What the Living Do: Poems (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

This is one of those books that almost makes me angry because I didn't write it. I have never encountered a more tightly-constructed sequence of poems. Each one flows so seamlessly, so inexorably and relentlessly into the next that they demand to be devoured in a single sitting. The grief explored here is so potent and crucial, it's impossible to look away. This book is an event. I keep coming back to it again and again, in awe.

-- Haley

— From Haley P. Staff Picks


"A deeply beautiful book, with the fierce galloping pace of a great novel."—Liz Rosenberg Boston Globe

Informed by the death of a beloved brother, here are the stories of childhood, its thicket of sex and sorrow and joy, boys and girls growing into men and women, stories of a brother who in his dying could teach how to be most alive. What the Living Do reflects "a new form of confessional poetry, one shared to some degree by other women poets such as Sharon Olds and Jane Kenyon. Unlike the earlier confessional poetry of Plath, Lowell, Sexton et al., Howe's writing is not so much a moan or a shriek as a song. It is a genuinely feminine form . . . a poetry of intimacy, witness, honesty, and relation" (Boston Globe).

About the Author

Marie Howe is the former poet laureate of New York and the author of three previous collections. Magdalene was longlisted for the National Book Award. Howe teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in New York City.

Praise For…

The love in this book is tangible and redemptive.

Her verse is almost unornamented though she manages some great gift of will and expression to convey the sharpest feeling in long, graceful lines that seem to breathe on the page.... Despite the fathomless pain inherent in these poems, Howe never succumbs to sentimentality or self-pity; her tone is passionate yet detached, her vocabulary and imagery evocative, appropriate, and devastating.

Howe is a truth-teller of the first order. Fearless in presenting unfiltered experiences, she interweaves her simple, economical language into long, subordinated sentences, loose, enjambed couplets that spill compellingly down the page with near-invisible artistry.

Marie Howe's poetry is luminous, intense, eloquent, rooted in abundant inner life.
— Stanley Kunitz

Marie Howe has reinvented the elegy as a poem for the living, a poem of instruction, how we're educated by grief. Scrupulously attentive, rigorously self-questioning, What the Living Do is an achievement of remarkable power.

— Mark Doty

The tentative transformation of agonizing, slow-motion loss into redemption is Howe's signal achievement in this wrenching second collection, which uncovers new potential for the personal poem.
Product Details
ISBN: 9780393318869
ISBN-10: 0393318869
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: April 17th, 1999
Pages: 96
Language: English