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This article is taken from PN Review 157, Volume 30 Number 5, May - June 2004.

Fanny Howe Daniel Kane

Over the past four decades, Fanny Howe has created a formally innovative and politically committed body of poetry that marks her as an iconoclast even in the context of the avant-garde poetry scene in the United States. While Howe's earlier work was, according to Lynn Keller, characterised by relatively unadventurous poems `often depicting female dependency and despondency', that stayed `largely within the conventions of lyric', each succeeding decade finds Howe becoming increasingly ambitious in terms of both content and form.

Beginning in the late 1970s and 1980s, Howe began synthesising conventional rhetorical diction in the service of leftist politics with a by now characteristic use of elliptical, disjunctive phrases. While Howe tends to leave clear message making behind in her later work, her commitment to marginalised voices remains strong. Her poem beginning `But I, too, want to be a poet', for example, surprises the reader by making a kind of Whitmanic gesture reminiscent of a naïve democratic idealism: `But I, too, want to be a poet / to erase from my days / confusion & poverty / fiction & a sharp tongue' (p.91).1 In the final lines of the poem beginning `If you mess up, run to the west', Howe writes, `If you need to get lost, go underground. / There you grow strong and fertile as a slum' (p.188). We might wish to consider this poem alongside Langston Hughes's `Dream Deferred'. The final line of Hughes's poem - `Does it explode' - suggests the suppressed dreams ...


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