Fanny Howe’s latest work, Come and See, explores themes of spirituality and war with a concern for children growing up in the midst of war-torn countries. Spirituality, a theme that can be seen in Howe’s work as a whole, rises more in the form of a seeker, one questioning religion, rather than an adherent.
In “Hymn,” the speaker “traveled to the page where scripture meets fiction. / The paper slept but the night in me woke up.” The speaker questions the validity of the scriptures even while reading them—the questions rise up in her like “night.” She asks, “To what end did their shapes come forth? / To seduce or speak truth?” referring to the words in the Bible. The poem then moves into the vivid image of “birds…like pot-bellied angels,” combining the every day with the religious. In the end, she concludes vaguely “only that which exists can be spoken of,” leaving the reader to question whether she came to a decision on the validity of the scripture or if the questions still are within her.
While the majority of her poems tend to incorporate medium-length lines and remain on the shorter side, the last and title poem of the collection, “Come and See,” departs from this. It is a long prose poem, and, being at the end of the book, feels as if the author has relaxed her austere grip on language, pulled the readers closer, and let them in for a closer perspective. The poem begins with the description of a piece of art, a theme in this book. And, like her poems on spirituality found earlier in the book, she examines this art and questions it, asking “Did this really happen?”
Come and See invites the reader to come up close to spirituality and question it, examine it from every angle, as Howe has done once again, in this collection of poems.