet unknown meaning.... But this is not a plan or an experiment. It is simply the way my poems come into existence and carry something out of my stories that is having a problem taking form there. (‘Bewilderment’ 62)

Further, the lack of punctuation in Howe’s lines allows in these lines for ‘Did I believe’ to be read as both emphatic statements and questions, as in ‘Did I believe!’ and ‘Did I believe?’ As well, the second use of ‘Did I believe...,’ by virtue of the stanzaic arrangement, its placement in a quatrain, enjambs easily with the line that follows: ‘like a fir tree in a children’s nursery’ (22). The image created with this simile makes little ‘sense’ insofar as the personification of a fir tree as an entity able to believe really leads us nowhere, but it is a delight nonetheless. We should note as well that each page, each poem, begins with a capital letter since each, despite the overall lack of punctuation in the piece, ends in a period, except pages 8, 15, 16, and 19. Those periods indicate the completion of a thought, closure, while ‘those missing periods were...just to suggest a slight very slight incompletion in the last thought’ (‘Re: Re: Query’).

As the investigator attempts to close the case, it is almost impossible to register very much of anything but awe at Howe’s work, for we are confronted with ‘[b]ewilderment as a poetics and an ethics’ (Howe ‘Bewilderment’ 41). That is, in the process of reading these lyrics, one’s critical stance is continually thrown to the sky as a result of the poet’s uncanny ability to seemingly write with two hands — one that forges ahead straightway to draw a narrative, and one that lags only a moment behind to erase the slate: ‘I can keep UN-saying what I said, and amending it, but I can’t escape the given logic of the original proposition, the sentence which insists on tenses and words like ‘later’ and ‘before’’ (Howe ‘Bewilderment’ 52). One thinks, perhaps, of a child who, pointing upward, watches a plane fly through watered stripes of clouds and wonders how it is that the distant, thundering jet can rage somehow magically through the immense, dark walls and not somehow disturb a single delicate wisp or even leave so much as a trace, to say nothing of leaving a gaping hole in the firmament. There is a desire to hold the book up to a passerby and say, pointing to a page, ‘Here, look at that. Can you hear it?’ as we become evermore clear on Howe’s notion that ‘...the point of art is to show people that life is worth living by showing that it isn’t’ (‘Bewilderment’ 64).

With her interrogation of form, her preference for difficulty, Fanny Howe writes out of a rhetoric of possibility — both absorptive and anti-absorptive — whereby a reader must absorb an impermeable contradiction in order to be saved, a fact which May, Howe’s creation in [SIC], knows, all too well, simply ‘sucks.’ A reader of Howe’s work must, in the shade of Shakespeare’s Ariel, dreaming of the freedom that Prospero has promised, at once imbibe the freeing possibility of diction and syntax and, contentedly, with full knowledge, resign him- or herself to inhabit the prison of history, mastered by the natural truth of a homey fiction: ‘Where the bee sucks there suck I/ In a cowslip’s bell I lie’ (The Tempest V, i, 88-9). Howe says in interview: ‘What I do every day comes from one impulse, whether it’s writing or washing, to convert — to be wholehearted, happy, brave, faithful, without a doubt. Contradiction has gotten me the closest to this experience’ (Poets). As Fanny Howe writes on the first page of [SIC] of ‘the day the blood let fall,’ a wind is rising, the sweet honey of the mayflower, leaves. The mystery remains unsolved.

