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Souls of the LaBadie Tractby Susan Howe
Synopses & Reviews
Three long poems interspersed with prose pieces, Souls of the Labadie Tract takes as its starting point the Labadists, a Utopian Quietest sect that moved from the Netherlands to Cecil County, Maryland in 1684. The community dissolved in 1722. In Souls Howe is lured by archives and libraries, with their ghosts, cranks, manuscripts and material scraps. Souls of the Labadie Tract presents Howe with her signature hybrids of poetry and prose, of evocation and refraction. One thread winding through Souls is silken: from the epigraphs of Edwards ("the silkworm is a remarkable type of Christ...") and of Stevens ("the poet makes silk dresses out of worms") to the mulberry tree (food of the silkworms) and the fragment of a wedding dress which ends the book.
"Over the past three decades Howe has worked as a kind of poet-scholar manqu, mixing into her books prose explorations of early American spiritual and historical chroniclers and her own distinctive poems, usually terse, four-stress snippets that themselves seem like fugitive fragments from a larger suppressed text. In her newest book, Howe stands in thrall to a 17th-century history of Deerfield, Mass., and then chases down an obscure reference to 'Labadist' in Wallace Stevens's family tree, which brings her to the story of a short-lived Utopian 'quietest sect,' followers of Jean de Labadie who established a community in Maryland in 1684 that vanished within 40 years. It is in these vast tracts of time made intimate by texts, by language, that Howe operates: 'I keep you here to keep/ your promise all that you/ think I've wrought what// I see or do in the twilight/ of time but keep forgetting/ you keep coming back.' Beginning with a quote from Jonathan Edwards equating the silkworm to 'a type of Christ' and ending with a photograph of a fragment of the silk wedding dress of Edwards's wife, onto which Howe projects a text ('I have already shown that space is God'), this is intense stuff. Published simultaneously with a new edition (prefaced by Eliot Weinberger) of Howe's classic critical work My Emily Dickinson." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Souls of the Labadie Tract finds Susan Howe exploring (or unsettling) one of her favorite domains, the psychic past of America. This time the presiding tutelary geniuses are Jonathan Edwards and Wallace Stevens.
About the Author
Poet Susan Howe's books include My Emily Dickinson, The Nonconformist's Memorial, Souls of the Labadie Tract, Pierce-Arrow, That This, and many others. She is a professor of English at the State University of New York, Buffalo, and a 1998 Guggenheim fellow.
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