The Yale Collection of American Literature is delighted to welcome visiting research fellow W. Scott Howard to the Beinecke Library to conduct research related to his project, “peripheries of light: Susan Howe’s Spontaneous Particulars.” Professor Howard will deliver a paper about this work on February 27th at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900, University of Louisville.
About his project, Professor Howard writes:
“My book in-progress, Archive and Artifact: Susan Howe’s Whirlwind Poetics, includes seven chapters and one interview with the poet. The book’s focus concerns the vitality of research as an integral element of historical recovery and poetic creation. The Beinecke Library’s Susan Howe Papers Collection—in particular, Major Works (1994-2007), Other Writings (1989-2007), Notebooks and Diaries (1984-2007), and Professional Papers (1961-2007)—includes research notes, manuscripts, and typescripts that are essential for my research and writing.
Susan Howe’s poetry rescues from the archive obscure figures, events, stories, and voices on the brink of oblivion, energizing those artifacts and their precise historical contexts with her unique research and creative processes. Her research notes, manuscripts, and typescripts reveal the “handwritten whirlwind” of that transformation. Howe often begins a composition with fragments of discourse (e.g. biographical or historical anecdotes, literary puzzles, cultural mythologies) and then stitches those narrative threads into an animistic canvass of questioning and answering, always critically attentive to the roles of language and silence as mediators of human experience. Through syntactical apposition, paratextual collage, dialogue among source documents, image / text interplay, and interdisciplinary exploration, her books stage that dynamic field of intuitive action, which her working papers illuminate.
Pierce-Arrow and The Midnight (which includes the two shorter collections, Bed Hangings and Kidnapped) are key works because they respectively represent the full arc of Howe’s archival research and artifactual poetics from the institutional repository to the personal collection. Pierce-Arrow draws from the manuscripts of Charles Sanders Peirce at the Houghton Library; The Midnight, from Howe’s family history, private collections, and home library. The relationship between textuality and visuality has always been important in Howe’s work, but these two books embody an intensification of her attunement to the processes by which objects accrue symbolic values that transcend word / image dialectics. Peirce’s formulations of Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness shape both volumes’ elegiac quests to recover presence within absence, to glimpse the ghosts that appear anew through the magic of remediation. In The Midnight, Howe’s trope of the book’s transparent interleaf and her numerous reconfigured artifacts (e.g. mirror images; openwork fabrics; photographs of her mother, grandparents and great-grandparents; bookmarks, illustrations, lining-papers, end-papers, flyleaves and fragments from an array of source texts) achieve a consummate phenomenology of the book that anticipates her more recent, remarkable volumes, Souls of the Labadie Tract (2007) and That This (2010).
In so far as Pierce-Arrow and The Midnight underscore Howe’s continuing engagement with hybrid works that transmit the action of astonishment, these two collections share a deep connection to three earlier works: My Emily Dickinson (1985), Articulation of Sound Forms in Time (1987), and a bibliography of the king’s book (1989). In The Birth-Mark (1993) and “Personal Narrative” (2007), Susan Howe observes that these three volumes from the 1980s signal major turning points in the development of her writing. My book, Archive and Artifact, argues that My Emily Dickinson, Articulation of Sound Forms in Time, and a bibliography of the king’s book define the crux of Howe’s artifactual poetics from 1985 to her most recent volumes: Sorting Facts (2013), Tom Tit Tot (2013), and Spontaneous Particulars (2014). Indeed, her October, 2013 solo-exhibition of new word / image assemblages at the Yale Union gallery in Portland, OR included haunting echoes from those three foundational works.”
W. Scott Howard is Associate Professor in the Department of English at University of Denver. He received his Ph.D. in English and Critical Theory from the University of Washington. His teaching, research, and publications engage the fields of modern and postmodern American poetry, early modern literature and culture, and digital humanities. Professor Howard is the founding editor of two electronic, peer-reviewed journals: Reconfigurations, A Journal for Poetics & Poetry / Literature & Culture; and Appositions, Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature & Culture. He is co-editor (with Sara van den Berg) of The Divorce Tracts of John Milton (Duquesne University Press, 2010) and editor of An Collins and the Historical Imagination (Ashgate, 2014). His books of poetry include ROPES (Delete, 2014). Professor Howard is the recipient of fellowships and grants from the Modern Language Association, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Beinecke Library, Yale University. For more information: https://portfolio.du.edu/showard; http://www.inknode.com/users/whow.