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The Kingdom of Ordinary Time: Poems

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An anticipated new volume from Marie Howe whose “poetry is luminous, intense, eloquent, rooted in abundant inner life” (Stanley Kunitz). Hurrying through errands, attending a dying mother, helping her own child down the playground slide, the speaker in these poems wonders: what is the difference between the self and the soul? The secular and the sacred? Where is the kingdom of heaven? And how does one live in Ordinary Time―during those periods that are not apparently miraculous?

80 pages, Hardcover

First published March 10, 2008

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About the author

Marie Howe

20 books248 followers
Born in Rochester, New York, Marie Howe attended Sacred Heart Convent School and the University of Windsor. She received an MFA from Columbia University, where she studied with Stanley Kunitz, whom she refers to as “my true teacher.”

Howe has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, Columbia, and NYU. She co-edited (with Michael Klein) the essay anthology In the Company of My Solitude: American Writing from the AIDS Pandemic (1994). She has received fellowships from the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 161 reviews
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,112 reviews1,384 followers
February 21, 2022
The Kingdom of Ordinary Time was the tenth book in my October poetry project. This was a reread and confirmed that, while this is a very good poetry collection, it doesn't do quite as much for me the other two of Howe's I've read, What the Living Do and Magdalene. Howe was raised Catholic and this figures heavily into her work; as a lapsed Catholic myself I sometimes relate to this and sometimes don't relate at all. Perhaps, then, it's fitting that my favorite poem from this collection is this embodiment of struggle: Prayer.
Profile Image for Heather.
909 reviews4 followers
June 12, 2008
"My life was a story, dry as pages. Seems like he should have known/enough to like them even lightly with his thumb/ But he didn't. /And I have to admit I didn't much like the idea/of telling him how."
What an awesome heartwrenching collection of poems. Marie Howe is the single most amazing contemporary poet working today. I say that with the assertion that only the most uneducated can have. I say that because I don't know enough, I only know that it is true. Did I love this as much as "What the Living Do?" Almost. And almost is good enough in love and poetry. Read this book. Read What the Living Do. Think about the things that matter in life in a non-Oprah-book way, in a not live-your-best-life, but in a living-your-life...I don't know what I'm saying.
Profile Image for Twila Newey.
309 reviews15 followers
October 19, 2015
The Kingdom of Ordinary Time, Marie Howe, 68pp. We need more poetry, all of us. Buy this little book.

My Mother's Body

Bless my mother's body, the first song of her beating
heart and her breathing, her voice, which I could dimly hear,

grew louder. From inside her body I heard almost every word she said.
Within that girl I drove to the store and back, her feet pressing

the pedals of the blue-car, her voice, first gate to the cold sunny mornings,
rain, moonlight, snow fall, dogs...

Her kidneys failed, the womb where I once lived is gone.
Her young astonished body pushed me down that long corridor,

and my body hurt her, I know that--24 years old. I'm old enough
to be that girls mother, to smooth her hair, to look into her exultant frightened

her bedsheets stained with chocolate, her heart in constant failure.
It's a girl, someone must have said. She must have kissed me

with her mouth, first grief, first air,
and soon I was drinking her, first food, I was eating my mother,

slumped in her wheelchair, one of my brothers pushing it,
across the snowy lawn, her eyes fixed, her face averted.

Bless this body she made, my long legs, her long arms and fingers,
our voice in my throat speaking to you now.
Profile Image for Peycho Kanev.
Author 25 books278 followers
April 11, 2019

The soul has a story that has a shape that almost no one
sees. No, no one ever does. All those kisses,
The bedroom chair that rocked with me in it, his body
his body and his and his and his.
More, I said, more
and more and more. . . . What has it come to?
Like dresses I tried on and dropped to the floor. . .
Profile Image for Miranda Lukeman.
7 reviews1 follower
January 7, 2022
Really substantial and magically colloquial--I eased into these poems thinking thinking I had read this stuff before, many times over. But it's one of the few poetry books I've ended up reading straight through. It's all in the title. It's there--you'll find it.
Profile Image for Jeffrey (Akiva) Savett.
579 reviews29 followers
April 20, 2014
This was the first collection of Howe's that I've read and she's immediately leapt onto my list of favorite poets. The ultimate compliment I can give these poems is that I wish I wrote them; Howe's style is both accessible and sophisticated and her subject matter is TRULY the Kingdom of Ordinary time. She is obsessed with finding the sacred in the profane, or moreover, eliminating the very CATEGORY of profane time and experience. Errands are holy, caring for her ailing mother is communion, and having the same conversation with her daughter after school every day is prayer.

