12 June 2009

Fanny Howe

[from Fanny Howe's Gone, University of California, 2003]

Doubt [excerpt]

Anyone who tries, as [Virginia Woolf] did, out of a systematic training in secularism, to forge a rhetoric of belief is fighting against the odds. Dsiappointments are everywhere waiting to catch you, and an ironic realism is always convincing.

Simone Weil's family was skeptical too, and secular and attentive to the development of the mind. Her older brother fed her early sense of inferiority with intellectual put-downs. Later, her notebooks chart a superhuman effort at conversion to a belief in affliction as a sign of God's presence.

Her prose itself is tense with effort. After all, to convert by choice (that is, without a blast of revelation or a personal disaster) requires that you shift the names for things, and force a new language out of your mind onto the page.

You have to make yourself believe. Is this possible? Can you turn "void" into "God" by switching the words over and over again?
Any act of self-salvation is a problem because of death which always has the last laugh, and if there has been a dramatic and continual despair hanging over childhood, then it may even be impossible.
After all, can you call "doubt" "bewilderment" and suddenly be relieved?

Not if your mind has been fatally poisoned. . . .
But even then, it seems the dream of having no doubt continues, finding its way into love and work where choices matter exactly as much as they don't matter -- at least when luck is working in your favor.

Is Knowing

Is knowing the same as owning?
Do I already have it

(Poetic model)

a spiral thumb-print
taped responses to each event

I thought I was
a five-part someone

who had to decipher the air
in things before navigating them

and each error was necessary

Buy Fanny Howe's book @ Amazon


  1. My favorite line of the day, maybe even the week: "Can you turn 'void' into "God" by switching the wprds over and over again?" Thanks

  2. I love Howe's compression & sense of immanent progress. And, like several of our current greats in poetry, she has a very near vein of doubt, always, in that progress. Great excerpt.

  3. i was just going to say what kit did :)