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Poet says reading should be a physical experience (audio)

By Carolina Astrain
Nov. 3, 2013 at 5:03 a.m.
Updated Nov. 4, 2013 at 5:04 a.m.

As a young boy, Christopher Howell's greatest fear was oblivion: the fact or condition of forgetting or having forgotten.

"I had nightmares about numbers," Howell said, "about numbers sort of spinning out of control toward oblivion and blackness."

Howell, an acclaimed poet who has received two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and three Pushcart Prizes, will give a reading at the University of Houston-Victoria's American Book Review reading series Thursday.

Howell, 68, witnessed the Vietnam War as a Navy journalist before earning graduate degrees from Portland State University and the University of Massachusetts.

The Spokane, Wash., native now teaches at Eastern Washington University.

"I like language that's very direct," Howell said. "Language to which the reader almost has a physical response."

Poems should first of all be a physical experience, instead of an intellectual exercise, Howell said.

"It's one of those lifetime activities that doesn't cost anything and does enrich people's lives," Howell said. "Regardless of how good the poetry might be overall societywide, there's a lot of it, and I think that's a good sign."

As a military journalist, Howell said, he grew a profound hatred for organized violence.

"There are things that I do believe," Howell said. "And those beliefs, they creep into the poems, really almost without me asking them to."

In his latest collection of poems, Gaze (2012), the poem "Long Arm of the Lake," Howell writes about a young boy camping with his father at a lake.

The young boy lies restless in an Army surplus sleeping bag in fear of the unknown: "I thought it might be a kind of crow, one of the gods of hatred, living there, feeding on what we couldn't help but be."



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