Spontaneous Particulars: The Telepathy of Archives by Susan Howe

Review by Anna Zalokostas

Green Apple Books (San Francisco)

Spontaneous Particulars by Susan Howe at Green Apple Books in SF

Of course this is a book that can be read, but more than anything, Spontaneous Particulars demands to be looked at—and touched. Manuscript fragments, discarded scraps of silk, a pricked pattern, a prescription pad: to run your hand or mind over the affinities and relations Howe stitches together is to understand the quite literal beauty of text that flirts with illegibility. The pleasures of the mind are as sensual as any, and the visual, tactile, and acoustic resonances are as dense with information as the words themselves.

While digital archives open up entire vistas of possibility, Howe’s concern here is with the physical, an encounter that can open up or disrupt time in a different way. “The secret of the poetic art lies in the keeping of time,” writes Howe, quoting Duncan. But isn’t this exactly what libraries gather and guard, what they proffer: time, and the pleasures of time outside an economy of use? As the physical space of our towns and cities is increasingly contested, the library remains a sanctuary, not just a geographical location, but a possible landscape, a place where “a thought may surprise itself at the instant of seeing.” Howe, quoting Williams: “There is a wind or ghost of a wind in all books echoing the life there.”

And I can’t pick up Spontaneous Particulars without remembering entire days I’ve spent in the New York Public Library’s Rose Reading Room, utterly mesmerized by those majestic ceilings, overwhelmed with the feeling of what is possible. This is where Howe’s ode to libraries and archives, manuscripts and special collections is at its most powerful, when it reminds us of why we begin to read in the first place: because we find ourselves uncovering whole universes of possibility.


Spontaneous Particulars is published by Christine Burgin/New Directions and distributed by W.W. Norton & Company.

$29.95   HB   80 pages with 32 color illustrations   ISBN: 978-0-8112237-5-1   Pub Date: October 2014