All posts filed under: Articles, Ideas & Discoveries

featuring recent research, events, and discoveries at the Woodberry Poetry Room

FESTSCHRIFT FOR FANNY HOWE: On the Occasion of Her 80th Birthday

If you caught a glimpse of Fanny Howe’s calendar for Thursday, October 15th, 2020, you’d find the simple word: “B-O-R-N.” It’s as though the word were not simply a rote noun (“birthday”) but an urgent verb, a continuous commandment. “I seem to be a Verb,” as fellow New Englander Buckminster Fuller famously observed. And, in truth, it’s hard to imagine anyone more born than Fanny Howe, more wholly emerged, more naked, or a poet whose multi-dimensional knowledge and hard-earned experience have been so cloaked in humility and accompanied by such impish good humor, searing insight, and unfailing generosity. Over the course of the last eight decades Fanny has only continued to grow, to be born, to “accumulate the human….” As her 80th birthday approached, and the pandemic didn’t relent, I decided to reach out to a few friends from different parts of her life to see if they might contribute some words and photos by way of a little Festschrift. But please don’t let this limit the festivities: I encourage you to share your own fanfare …

Collage of Howe and Newspaper

(HOWE)VER: Some Thoughts on Mark DeWolfe Howe

Mark DeWolfe Howe (1906-1967)—father of poets Fanny Howe and Susan Howe and the artist Helen Howe Braider—was a veteran of World War II, a renowned Harvard Law professor, a pioneering biographer of Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, an informal advisor to JFK (helping to coin the phrase, “The New Frontier”), a vigorous activist against HUAC, and a dedicated lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Steadfast in his efforts “to bring to fruition the rights granted by the 13th and 14th Amendments,” Howe helped his students establish the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Review, founded the Lawyers’ Constitutional Defense Committee, and devoted his final year of life to the desegregation of the Boston school system. On the night he died, he had just returned from hours of political organizing in Roxbury, Massachusetts. As a father, Howe encouraged his daughter Fanny to attend rallies with him at a very young age, urged her to go to Malcolm X’s 1964 speech at Harvard (which she still considers “one of the most searing events” of her life), asked her …

HARVARD SQUARE LITERARY MAP: A Walk-in-Progress

The Harvard Square Lit Map is an invitation to explore the literary history of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and to experience “the presence of a plurality of times.” The Lit Map is a collaborative atlas created by Lynn Sayers and Chris Lenney (of Lamont Library), in conjunction with the Woodberry Poetry Room. We also wish to thank the countless poets, scholars, and members of the general public, who contributed immensely to our knowledge of historic venues and creative locales: their names are listed below the map-in-progress. The map represents only a small portion of the total artistic activity in the vicinity and is in no way indicative of the breadth and depth of what has been created here. It is simply “the mooring of starting out,” as John Ashbery would say, a way for you to begin your literary exploration…. In creating this map, we also wish to acknowledge the Massachusett, Pequot, Wampanoag, and other Indigenous peoples, who have long inhabited this land—with their profound histories, cultures, and voices. Please assist us in expanding our understanding of the area by notifying us …

Boston Renaissance

BOSTON RENAISSANCE: A Creative For(u)m

“Ones all speaking together….”—Alice Notley In an effort to foster community at a time of social-distancing, the Woodberry Poetry Room is launching an informal poetry exchange that will randomly pair poets from the Greater Boston area to create collaborative works. This is the first event in our “Boston Renaissance” series, which will also include a collaborative Zoom forum about the literary history—and future—of Boston and the crowd-sourced creation of a series of literary maps (or, so we hope)! How to Participate: Please send us an email at poetryrm@fas.harvard.edu, with your name and preferred contact information & “Boston Renaissance” in the subject header. Registration Deadline: June 1, 2020. How Do We Define “Boston-Area”: We don’t…. ! As you can tell from our Boston Originals series, we include poets from as far afield as Providence and Amherst under this moniker (as well as MFA and grad students who reside here for several years). Perhaps you might say: poets for whom the Boston area is either a dwelling-place or serves as a literary forum and cultural/educational nexus in …

Handing reaching toward Dickinson book

THE LAYING ON OF HANDS: On “Physical Distancing” as an Ethics of the Archive

In these intangible, at times untenable days—the duration of which keeps extending its parenthesis—days in which we’re instructed not to touch, or greet within six feet, in which we’re made increasingly cognizant of what Amichai called “the circumference of the bomb,” or at the very least the consequential perimeter of our being, days of the necessarily distant and of griefs behind glass, days of the digital (though digital has its very root in “hands”), I’ve begun to reflect on what I, as a curator, have most longed to touch, materials I’m privileged to work among but must necessarily refrain from—a kind of “discipline of vicinity.” It’s a strange favor the fingers do by being far, the noli me tangere of an archivist’s career.   But, somewhere in the molecules of Massachusetts what I haven’t handled persists because I—and others—have cared enough not to touch it. ______ Over the past few weeks, removed from the physical archives, I’ve had a chance to reflect on the fact that I have never in my entire time at Houghton …

YOU ARE UNSUBSCRIBED: Some Activisms of Carol & Robert Bly

I’ve long been interested in individual actions—and minimalist instances of resistance—that testify against a seemingly insurmountable power. It’s no wonder, I suppose, that this interest has been revived of late. As a poet, I have been especially fascinated by the role of refusal: particularly, actions on the part of writers—those whose very material is the language—to use “No” (and silence itself) as a dexterous instrument. In an article in the Boston Review, I explored several writers’ renunciation of writing as a “not-saying” that “becomes language,” describing how for some poets the removal of themselves for a time from certain modes of production and/or from participation in the so-called publishing industry is not simply a negative (or subtractive) act but an action that offers a positive and proactive means to articulate their convictions. Even in this small gesture we are reminded, as Paul Celan writes, of “Man as the being who can say ‘No.’” Over the course of the past century, poets and writers as varied as Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Amitav Ghosh, Robert Lowell, Sharon Olds, Alice Oswald, …