I learned a lot as a poet from reading Howe. She expertly uses the concrete image to BECOME the emergent meaning of the poem, rather than ending where it seemed she was headed in he first line. If I have any critique here, it is that many of Howe's poems follow a similar form---expository or introductory image, exploration of that image, and then the introduction of a SEEMINGLY unrelated second concrete image which sheds light through juxtaposition on the first. Again, this is both a strength a minor weakness. There is a certain intuitive rhythm Howe establishes in repeating this format.

Needless to say, I immediately ordered the rest of Howe's books as soon as I finished reading this one.
Profile Image for Kate Savage.
651 reviews112 followers
September 4, 2015
Marie Howe is such a talented poet, and all the same I guess I itch at the lulling of white-christian-hetero poetry. I'm a horrible reader for it: she mentions being at a park with her daughter and I instantly shut off.

But I connected at moments when Howe allows for something rougher to peek through, like in the poem "Non-violence." Maybe my favorite was "What the Woman Said," which begins:

I don't want to offend anybody but I never did like
fucking all that much.

And ends:

I want to tell you everything I know about being alive but I
missed a lot of living that way --

My life was a story, dry as pages. Seems like he should have known
enough to lick them even lightly with his thumb

But he didn’t. And I have to admit I didn’t much like the idea
of telling him how.
Profile Image for Caitlin Conlon.
Author 2 books110 followers
March 20, 2021
3.5 stars. I picked up this collection because “After The Movie” is one of my favorite poems. The whole collection followed this theme of exploring specific moments in time (I guess one could argue that’s all poetry does, but this felt different than that) which was unexpected but interesting and enjoyable! I’m looking forward to eventually reading What The Living Do which I’ve also heard wonderful things about.
Profile Image for Mia.
281 reviews1 follower
August 6, 2012
Another book that I came to through browsing actual books on actual shelves. I wouldn't have picked up Marie Howe but--hey!--I did. And she made me cry in the bathtub and that's usually a good thing and it was.
Profile Image for Jamie Cattanach.
186 reviews2 followers
February 18, 2015
Three and a half stars? But worth the price of purchase for "Hurry" which, if not subtle, made me cry for like a full five minutes.
Profile Image for Bekah.
164 reviews31 followers
May 10, 2016
This is the first I've read of her; makes me eager to check out "What the Living Do" soon, too.
Profile Image for Santi Valencia.
3 reviews9 followers
December 26, 2019
I hate to say that this one really pales in comparison to “what the living do” and “magdalene”. what I love about Howe, particularly in the latter collection, is how effortlessly round & whole her poems are, so that when I read them I think yes, this poem could only have moved in such a way, and i feel as if I’ve just eaten a full dinner. the poems in this collection, however, were mostly dull and non cohesive and the surprise of where they placed me didn’t elicit any feeling in me, just made me confused. like the motion from one thought to the next was such a leap that I felt bewildered and destabilized but not in a way that felt purposeful or productive to the reading experience. i imagine that spending more time with these poems would illuminate their mechanics but i wasn’t moved enough to want to give them that time. I enjoyed the poems about her daughter most. they were definitely the most honest & actually profound.
Profile Image for Carolyn Waldee.
23 reviews2 followers
December 31, 2021
every time i come back to marie's work i brace myself for the fact that maybe i won't love it as much as i remember but every single time she takes my breath away. every damn time! how does she do it! at this point there's nothing left in the book for me to underline!

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, Jesus said. He said, The kingdom of heaven / is within you. And the spiked wheel sloughed through the living centuries / minute by minute, soul by soul. Ploughs still. That's the good news and the bad news, isn't it?" (17-18)

"Oh it happens in time and time is hard to live through." (29)

"I want to tell you everything I know about being alive but I / missed a lot of living that way--" (59)

and don't even get me STARTED on "Annunciation" and "Mary (Reprise)"

favorite living poet. why don't i read her every day, again?
Profile Image for Anna Snader.
186 reviews27 followers
October 28, 2022
I love these poems because they beautifully capture the harshness and beauty of the world and the complexities of living in these crazy and ordinary days.

