A review of

Tis of Thee

by Fanny Howe

Central question: Why is color the American version of “a class problem”?
Format: 104 pp., paperback; Size: 1⁄2” x 8” x 5-1⁄2”; Run: 700; Price: $12.95; Editors: Lyn Hejinian and Travis Ortiz; Illustration and graphic design: Maceo Senna; Cover design: Ree Katrak; Publisher: Atelos; Included with each book: a CD recording of a performance of the work, with music composed by Miles Anderson. Directed by Nya Patrinos. Characters: Andre Canty (Z), Stephanie French (Y), and Paul Miles (X). Representative sentence: “One day I realized that all sounds and sights could be raised about a yard above the place where I sat and leave me free.”

For years Fanny Howe has ignored genre without being a theory-spouting crank. Her poems often look and sound like prose. Her prose often looks and sounds like poetry. As far as I know she does not market her work as “lyric essay” or under any other such nouveau nomenclature.

Her essays in The Wedding Dress (2003) sometimes look like poems. Her novel Holy Smoke (1979) is called a novel maybe because the copyright page contains the line “All characters in this book are fictional.” This book. But I do not wish to evaluate these books according to their proximity to “actual” genres. They are simply pieces of writing by Fanny Howe, and they are all beautiful and firmament-tearing.

Howe’s latest, Tis of Thee, differs from some of her other books in that it is a poem in voices, a recognizable form. The book houses three speakers: X (an African-American man), Y (a European-American woman), and Z (their grown son). Beyond these letters the voices are nameless.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Sarah Manguso

Sarah Manguso is the author of The Captain Lands In Paradise (Alice James Books, 2002). She is currently a Hodder Fellow at Princeton.

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