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The Birth-mark
unsettling the wilderness in American literary history
Susan Howe




Wesleyan
1993 • 208 pp. 14 illus. 6 x 9"
Literary Criticism

$19.95 Paperback, 978-0-8195-6263-0



A stimulating examination of early American literature

Susan Howe approaches early American literature as pet and critic, blending scholarship with passionate commitment and unique view of her subject. The Birth-mark traces the collusive relationships among tradition, the constitution of critical editions, literary history and criticism, the institutionalized roles of poetry and prose, and the status of gender. Through an examination of the texts and editorial histories of Thomas Shepard’s conversion narratives, the captivity narrative of Mary Rowlandson, and the poetry of Emily Dickinson, Howe reads our intellectual inheritance as a series of civil wars, where each text is a wilderness in which a strange and lawless author confronts interpreters and editors eager for settlement. In a concluding interview, Howe comments on her approach and recounts some the crucial biographical events that sparked her interest in early American literature.

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Reviews / Endorsements



“The fabled violence of American patrimony is here tracked and qualified by brilliantly perceptive readings of initial texts of that common inheritance. Susan Howe, herself “a library-cormorant” in Coleridge’s phrase, brings to her task the powers of a major poet and the adamant measure of the “Other” she, as all women, have been forced to be. This remarkable book is vivid testimony of that voice we can no longer silence.” —Robert Creeley

“No other poet now writing has Howe’s power to bring together narrative and lyric, textual scholarship and historical speculation, found text and pure invention.” —Marjorie Perloff

“These essays have already had a profound influence on the course of North American poetry. Howe’s scholarship is exhilarating and endlessly provocative. Her poetic revisioning of the essay form is exemplary. Howe’s convincing reading of Dickinson’s manuscripts as the primary site of her “sumptuary” values is a major challenge to previous readings of Dickinson and inaugurates a new era in Dickinson scholarship. In The Birth-mark, Howe insists not on the return of the author but the resurgence of writing and of the poetic as the wildness at the heart of an ever-emerging America.” —Charles Bernstein

The Birth-mark . . . is an astonishing work re-presenting the American past, its history, literature, texts, and critics. At once gnomic and lucid, grave and scintillating, it is a trespass comparable to Lawrence’s or Olson’s in its passionate grasp of materials, its critical delegitimation of iconic cultural authorities, its fierce originality . . . Howe is a witness of the almost unrepresentable borderlands of history, spiritual striving, and human grief; her writing has a unique sublimity.”—Rachel Blau DuPlessis

Awards/Recognition:

Times Literary Supplement Notable Book (1993) Commendation


SUSAN HOWE is a poet and Professor of English at the State University of New York- Buffalo. She is also the author of numerous critical essays including My Emily Dickinson (1985), and most recently “Sorting Facts; or, Nineteen Ways of Looking at Marker” in Beyond Document: Essays on Nonfiction Film (Wesleyan, 1996), edited by Charles Watten. Her books of poetry include Singularities (1990), The Europe of Trusts: Selected Poems (1989), Articulation of Sound Forms in Time (1987), and most recently, Frame Structures: Early poems, 1974-1979 (1995).



Fri, 1 Sep 2017 16:17:23 -0500