The American poet Susan Howe is perhaps the best-known of the generation of poets that came to attention under the banner of “language poetry.” Her work has been widely anthologized and it has drawn a considerable amount of critical commentary. The “language” label, like most such tags, was unpalatable to most of the poets who came under it. It did after all mask a diverse range of poets. But, even given such reservations, it was clear from the start that Howe's poetry was out of step with certain general tendencies within language poetry. We know from the correspondence that Ron Silliman was criticized by some language poets for including Howe in his influential 1986 anthology In the American Tree. In a 1985 letter to Howe, Silliman expresses his reading of the relation between her work and language poetry: I do think one of the most important aspects of this writing [i.e. language writing], from the perspective of literary history if nothing else, is that it is anti-romantic, anti-mystical and anti-lyric (tho there are exceptions …) And your writing does seem to me to be at odds with this larger tendency. How you work with this tension in your poetry seems to me one of its most compelling dimensions.
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