Souls of the Labadie Tract (Paperback)
New Directions, 9780811217187, 144pp.
Publication Date: November 17, 2007
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.
Souls of the Labadie Tract finds Susan Howe exploring (or unsettling) one of her favorite domains, the psychic past of America, with Jonathan Edwards and Wallace Stevens as her presiding tutelary geniuses. 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 scraps of material. 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 that ends the book. Souls of the Labadie Tract presents Howe with her signature hybrids of poetry and prose, of evocation and refraction:
There it is there it is—you
want the great wicked city
Oh I wouldn't I wouldn't
It's not only that you're not
It's what wills and will not.
About the Author
Praise For Souls of the Labadie Tract…
— John Palattella
No other poet now writing has Howe's power to bring together narrative and lyric, scholarship and historical speculation, found text and pure invention.
— Marjorie Perloff
Over the past three decades Howe has worked as a kind of poet-scholar manqué, 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.
Howe's words give the impression of echoing another, hidden poetry of which we catch only fragments, like an opera sung in another room—except that the other room is death, or history, or the ineffable.
— Geoffrey O'Brien