Note 1.   I use these two terms simultaneously since [SIC] is primarily written in the first-person (speaker) except for two passages in third person (narrator), one at the center of the book (‘May lies in her cell...’) and another — discussed late in this essay — on the last page of the text when the speaker reveals herself in third-person as agent, using her name to sign a letter: ‘Signed May.’ This subtle use of point of view creates in the book a conflation that is simultaneously an ‘I’ speaker and third-person narrator, which then both combine in effect to make a kind of protagonist, or character, May, who upon reflection tells her own fragmented story. The significance here is that a lyric poem, generally non-narrative, is usually not the place to find either a narrator or a protagonist, both of which one usually does however find in narrative fiction. As such, this text is at once lyric poem and prose narrative or neither one at all, Howe’s work instead forging its own new ground.
Note 2.   With this term I take note of the fact that these sections at first glance look like simple blocks of prose, but then upon closer inspection the reader notices intentional line breaks that occasionally interrupt these otherwise prose blocks, e.g., on the fourteenth page we read: ‘Children on tiptoes feel the way I do most of each day,/ mingling among/ ....’ I believe that Howe in these passages thus attempts to write something which is neither wholly prose nor wholly verse but something in between: “proverse”. In fact, Howe says in interview that ‘[p]rose has just as much poetry in it as a poem does. It’s just in a rush to get somewhere and bears more guilt, always trying to justify itself’ (Poets).
Note 3.   ‘Lyric is by definition innovative. When it stops being innovative it is no longer lyric’ (Rankine and Spahr 13).
Note 4.   [SIC] is not paginated. This I believe to be an intentional choice in order to subtly accentuate the text’s overall sense of timelessness and sense of aporia, or open field placelessness. To honor what I believe to be the author’s intent, I will not include parenthetical citations after quoted passages of [SIC].
Note 5.   By this term I mean loosely to suggest some mysterious entity like the one Louis Althusser termed ‘the ideological state apparatus.’
Note 6.   Note the homophonic resonance with ‘mayday,’ the international distress signal, which comes from the French ‘m’aidez,’ which means ‘help me.’
Note 7.   To offset the rather dreary tone of this book, as one reads one can hardly help but to hear in the background memory an echo of the lyric from the 1964 Motown hit, My Girl. Sung by The Temptations, My Girl begins with a very simple three-note phrase on the bass guitar accompanied by light taps on a snare drum. The base line makes for a sound that resembles, say, a beating heart. At the same time, very precise finger-snaps become the pulse of the whole song: straightforward, open, sort of casual and easy-going. Drums and voice boldly come forth together as lead singer David Ruffin sings, ‘I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day.’ As the voices of the other Temptations enter — first the deep bass of Melvin Franklin descending on ‘do-do-do,’ joined then by all the voices on a richly harmonized ‘oo’ — something bewildering happens. We draw breath, deeply, the skin in secret places chilly with pleasure, exposing the play between antinomies expressed in the simplicity of Ruffin’s ‘When it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May’ — the lyric paradox (‘sunshine’/ ‘cloudy’; ‘cold outside’/ ‘May’), the resolution of which is found only in the perfect rest of love: my girl, May. With all the further richness and complexity in the song yet to come, the song never loses this simple feeling of swinging on a porch swing, out in the warm air of May. And within such complexity, reverberating from underneath, still, that simple, easy-going rhythm of the song. Total absorption.
Note 8.   This is an allusion to Exodus 3:14 when the voice of God came from a burning bush, saying to Moses: ‘I AM THAT I AM,’ a sacred tautology which itself prefigures John 8:58-59:

Jesus said to them: ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM.’
Therefore they picked up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid Himself, and went out of the temple.

            This allusion has significance insofar as it focuses on this book’s concerns with identity, bespeaking a brave, rebellious resistance against equating identity and value. One simply is and that’s enough, just as a poem simply is, and is for its own sake.
Note 9.   Perhaps the most significant tautology in all of literature, even moreso perhaps than the four accounts of the crucifixion of Christ told and re-told in the Gospels to which this passage alludes, if obliquely, are the two Creation stories at the beginning of the book of Genesis. In Hebrew the word ‘k-r-a’ means at once ‘to read’ and ‘to call,’ and this same word is used in both accounts, a fact which is of some note.

In the first account, the things of the world are already named, prepared entirely for Adam’s pleasure. God says to Adam, ‘Behold I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed...and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to everything that moves on the earth which has life I have given...’ (Gen. 1:29-30). Imagine a slab of marble which the sculptor must read, teasing out the exact statue from within the formlessness of rock. While the sculptor in stone is, yes, still an artist, it is as if the statue that s/he makes is already extant. With this in mind, note, for example, how ‘ya’el,’ the Hebrew word for ‘ibex’ is the same word for the Hebrew verb ‘to climb.’ An ibex climbs. Form and content wed. Perfection. Eden.

In the second account God gives Adam the pleasure of naming the things. The narrator tells us of Adam: ‘And the man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field...’ (Gen. 2:20). In this version, Adam and God become co-architects of the things of Paradise although here Adam has more power than in the first telling, a power which ultimately undoes him. Imagine a potter getting his hands muddy in the stuff of language, moving from nothing to something, fashioning the names of things.

