Editors Notes

editorís notes on How2/7

by Ann Vickery

The title for this issue is “Embracing Difficulty,” which, as Kate points out, seeks to join in thought the tactile and the terrifying. The events of September 11 left many wondering anew about the possibility of writing after trauma as well as the political potential of the writing act. For some, there was more need than ever to hold onto the imaginary. Nancy Johnson remarks, “…as of September / something new and angry / marks my palms / making dreams essential.” Yet, for other writers, such experience had overwhelmed words. Kathleen Fraser recalls that she kept “coming up against silence.”

The Modernist Studies Association’s annual conference was held one month after September 11. Elisabeth Frost, Michael Bibby and Cynthia Hogue had organized a panel, “Modernist Influence on Contemporary Poetry” with Kathleen Fraser, Carla Harryman and Lorenzo Thomas as the panel’s speakers. Following 9-11, the organizers began to question:

Are the priorities the same, for ourselves as poets, critics, teachers? What is the “relevance” of poetry in a time of war, of terrorism, of heated nationalism? What are the issues that newly confront us as writers, teachers, readers of contemporary and modern poetry?

In her essay, “‘Thinking Toward Action’: Epistemology, Politics, and the Syntax of Modernist Poetics,” Dee Morris calls for a poetics of difficulty which would participate in the creation of a politics of difficulty. Such a poetics would build up conceptual categories as well as well as envisage connections that might not otherwise be apparent. She adds that while such a poetics may be politically ambivalent, it become necessary in times of atrocity.

Michael Bibby points out that more traditional forms of poetry—such as the lyric or sonnet—may function as a kind of transitional object, that is, as a gathering or meeting place that holds solace and significance in times of crisis. He reminds us that innovation is tied etymologically to revolution, rupture and the logic of the market. Accordingly, one might wonder how closely or inadequately paratactical methods, montage, and semantic breaks in contemporary poetry might express the particular lived historical experiences of violence and how it is possible think of an innovative poetics that is not a violence. One way might be to think of innovative strategies in terms of the reconstructive or recuperative, particularly, as Kathleen suggests, in terms of exploring edges—the breaks, the gaps, the wounds.

Frances Presley argues that we need a language of feeling that includes a vocabulary for mourning. Cynthia Hogue also considers the relationship between aesthetics and ethics, analysing how poets explore in their work what is possible at the local level. She discerns that some innovative writing can dissolve the boundaries of ego at the level of subjective agency, creating the space for change. As she quotes from Marianne Moore, “There never was a war that was/ not inward; I must/ fight till I have conquered in myself what/ causes war.”

As Zohra Saed, the coordinator of our special feature on Afghan women’s writing, suggests, not only do histories of loss and violence need to be articulated but so should their affect. She writes:

Aunts who have embroidered history onto the hems of sleeves and skirts, exchange coy glances with me, eldest daughter, seeker of stories. I wait until the warmth of the pink tea has coaxed our family legends, still aching from its closeness to their hearts.

Their voices evaporate to the ceiling, then fall on my lips like snow.

I taste the past from which we have escaped with our lives.

In an interview in the Translations section, Reina María Rodríguez talks of blurring what is literature and what is being lived:

I think that conserving it there as the work… it’s like capital accumulated toward our possibility of really achieving a powerful state. Not greater, but broader, a passion or a form. Because in each of my books, what has always mattered is the human form of existence itself. Existing and seeing what is happening. Now, it’s my bones getting to that stage, the knees changing shape, the kind of flabbiness, the way of looking or laughing — all the levels of… seeing the human form as a phenomenon. I’m not a photographer, but in a certain way, this is another relationship to photography, right? The act of seeing the disaster. Trying to see all of the rubble, the traces. That’s what matters the most to me.

The need to witness—whether orally, in writing or pictorially—is vital. Jannie Wolff’s photos document the changing landscape of Manhattan following September 11. Brenda Coultas also records and reacts to the layers of debris—including human debris—that layered the streets of the Bowery in New York after September 11.

On a cautionary note, Michael Bibby and Lorenzo Thomas suggest that we should not forget that censorship often occurs in such times in order to reinforce a dominant hegemony. Lorenzo Thomas argues that there are valuable lessons to be learned from the poetics of dissent practiced by writers and small-press publishers in the face of World War I. As he reveals, pacifist dissent often resonated with other forms of political dissent—foregrounding elements of racial, class and gender injustice.

* * *

Besides a focus on issues arising out September 11, we have two special subsections of readings: one on Leslie Scalapino, and the other to commemorate the release of Lorine Niedecker’s Collected Works. This issue also contains a large and spectacular multimedia section edited by Anya Lewin. Having coordinated the multimedia section for the past three issues, Anya will be stepping down from the role with this issue. Kate and I would like to thank her for the wonderful contributions she has directed toward HOW2. Readers will no doubt notice that the forum of the issue is missing and that the work/book section is delayed. Rest assured that the forum’s absence is only temporary and that it will appear once again in issue 8.

Please consult our masthead for the contact addresses for our editors and coordinators. Kate and I would like to thank Roberta Sims and her assistant, Kevin Fodness, for all their time, care, and patience in getting the issue up on the web. They have been an integral part to the production of HOW2 and their work is greatly appreciated.


Ann Vickery Editor-in-Chief:
Ann Vickery
Kate Fagan Managing Editor:
Kate Fagan
Roberta Sims Webmaster
Roberta Sims

HOW2 Internet Address (Bookmark it!):

Editorial correspondence may be e-mailed to: or

Review copies of recent books may be sent to:

Kate Fagan
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Newtown, NSW 2042

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