-The World
-Ordinary Time
-Sometimes the Moon Fell in the Well at Night
-Once or Twice or Three Times, I saw something
Profile Image for Kari Yergin.
567 reviews13 followers
May 7, 2019
I wasn’t as taken by this book as by What the Living Do but this poet is clearly a great writer.

H qSome poems that I love: the world, what we would give up, how you can’t move moonlight, my mother’s body, what the woman said, Mary (reprise), and especially Hurry (p 62) and why the novel is necessary but sometimes hard to read (p 29).
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Dan Gobble.
238 reviews6 followers
January 10, 2015
I heard an interview which Krista Tippett (host of Speaking of Faith / On Being radio shows on NPR) did with Marie Howe and I became intrigued with her story and I got to hear some of her poems and her approach to the craft of being a poet. I immediately went to my local bookstore, the Literary Bookpost, and bought a copy of the only Marie Howe book of poems they had on their shelves, "The Kingdom of Ordinary Time".

I read these poems virtually non-stop, cover-to-cover, in one sitting and I've returned to them again and again. Howe's images have stuck with me. I look forward to reading more of her poetry in the future, especially the book of poems which deal with the death of her brother.

Some of my favorite lines from the poems in this collection include:

From "The World": "The oak tree seemed to be writing something using very few words."

From "After the Movie":
My friend Michael and I are walking home arguing about the movie.
He says that he believes a person can love someone
and still be able to murder that person.

I say, No, that's not love. That's attachment.
Michael says, No, that's love. You can love someone, then come to a day

when you're forced to think "it's him or me"
think "me" and kill him.

I say, Then it's not love anymore.
Michael says, It was love up to then though.

I say, Maybe we mean different things by the same word.
Michael says, Humans are complicated: love can exist even in the murderous heart.

I say that what he might mean by love is desire.
Love is not a feeling, I say. And Michael says, Then what is it?

We're walking along West 16th Street - a clear unclouded night - and I hear my voice
repeating what I used to say to my husband: Love is action, I used to say to him.

From "Why the Novel is Necessary But Sometimes Hard to Read":
This is the life you have written, the novel tells us. What happens next?

From the poem "Government":
But the next day, negotiating the too narrow aisles of
The Health and Harmony Food Store - when I say, Excuse me,
to the woman and her cart of organic chicken and green grapes
she pulls the cart not quite far back enough for me to pass,
and a small mob in me begins picking up the fruit to throw.

So many kingdoms,
and in each kingdom, so many people: the disinherited son, the corrupt counselor,
the courtesan, the fool.

From one of Howe's "Mary" poems titled "Annunciation":
Even if I don't see it again - nor ever feel it
I know it is - and that if once it hailed me
it ever does -

And so it is myself I want to turn in that direction
not as towards a place, but it was a tilting
within myself,

as one turns a mirror to flash the light to where
it isn't - I was blinded like that - and swam
in what shone at me

only able to endure it by being no one and so
specifically myself I thought I'd die
from being loved like that.

This collection probes at the questions and mysteries surrounding what makes us who we are . . . flesh and bone, spirit, soul, mistakes, successes, life and death.
Profile Image for Rick.
778 reviews2 followers
April 28, 2008
The cover of Howe’s third collection of poems is decorated with a watercolor by her daughter Grace Yi-Nan Howe and one Alex Ross. The painting has a fried egg of a sun shining over a landscape of green, purple, brown and red triangles and squares, with what look like letter T’s and I’s providing fences and trees, and maybe a couple of A’s. It’s a pleasing, vibrant, child’s view landscape threatened by a fury of scrabbled colors, reds, brown, grey filling the painting’s right side like a storm. Mom was probably slightly more pleased over whichever part her daughter contributed but likely realized this was her collection’s cover when she thought, the kids are right, Life is like that. Something beautiful, something threatening. Howe’s collection is filled with poems of religious meaning (“The Star Market,” “Reading Ovid,” “Easter,” “Prayer,” two poems titled “Limbo,” a sequence called “Poem from the Life of Mary,” and “Snow Storm”). It also filled with poems of mortality, her own, aging past 50, and her mother’s, whose death is captured powerfully in “My Mother’s Body,” which ends “Bless this body she made, my long legs, her long arms and fingers / our voice in my throat speaking to you now.” And in “In the Course of the Last Three Days,” which ends “One of us touched her foot / One of us touched her shoulder / One of us tried to pull off her rings. / One of us tried to close her mouth by placing one hand on her head / and another hand under her chin, but her mouth wouldn’t close.” Finally, it is filled with poems where the domestic world, the religious world, and the shadowed world of violence that reaches us via the news media overlap like a venn diagram. Because it is a slim collection, less than forty poems, less than seventy pages, the poems, like “How You Can’t Move Moonlight” demonstrates, marry worlds of wonder and woe:
“How you can’t move moonlight—you have to go
there and stand in it. How you can’t coax it
from your bed to come and shine there. You can’t
carry it in a bucket or cup it in
your hands to drink. Wind won’t