It is then perplexing why we have these two versions of the story of Creation, one in which Adam is more passive, reading the things, and one in which Adam is more active, naming the things. I hypothesize that the re-telling of the stories allows us to apprehend the double-edged connotation of ‘k-r-a.’ Moreover, I suggest that the compilers of Genesis juxtaposed the two versions for a specific, anti-absorptive reason: Leaving the two versions side-by-side allows the reader’s mind to gnaw on the problem, trying to figure out why it is that in one version we see Adam as reader and in the other we see Adam as writer. In this second version Adam is a maker, calling the things whatever the hell he wants to, and with that comes grave responsibility. He is on his own and terribly free. He doesn’t have to listen to God or to anyone else. It’s just him and the things. In this sense Adam takes on the hue of an artist, a rebel. Indeed, perhaps not by coincidence the word in ancient Greek for ‘poet’ means ‘maker.’ While the compilers of Genesis did not speak Ancient Greek, perhaps there is some mystical connection here between the portrayal of Adam and Eve in Genesis and the role of the artist in culture. God gave Adam and Eve one tiny instruction, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die’ (Gen. 2 16–17). But they couldn’t do it. Their naive curiosity, their inventiveness, the same rebellious impulse out of which society is born, undid them. Danger, danger!

Think about it. Where would we be without experimentation? On the one hand, we would still be naked in the snow, eating raw food with our fingers, diseased and wracked, dallying in the daisies, idle. Language would be eons away. Simple perfection. Bliss. As Sampson Reed (1800–80) from his Observations on the Growth of the Mind, Including Genius so aptly describes in this lyric passage:

Adam and Eve knew no language but their garden. They had nothing to communicate by words; for they had not the power of concealment. The sun of the spiritual world shone bright on their hearts, and their senses were open with delight to natural objects. In the eye were the beauties of paradise; in the ear was the music of birds; in the nose was the fragrance of the freshness of nature; in the taste was the fruit of the garden; in the touch, the seal of their eternal union. What had they to say?... (qtd. in Kern 41)

          On the other hand, it must be remembered that without experimentation, without articulation, we would be without the benefits and comforts of a developed society and would therefore be without ‘reality’ TV, corrupt government, poultry factories, shopping malls, toxic waste dumps, nuclear bombs, and robotic rats with altered genes. It’s a paradox shown in the two versions of the Creation story. The compilers of Genesis hoped to persuade us that if we are going to make anything of enduring import happen at all, experimentation is necessary; yet, they hoped to convey, experimentation is risky and has serious repercussions.
Note 10.   An ambiguity that Howe relies upon for free-association as a strategy of text-generation.
Note 11.   We do however find some repeated words that seem to bear little or no special significance like ‘thick,’ an anti-absorptive gesture which helps to counter the text’s slight tendency toward mimesis or narrative.
Note 12.   See, for example, Sir Walter Ralegh’s, ‘The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd’.

