Wednesday, March 7, 2018



Debths by Susan Howe
(New Directions, New York, 2017)

To engage with this publication.  Can I as an undereducated, 76 yo, addled by the years and habits, dyslexic and short on memory…can I still find something.  Of course.   Although there is also a great bit that will not be found or looked for.  I can let that go past….I just don’t know about that.  I recall years ago living a short time in a tin trailer on the California coast with no internet or tv.  All I had were several cassette tapes of Ezra Pound reading the Cantos (and perhaps a wee toot of coke)…but that was all the entertainment I needed.  His voice…his song…his cadence….his Chinese…no idea.  His Greek…no idea.  His history….no idea.  But I could hear the words of the English that I knew.  And that was enough and carries today.  So now Debths as I look at the cover and wait for the sight to come together in a meaningful way.  The word makes no sense…is it a word of measure of water or feeling or a measure of financial stand or a made up word by Ms. Howe.  Does it matter…….probably.  Then a couple pages in the quote from Finnegan’s Wake, a description of the Thames river…there is the word Debths.  Let that alone for a while, I will.  Also note last section of this book is titled Debths and is a series referred to as “collages” on a blurb on rear cover.  Okay…to me they are vispo, if I may.  To look at  and appreciate how she has cut and put them together and on the page…how they float mid page and twist and skitter along.  Where or what they carry in text is unknown for me…but they are strong visuals for sure.

There is another section of the book entitled Tom Tit Tot which contains more of her collages.  This series has  longer prose quotes, I think, from various sources she mentions in the forward.  I want  to say that in no way am I put off or deflected from the pleasure  I get reading Howe’s works but I must also admit that I don’t  take the time to research the text she has chosen to ‘cut up’ .  My loss I suppose but there is, for me, great pleasure from the visual.

The first section, and my favorite,  is titled Titian Air Vent.  This I googled and it says Titian was   a painter lived in Venice a long time ago AND that Titian is a hair color…”brownish shade of red”.  There may be more but that is okay.  I like the mind fuck.  So here I quote the first poem in the book….

“…A work of art is a world of signs, at least to the poet’s
nursery bookshelf sheltered behind the artist’s ear.
I recall each little motto howling its ins and outs
to  those of us who might as well be on the moon
illu illu illu…”

Here is the gold in this collection  (sorry you know who).  I live for discovering and here, now in midst of ice storm In Kansas February the delight from a poem like this means a lot.   Especially, the last line in all its strong stumbling, stuttering, unfinished beauty.  Indeed.  And that is what brings me back to Susan Howe.  Again and again.


Jim McCrary lives in Lawrence, Kansas. His most recent publication is A Year Book from Shirt Pocket Press which is a memoir in a series of one line recollections for the 75 years of his life.