blow it. A bird flying through it won’t
tear it. How you can’t sell it or buy it
or save it or earn it or own it, erase
it or block it from shining on the mule’s
bristly back, dog’s snout, duck bill, cricket, toad.
Shallow underwater stones gleam underwater.

And the man who’s just broken the neck
of his child? He’s standing by the window
moonlight shining on his face and throat.”
This collection is Marie Howe’s finest work, moving, questioning, real, and soulful.
Profile Image for Joan.
34 reviews
June 4, 2014
I am not ordinarily a poetry person. But I fell in love with Marie Howe's work. Our book club read "The Kingdom of Ordinary Time". It was a discovery for me.

Her poetry is made of ordinary life events...big things like the death of your mother and a brother and little things like walking down the street and seeing your reflection in a store window. This is what brought it home to me personally...it was so like life. "Poetry", says Howe, "happens in the silences."
To me her work happens in the mixing of time (your mother's life intertwined with yours) and the subtle humor of looking at everyday (ordinary, to use her words) things.

For book club purposes, we each picked out and read aloud our favorite poem. Poetry, I think, needs to be spoken. It was marvelous!

It helped that many of Howe's ideas matched mine. To name a few

1, The juxtaposition of being spiritual and institutional religion. Go Pope Francis.

2. The place of animals in God's plan. Everyone who has loved a pet knows they learn, they are conscious of self, they have emotions, and they are non-judgmental. According to Howe, we are fellow creatures, not necessarily lords over them. I so agree.

3. In every culture, women are underestimated and undervalued. Howe talks about Mary and Mary Magdalene in terms that makes you know they were real women.

Suggestion: there are some NPR interviews with Marie Howe where she reads her own poetry. Start there.

Profile Image for Jessie.
Author 7 books46 followers
May 23, 2013
Her language is very ordinary and carries in it a very subtle surprise, especially when it does its delicate wondering about the character of Mary, giving her a halo of ordinariness. Interesting how nonspecific much of the language is -- but the unspecifics are well placed so that they're open but not vague, like that line in Bishop's "Fish," in the midst of such incredible specificity, when she describes the fishes eyes: "It was more like the tipping/ of an object toward the light." Like the last stanza in Howe's, well the whole poem really:


Even if I don't see it again--nor ever feel it
I know it is--and that if once it hailed me
it ever does--

And so it is myself I want to turn in that direction
not as towards a place, but it was a tilting
within myself,

as one turns a mirror to flash the light to where
it isn't--I was blinded like that--and swam
in what shone at me

only able to endure it by being no one and so
specifically myself I thought I'd die
from being loved like that.


Much unsentimental stuff about loss, motherhood, the soul: "My soul drank enough to know how thirsty it was." ("Before the Fire")

My first Howe book, a gift from kg, and now I move on to WHAT THE LIVING DO... (thank you, kg).
Profile Image for Valerie.
Author 1 book37 followers
March 11, 2012
I still liked some of the poems in this, but the book as a whole is not as good as her other two.

I thought the best ones were about her daughter. Some of the poems in this book were very focused and strong, but most of the poems were not as intense as her poetry usually is.

A lot of the poems would start somewhere and end somewhere else. Great poems take the reader on a trip, but a lot of these poems brought me somewhere and I didn't know how I got there, or how it was related to the beginning. I felt like they should be two poems.

The poems are all the usual type Howe writes, prose poems or poems with very long lines that run over into the next line. The titles are all pretty boring.

