'Pilings of thought under spoken' : the poetry of Susan Howe, 1974-1993
This thesis discusses the poetry published by contemporary American poet Susan Howe over a period of almost two decades. The dissertation is chiefly concerned with articulating the relationship between poetic form, history, and authority in this body of' work. Howe's poetry dredges the past for the linguistic effects of patriarchy, colonialism and war. My reading of the work is an exploration of the ways in which a disjunctive poetics can address such historical trauma. The poems, rather than attempting to reinstate voices lifted from what Howe has called "the dark side of history", are a means of reflecting the resistance that the past offers to contemporary investigation. It is the effacement, and not the recovery, of history's victims, that is discernible in the contours of these highly opaque texts. Notions of authority are most often addressed in the poetry through the figure of paternal absence, which has a threefold function in the work, serving to represent social authority, an aporetic conception of divinity and an autobiographical narrative. Alongside the antiauthoritarian currents in the writing - critiques, for example, of the doctrine of Manifest Destiny or of scapegoating versions of femininity - my thesis stresses Howe's engagement with negative theology and with a strain of American Protestant enthusiasm that has its roots in 17th century New England. The dissertation explores the dissonance caused by the co-existence in the poetry of elements of political dissent and religious mysticism. Finally, I consider Howe's engagement with literary history and authors such as Shakespeare, Swift, Thoreau and Melville. The manner in which Howe deploys the words of others in her work, I argue, allows for a mixture of textual polyphony and a more conventional notion of authorial 'voice'.