Works Cited
Armantrout, Rae. Chains. Poetics Journal 5 (1985): 93-4.
———. “Why Don’t Women Do Language-Oriented Writing?” In the American Tree. Ed. Ron Silliman. Orono, ME: National Poetry Foundation, 1986. 544-46.
Bednarski, Joyce. The Ethnography of Witchcraft. Ed. Max Marwick. 190-200.
Bernstein, Charles. ‘Artifice of Absorption’. A Poetics. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1992. 9-89.
Cheney, Mark, Chuck Cody and Mathew Meyer, eds. “Talking Shop X — A New Mind is Only a New Box: a discussion of Language Poetry with Michael Davidson, Stephen Rodefer, Donald Wesling and Paul Dresman”. The Birdcage Review Vol. 5 no. 1 (1985): 34-61.
Davidson, Michael. “Framed by Story”. Poetics Journal 5 (1985): 76-80.
‘Forge.’ Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. (10th ed.). 1994.
Grenier, Bob. Notes on Coolidge, Objectives, Zukofsky, Romanticism, And &. Ed. Ron Silliman. 530-43.
Howe, Fanny. “Bewilderment, or, Incantation and the Author”. Raddle Moon 18 (2000): 41-64.
———. Forged Sausalito, CA: The Post-Apollo Press, 1999.
———. ‘Re: Query’ from Scott Bentley. E-mail to the author. 23 March 2003.
———. ‘Re: Re: Query’ from Scott Bentley. E-mail to the author. 24 March 2003.
———. [SIC]. San Diego: Parentheses Writing Series, 1988.
Huk, Romana. “Alphabets of Unknowing: Fanny Howe’s Signature of Anonymity”. Spectacular Diseases 11 (1999): 65-79.
Joyce, James. Ulysses. 1922. New York: Vintage, 1986.
Kern, Robert. Orientalism, Modernism and the American Poem. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge UP, 1996.
Kim, Myung Mi. “Pollen Fossil Record”. Commons. Berkeley: UC Press, 2002. 106-11.
Lowe, Lisa. “Unfaithful to the Original: The Subject of Dictée.” Writing Self/ Writing Nation. Eds. Elain Kim and Norma Alarcón. Berekeley: Third Woman Press, 1994. 35-69.
Marlowe, Christopher. “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love”. c.1599, 1600. The Norton Anthology of Poetry. (4th ed.). Eds. Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter and Jon Stallworthy. Norton: New York, 1996. 233-4.
Marwick, Max, ed. Witchcraft and Sorcery. Middlesex: Penguin, 1970.
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Moi, Toril. Sexual Textual Politics. London: Routledge, 1985.
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Perloff, Marjorie. “Teaching the ‘New’ Poetries”. Kiosk 1 (2002): n.p.
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Rankine, Claudia and Juliana Spahr, eds. “Introduction”. American Women Poets in the 21st Century. Middleton, CT: Wesleyan UP, 2002. 1-17.
Ratcliffe, Stephen. Listening to Reading. Albany: SUNY P, 2000.
———. ‘Listening to Reading’. Ratcliffe. 137-45.
———. ‘Sound (Shape) as Thought’. Ratcliffe. 147-51.
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Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. 1623. The Complete Pelican Shakespeare. Ed. Alfred Harbage. New York: The Viking Press, 1969. 1369-95.
Thomas, Keith. The Decline of Witchcraft Prosecutions. Ed. Max Marwick. 158-73.
Williams, William Carlos. “Introduction to The Wedge”. 1944. The Poetics of the New American Poetry. Eds. Donald Allen and Warren Tallman. New York: Grove, 1973. 137-39.
Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States. New York: Harper Perennial, 1980.
Zoetrope, William George Horner, 1834. 14 April 2003

Works Consulted
Althusser, Louis. Ideology and the State, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. Tr. B. Brewster. London, UK: New Left Books, 1977.
Bentley, Scott. ‘In Response to the Condition That, Be It As It May, Saussure Has From the Rest of the Sentence Bracketed Out the Referent’. The Archive Newsletter No. 42, Spring, 1989. 23-25.
Cha, Theresa Hak Kyung. Dictée. Berkeley: UC Press, 2001.
Grenier, Robert. Sentences. Cambridge, MA: Whale Cloth Press, 1978.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Maypole of Merrimount. 1836. Hawthorne’s Selected Tales and Sketches. 3rd ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1950. 198-210.
Liddell, H. G. and R. Scott, eds. Greek-English Lexicon. Abridged ed. Oxford, UK: Oxford UP, 1987.
Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Oxford History of the American People. Vol. 1. New York: New American Library, 1965. 2 vols.
Ralegh, Sir Walter. “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd”. 1600. The Norton Anthology of Poetry. (4th ed.). Eds. Margaret Feruson, Mary Jo Salter and Jon Stallworthy. New York: Norton, 1996. 140-41.
Yamauchi, Edwin. “The Gnostics”. Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity. Eds. Tim Dowley et al. Berkhamstead, UK: Lion Publishing, 1977.

Scott Bentley was born in Burbank, California, in 1964. He received a BA from UC Santa Cruz in 1986 and an MA from UC San Diego in 1989. He is presently finishing an MFA at Mills College, in Oakland, CA. He teaches writing at CSU Hayward and elsewhere. He is the author of Edge (Birdcage Chapbooks, 1987), Out of Hand (Parenthesis Writing Series, 1989), Ground Air (O BOOKS, 1994) and The Occasional Tables (sub press, 2000). Bentley has co-translated with his wife, Marta, the work of Brazilian writer Regis Bonvicino and others, the latest translations appearing in The Pip Anthology of World Poetry of the Twentieth Century (Vol. 3) Nothing the Sun Could Not Explain: 20 Contemporary Brazilian Poets (Green Integer, 2003).

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