Sharps (Goose Lane Editions, 2014)

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“These poems are coded emergency & emergent code: hail, cut glass, cathedrals, systems, skeletons, & scorched earth. Stevie Howell has found a fault line underwriting Reality & turned this fissure, this terrible brokenness, into a lens. She sees the queasy, exact particular & can phase from its contours into metaphysics & back before we can see the ground shifting. An astonishing debut. An astonishing collection, full stop.”
— Ken Babstock, author of Methodist Hatchet

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New review of ‘Sharps’ in CV2

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I’m thrilled that Sharps has gotten some new reviews ~2 years on from publication, including a long close read from Lisa Pike in the newest issue of CV2:

“Stevie Howell’s first collection of poetry positions the reader at a crossroads of time & space via its themes of consumerism, capitalism, & social inequality….there is wisdom here to be heeded.”

 

New review of ‘Sharps,’ by Richard Greene

Really happy to be alerted to this new review of my book by the esteemed poet & professor Richard Greene, in the latest issue of University of Toronto Quarterly — reviews are always great but are especially sweet some time after the book has been out:

Stevie Howell is a poet of unusual intensity, and at her best she writes about terrible things in a manner that is wholly convincing. A Toronto poet, she has published widely and been nominated for several prizes. Her collection, ^^^^^^ ^^^^^^ ^^^^^^ [Sharps] (Icehouse Poetry), has been very well received, and rightly so. My slight hesitation about this book is the overabundance of references to popular culture: this is the done thing in the contemporary poetry scene, but very quickly these references become non-functional and somewhat self-congratulatory. Nonetheless, Howell is a poet of very real powers. In ‘‘A Gospel’’ she writes of a first-communion photograph, then of the persona’s loss of faith, her search for something believable among the Hare Krishna and other groups, letting

 

the Bahai indoctrinate me on Bloor one afternoon,
where they fed me channa in a muralized Olive Garden
basement. I left with a cassette
and a mental image of a savior cresting a hill
with a hankering for garlic bread.
My school and church were poverty and violence. A quadriplegic
classmate lived in a Winnebago. Her mother’s ex
cowered in a laundry hamper with a gun and shot her dead
one Sunday after Mass. That’s all I know.

 

Review: ‘Sharps’ in Matrix Magazine

I’m grateful to Roxanna Bennett & Matrix Magazine for a new review of Sharps. I’m so appreciative of her insight. + my book is just shy of its “terrible twos,” and it’s a pleasant surprise people are still finding it & finding some love for it!

QUOTE: “But grief / has an unknown half-life” Stevie Howell writes in “The Guard,” a poem placed before the title page of ^^^^^^ [Sharps], a blistering debut collection. This certainty is indicative of Howell’s work, an unblinkered engagement with the uncomfortable, a fearless interrogation of pain.[Sharps] scrutinizes death in all forms; of old age, illness, murder, and presents a pure grief untainted by sentimentality. Howell demonstrates a singular willingness to examine subject matter that is often ugly, and employs language with masterful skill and surgical detachment.

Read the whole thing here.

 

Interview: 5 Q’s w/International Festival of Authors

IFOA: Please tell us a bit about your debut book of poetry, ^^^^^^[Sharps].

© Neil Harrison

Stevie Howell: Sharps is my first book of poetry and emerged indirectly out of working in a hospital and beginning to study psychology. Those experiences gave me the tools to look at my life and issues around gender, class, trauma, faith and death.

I think of the book as grounded in the living city, but influenced by myth. It draws some inspiration from The Last Unicorn, in which the unicorn protagonist had to hide in female form to get her work done. It also draws inspiration from ancient Egyptian mythology of the afterlifefor example, the concept of ma’at, in which, when you die, your heart is weighed against a feather. A heavy heart, it was said, would be fed to a lion-hippo-crocodile hybrid. I write to try and prevent that!

Read the rest here.

 

Interview: Prism International — Egyptian Hieroglyphs, Saying “No” & Birding With Don McKay

You mentioned your own discipline (psychology), which I noticed a bit throughout [Sharps]. You speak from various psychologies (i.e.: ‘Crunches’), whose voices felt distinct from the general speaker of the book—for instance, when you re-appropriated a comment thread. There’s a lot of inhabiting of different minds, and you also actually talk about mental health facilities, the methadone clinic, and pedophilia. How do your disciplines fuel each other?

Well, I wanted this book to be “peopled.” I agreed with Philip Levine when he said, “our recent poetry seems totally without people.” For one thing, I’m a city kid; nature is alien, an anti-muse. But even more, I often feel that with my background, the odds were against me becoming a writer. And as I get older, and as I get more involved both with academia and the arts, I find I almost never meet people who (admit they?) grew up broke. Or (admit they?) had traumatic times. I feel like I crawled up through the sieve. And there’s a whole host of decent people I’ve known and loved who never read—who only worked—and I wanted as much as possible to give them voice, and to bring them with me.

And then some of the things you mentioned might fall into the category of writing about things that scare you.

Read the rest here.

 

Review: ‘Sharps’ in Canadian Literature

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Stevie Howell’s [Sharps] opens with “The Guard”—a poem that appears before the collection’s title page, and that serves simultaneously as a gesture of admittance and an administered pause:

King Tut, 5’6”, lies supine on mould-flecked cotton,
ceiling-transfixed. Body broken
as if struck by lightning. Dead at nineteen,
before purpose, before the remark.
My avatar.

Throughout the collection, Howell’s poems are edged with violence and whetted with measured and attentive lines. The speaker of one reflects on her First Communion, then on experiences with Hare Krishnas and Bahá’ís before concluding:

My school and church were poverty and violence. A quadriplegic
classmate lived in a Winnebago. Her mother’s ex
cowered in a laundry hamper with a gun and shot her dead
one Sunday after mass. That’s all I know.

Howell’s poems speak of people who “fumble towards intention,” who compare social rivals to the eerie children in The Shining, who see Rip Torn’s likeness in portraits of the Queen, and who debate the longevity of “the three-winged, / fluorescent snow angel of radiation”—a symbol that may mean zilch to whomever or whatever is alive to come across it in 100,000 years. Some poems are sharp and playful, eschewing the Roman alphabet to copy the wax rubbings of children in museums of natural history—“Dinosaurs have a Jungian resonance / with the <5 set,” after all. Others are worrisome and ominous. Some probe the “the one thing you can do / with a sawed-off rifle, a low IQ, and curiosity / about human biology;” others chronicle inventories of online vitriol and hate. Readers may find that Howell’s work calls Karen Solie’s to mind, or that of Ken Babstock (who provided a back-cover blurb). It is exquisitely visceral, and arrestingly intelligent.

Original review can be found here.