Poets living in the American West often muse about the rolling cheatgrass, gnarled stands of scrub oak, winding horseshoe cliffs, the scent of freshly-cut ponderosa, and even the occasional mountain-hardened rustler shielding himself against a grey winter squall.
Howe’s poems are Western but unmistakably modern, drawn from the astute observation of humanity of both rural and urban settings. Her weekly commute from the heart of Sanpete County to Utah Valley causes her to reflect on her culture and to contemplate recent events as she winds through the long, broad canyons. She sees an occasional deer chased from the road, pinyon jays, and magpies. She thinks about death, marriage, blood, and yes, even the dreamy (and occasionally steamy), country girl’s attraction to men.
In her verse, she journeys into the psyche of several women: Charles Dickens’s wife Catherine; Charlotte Brontë; an Argentine woman who unknowingly carried a fetus for several years; a woman whose pet snake tried to squeeze her to death. She recalls the rhododendrons of Kew Gardens, the house of Shakespeare’s grandmother, the sheep of Ireland, and the dogs of the Sierra Madres, but mostly she writes about the Mountain West and her home there.
Susan Elizabeth Howe teaches creative writing, contemporary American poetry, and British literature at Brigham Young University. Her poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Southern Review, Poetry, and other journals. Her first collection, Stone Spirits, won the Publication Prize of the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies, then Best Poetry Award from the Association for Mormon Letters. She is co-editor of Discoveries: Two Centuries of Poems by Mormon Women and has seen two of her plays performed locally.