That This

Susan Howe's moving collection is organized into three distinct sections in vastly different formats. The first, "Disappearance Approach," is an essay about the sudden death of her husband. The second section, titled "Frolic Architecture," is made up of collages and fragments of Hannah Edwards Wetmore's diary. The almost-phrases are elusive, mysterious, and oblique. The final section, "That This," presents orderly squares of verse—perhaps as an attempt to return to the solidity of language.

Howe's ability to pursue aspects of language that provoke and confound, even through scenes or contexts of high emotion, is a gift for her readers. From "Disappearance Approach":

When we listen to music we are also listening to pauses called "rests." "Rests" could be wishes that haven't yet betrayed themselves and can only be transferred evocatively.

I wonder at vocalism's ability to rephrase or reenact meaning and goodness even without the wished-for love. Can a trace become the thing it traces, secure as ever, real as ever—a chosen set of echo-fragments? The sound of Peter's voice communicated something apart from the words he was saying.

In The Boston Review, John Palattella praised Howe for being a poet who is "rigorously skeptical and ... profoundly visionary." That This is an intelligent, passionate read.

This book review originally appeared in American Poets.