The contemporary poet most closely associated with Emily Dickinson is Susan Howe. In My Emily Dickinson and other writings Howe sees Dickinson as her forebear. The link with Dickinson is the antinomian strain in the New England Protestant imagination, and Howe sees that antinomian spirit as impelling Dickinson’s—and her own—experiments in form and diction to express the urgencies of personal vision and spiritual quest in a morally and psychologically fractured world. But Howe’s long poems display an essentially historical imagination very different from Dickinson’s lyric imagination. In contrast, her sister Fanny Howe has a lyric imagination, and her poems sound and feel more like Dickinson’s in their concision, personal voice, verbal density, sidewise metaphorical leaps, and focus on rendering the immediate moment of perception and feeling. The contrast between Susan and Fanny Howe proceeds from their different theologies and religious sensibilities. What is left of God in Susan’s antinomianism is language: individual voice and vision in a broken world. The Catholic matrix of Fanny’s poems is incarnational and assumes an informing spirit in material existence, an ultimate reality outside language informing the contentions of emotional and spiritual life which language in its indirections seeks to apprehend and express. Thus Dickinson offers a lens through which to distinguish the poetic perspectives and practice of two of the most important contemporary American poets.


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pp. 100-112
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