Fordham’s poetry collective, Poets Out Loud, closed its 2010-2011 season with a reading by Marie Howe that mused on the distance between life and death.
Heather Dubrow, Ph.D., professor of English and the Rev. John Boyd, S.J. Chair of the Department of English, introduced Howe by praising what is perhaps her best-known work, What the Living Do (W.W. Norton, 1998), which is about Howe’s reaction to the death of her brother from AIDS.
“We find an undertow of elegy of mourning in many of Howe’s other poems. One is also struck at how many of these poems describe cruelty, and even violence, among children in families, and the emphasis on faith of many sorts—religious and secular—is perhaps a response to … that cruelty,” Dubrow said.
“I’m interested in how often these poems express the tension between the ordinary and the extraordinary through metaphors of distance and closeness,” she continued. “Objects, visions, ghosts of the dead are so often here or almost here, or a little further way, or where are they?”
Howe spent the first half of the April 26 event reading poems from that book, and finished with selections from The Kingdom of Ordinary Time (W.W. Norton, 2008).
“We’ve been singing these songs and saying these stories for as long as we have gathered together,” Howe said. “We were doing this when we didn’t even have houses. Remember? Way back, when we were in the caves, and we were gathered around the fires, and living in tents? We were coming together like this.”
She reflected on how poets imagine themselves into myths and stories that already exist. In describing her poem “For Three Days,” which is about her brother John, Howe’s thoughts turned to Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus who asked Jesus to raise him from the dead.
“I’m not a practicing Catholic now, but I love those stories of the Old and New Testaments, and the women who follow Jesus and cook for him and give him a place to sleep. Women always welcome in the new age, right? Women are always the ones who are open to the new ideas in the world, it seems,” she said.
“There’s this wonderful moment where Jesus walks to the grave, and then according to Rilke, the great German poet, he raises his hand, and he’s about to call Lazarus forth. And he’s afraid for a second, because he’s never done it before, and he thinks maybe, all the dead people will rise. Like, how can he do it so that just Lazarus will rise, and not everybody else? Isn’t that amazing?”
Howe was joined by students from Cristo Rey New York High School and Girls Write Now, a community of women writers who help New York City high school girls develop independent voices, explore writing careers and learn how to make healthy choices.
Daniel Reynolds, a second-year master’s student, also read at the event.