That This

Susan Howe

New Directions


Publishers Weekly
Starred Review
In this very beautiful four-part book, Howe (Souls of the Labadie Tract) seeks to come to terms with the sudden death of her third husband, the philosopher and scholar Peter H. Hare. The four sections take radically different formal "approaches" to his loss, in the sense of going backwards in time, to the days just before Hare's fatal embolism, and in the sense of finding a means of understanding, or at least of moving forward. The first section uses a simple, diaristic prose through which Howe incorporates the terse capitals of Hare's autopsy, along with a variety of 18th-century epistolary condolences. The result conveys Howe's sense of "being present at a point of absence where crossing centuries may prove to be like crossing languages." The next section, "Frolic Architecture," comprises densely layered photocopied text fragments whose three-dimensional quality seems to extend into a fourth—time. The title section follows with seven pages of strophic, hymnlike verse, where "Grass angels perish in this// harmonic collision because/ non-being cannot be ÿthis.' " By the final, untitled collage, Howe has made her grief speak as much through textual interstices and shifts in diction and form as through each singular elegy. (Dec. 2010)

From New Directions
Susan Howe’s newest book of poetry is a revelation as well as a mystery. “What treasures of knowledge we cluster around.” That This is a collection in three pieces. “Disappearance Approach,” an essay about the sudden death of the author’s husband (“land of darkness or darkness itself you shadow mouth”), begins the book with paintings by Poussin, an autopsy, Sarah Edwards and her sister-in-law Hannah, phantoms, elusive remnants, and snakes. “Frolic Architecture,” the second section — inspired by visits to the vast 18th-century Jonathan Edwards archives at the Beinecke and accompanied by six black-and-white photograms by James Welling — presents hauntingly lovely, oblique text-collages that Howe (with scissors and “invisible” Scotch Tape and a Canon copier) has twisted, flattened, and snipped into “inscapes of force.” The final section, “That This,” delivers beautiful short squares of verse that might look at home in a hymnal, although their orderly appearance packs startling power:

That this book is a history of
a shadow that is a shadow of

Me mystically one in another
another another to subserve


Frolic Architecture
The second section of That This was orignally published as a limited edition artist's book by Grenfell Press.
From Grenfell Press
The poems in Frolic Architecture were inspired by Susan Howe's experience of viewing various manuscripts, sermon notebooks, books, and pamphlets of the eighteenth century American Calvinist theologian Jonathan Edwards in the vast collection of Edwards family papers at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in New Haven, Connecticut. Especially by the folder in Box 24 titled "Wetmore, Hannah Edwards, 1713–1773, Diary, 1736–39, copy in the hand of Lucy Wetmore Whittelsey, with commentary/n.d." Using multi-purpose copy paper, scissors, "invisible" scotch tape, and a canon copier pc170 she collaged fragments of this "private writing" with a mix of sources from other conductors and revealers in the thick of things—before.
In August 2009, James Welling produced a group of black and white photograms on 8 x 10 inch Kodak Polymax Fine Art paper. He painted on a thin-enough-to-fold sheet of clear mylar and placed this on top of unexposed photographic paper. After exposing and processing the sheet Welling added paint to the mylar to make additional unique photograms. Eventually the mylar became covered in paint and Welling began again with a new sheet of mylar. In Frolic Architecture Welling used three mylar sheets. In the photograms Welling acknowledges the collection of Edwards Family material at the Yale Beineke Library that Susan Howe encouraged him to look at before beginning his work on Frolic Architecture.
Frolic Architecture, a sixty-eight page book, comprises forty-eight collage poems by Susan Howe printed letterpress on Somerset paper at The Grenfell Press by Brad Ewing, and ten photograms printed in James Welling's studio.

These poems from Frolic Architecture are now available in That This
(view image
for hi res)