My favorite poems in the book:


Non-Violence (Sorry about the low contrast text/background, but I really wanted to include this great poem!)

What Would We Give Up
Profile Image for Patricia.
Author 3 books44 followers
January 11, 2010
I'm studying modern women poets and what better teacher than the work of Marie Howe. I admire how she is able to re-examine religious and spiritual concepts that I learned as a child and give them back to me refined, renewed, and refurbished. Some of the poems ("The Massacre," for instance) address brutal subject matter with such intimacy that my breath quickened and a surge of adrenaline pumped through my blood. I loved "What the Woman Said" and "Hurry," poems that are direct hits regarding personal relations. I have little red flags poking from the pages marking poems I want to return to. Already, I've re-read "My Mother's Body" a dozen or more times touched deeply as a mother and a daughter, and marveling at the way she uses language to reach into me: "Her young astonished body pushed me down that long corridor,/and my body hurt her--I know that". Marie Howe sees and feels and then she writes.
Profile Image for Susan.
1,449 reviews26 followers
March 24, 2013
While many of these poems start with observation of the every day world, that is just the starting point for the journey they take into the life of the spirit. The turns of thought and language of some of these poems made me shiver.

"The people Jesus loved were shopping at the Star Market yesterday./An old lead-colored man standing next to me at the checkout/ breathed so heavily I had to step back a few steps." "The Star Market"

"This is the life you have written," the novel tells us. "What happens next?" "Why the Novel is Necessary but Sometimes Hard to Read"

"Sometimes the moon sat in the well at night./ And when I stirred it with a stick it broke." "Sometimes the Moon Sat in the Well at Night"

" Bless my mother's body, the first song of her beating/ heart and her breathing, her voice which I could dimly hear,/grew louder." My Mother's Body

"My soul drank enough to know how thirsty it was." Before the Fire
Profile Image for Roxanne.
Author 1 book52 followers
May 11, 2015
I really liked the poems in this book. They're really odd poems but very moving. The whole book went by very quickly.

May 2015: Hey, so I read this back in 2010! Other than a few poems towards the end, I didn't remember it, but I did note in my 2010 review that "the whole book went by very quickly" so maybe that's why. Anyway, I was looking for poetry that would really move me; I've been reading a lot of poetry lately but it's not necessarily getting to my heart, and I thought this might since there's some motherhood in there. (Maybe the problem is that I'm reading poetry before bed and I'm just too tired? But before bed used to be a good creative time for my writing, so I don't know.) Anyway, the few poems toward the end sung for me, like they apparently did before, but again this went by pretty quickly but enjoyably.
Profile Image for Dinah.
211 reviews16 followers
November 21, 2015
Marie Howe has some subtle kind of magic. Her language is straightforward, unassuming; you only vaguely feel the current of feeling gaining speed before it bursts wide open. The poems about her daughter warm my heart, while never being remotely precious. Even the spiritual searching, which I typically have little patience for, is so understated and so of a piece with all the other anxieties and wry pleasures of the speaker... it's human, nondenominational. Love Marie Howe, love this book. Not sure whether she caught the break she so badly deserved after What the Living Do, but she seems to be making peace with it all.
Profile Image for Kasey Jueds.
Author 5 books60 followers
December 24, 2009
Wow. I didn't think it was possible for me to feel as strongly about this book as I did about her previous one, What The Living Do, which is one of my poetry all-time faves. But I ended up just loving it, and appreciating (all over again) the mixture of the everyday (giving her kid a bath, buying bananas) and the spiritual (for lack of a better world) that dwells inside the quotidian and which is sometimes visible, sometimes not. The way the poems move between the two, and between a chatty sort of voice and a luminous, omniscient one is awesome in the best possible sense.
Profile Image for Lynn.
Author 1 book47 followers
January 14, 2012
I really liked some of these poems, but some seemed kind of flat, which makes me ask, "Why is this poetry?" Some of it sounds like thoughts about what just happened...as in "I just went to the store and at the store" etc...not very poetic.
But I'm looking forward to talking about it in book club.
Profile Image for Stephanie Edwards.
8 reviews4 followers
July 22, 2009
I loved What the Living Do and The Good Thief. I was so excited to begin this book, but it definitely fell short of my expectations.
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