Reading: Not as much by Fanny Howe

Fanny Howe (b. 1940) is an acclaimed New England poet who published 20 books. She has won numerous awards. I read a small poem that I think is representative of her work, as it is the careful registration in language of a familiar experience.

Not as much

Bracken and primrose

edible smells
the color of the taste

what some girls wear
simply delights me

but not as much

as a naked woman
raking the waves
with her breasts

A short and seemingly simple poem, the choice of the words ‘bracken’ (a fern) and ‘primrose’ is a very careful one. It evokes an entire sensory world of color, smell and taste. We can incorporate (eat) those colors and smells. In Howe’s world we are our sensory experience.

The delight in fashion is quiet observation. What is missing is the involvement. The image of a naked woman coming towards us (because we can see her breasts ‘raking’ the waves, imposing a fictitious order on the chaos of the sea) accomplishes that. The approaching woman is an invitation to live, an invitation that can inspire us more than our sensory experience can ever accomplish.

Note that Fanny Howe is not lesbian; this is not a sexual gaze, and that makes it perhaps more powerful.

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