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The Good Thief

4.2  ·  Rating details ·  598 Ratings  ·  30 Reviews
Selected by Margaret Atwood as a winner in the 1987 Open Competition of the National Poetry Series, this unique collection was the first sounding of a deeply authentic voice. Ms. Howe's early writings concern relationship, attachment, and loss, in a highly original search for personal transcendence. Many of the thirty-four poems in The Good Thief appeared in such prestigio ...more
Paperback, 54 pages
Published November 1st 1999 by Persea Books (first published September 1st 1988)
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♥ Sarah
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Such a memorable collection demanding reread after reread. Honestly, it's multilayered, complex (and simple at the same time), highly emotional, and beautifully crafted. Howe is so vulnerable at times, and all her ugly truths demand blood and fire and holy retribution. And, possibly tequila. Lots of it. It was beautiful and heartbreaking, exactly what poetry is meant to make you feel. "What Belongs to Us" (my favorite poem from this collection) had me nearly in tears, and it stayed with me for w ...more
Jan 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Some number of years ago -- eight or ten or twelve -- I stumbled across a poem by Marie Howe. I can no longer tell you exactly where I was when I read it, but I still remember the way I felt when I read it: the electric current that hummed along my spine, the hair on my arms prickling up, everything reduced or expanded to me and the air I was pulling in and this poem.

I read "How Many Times" at least ten times that night.

An English professor of mine used to talk about something Aristotle said, a
Jan 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed reading each of these poems over and over. There were lots of gorgeous lines.

All of the poems had stanzas all the same line length and the titles were okay, but not great. I'm not sure why Howe titled the collection The Good Thief. I've been thinking about the collection a lot (always a good sign) and can't figure it out. I am going to do some research online, I'm sure the answer is available somewhere

Most of the poems were quiet and slow, along with the tone. There were great images.
Dec 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
It seems very fitting that Margaret Atwood selected this book for an award. Both authors reveal the ominous afterwards of trauma. There's a strange suspense that can come after an abuse or upheaval (I have in mind "The Handmaid's Tale") rather than before it--like an adult looking back on something that happened during childhood, like the real understanding that comes after an event. But, as the title (and cover) suggests, this book isn't completely dire; it's also about transcendence and the sp ...more
Kevin Fanning
Aug 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry

Wasn't my favorite Marie Howe collection. Revisit in a few years.

UPDATE 11/25/2012

So glad I tried this one again, as expected I found a lot more to love here this time. Favorites included:

Part of Eve’s Discussion

"very much like the moment, driving on bad ice, when it occurs to you your car could spin, just before it slowly begins to spin"

From Nowhere

"a day comes, when you say what all winter / I’ve been meaning to ask, and a crack booms and echoes / where ice had seemed solid"

What Belo
Oct 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-poetry
This book is one of the best written contemporary poetry books that I have read in a long time. Not only are the poems accessible, layered, and lyrical, they are ordered in a progressive and interrelated manner that gives them meaning beyond the individual poems. They actually work together at a larger level -- that of book. It's a sophisticated and enjoyable book. One you will want to read and reread.
Mar 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: summer-2015
I first learned of Marie Howe's poetry in my poetry workshop class in college. I immediately fell in love with her collection "What the Living Do" and purchased/read "The Good Thief". I enjoy her narratives, her subjects of family and spirituality as well as her long, prose-like lines. I especially enjoyed the poems, Part of Eve's Discussion, What Angels left, From Nowhere, Guests, and Mary's argument. LOVE THIS POET!!!!
Jul 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, w
These poems are so perfect and beautiful. I want to read everything Marie Howe has ever written. This collection is wonderful.
Griffin Alexander
Not my favorite of Marie's as a whole, but it has some of her most surreal and haunting moments done in an overt way that she seems to have shrunk from in later work—it's nice to see it so bold here. It has the bite of early Simic, and yet still manages the restraint and circuity of theme that makes her a poet we are lucky to have living among us.

Gretel, from a Sudden Clearing

No way back then, you remember, we decided,
but forward, deep into a wood

so darkly green, so deafening with birdsong
I stop
Mar 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
In this bold first collection of poems, Marie Howe grapples with the heavy issue of how human beings balance the weight of mortality with living, especially when living includes the difficult experiences of alcoholism, child abuse and gender inequality. Basically, Ms. Howe is taking God on ("The Good Thief" himself) and illuminating spirituality by using the very human details of everyday experience. In this poet's able hands, "the moment, driving on bad ice, when it occurs to you/your car coul ...more
Dec 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
"Bedeviled,/ human, your plight, in waking, is to choose from the words/ that even now sleep on your tongue, and to know that tangled/ among them and terribly new is the sentence that could change your life." The last lines of "The Meadow," the poem that introduced me to Marie Howe, prove prophetic. This volume expresses very bucolic themes of farm life intermingled with family stories and biblical resonances, reflections on suffering, marriage, bodies and death. "This is the past/where everythi ...more
Jul 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Marie Howe's first book is filled with monsters at the stairs and in the mind and the every-day-real variety as well. She speaks with clues of personal catastrophe with an elegance only an amazing poet like her could muster and work with. I am in awe and can not wait for her next, and third, book to be released later this year.
Stephen Mortland
Dec 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2016
This book confirmed what I had begun to expect, that Marie Howe is one of the most poignant and constructive contemporary poets I have come across. Her work is deeply arresting and honest. Her poems pull you in deep to her experiences, and startle you as, in them, you come face to face with your own. I very much look forward to rereading this collection and getting my hands on her other work.
Jan 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Again, a very special book of poems. See my reviews of her other two books of poetry, each published ten years apart: The Good Thief (1988), What the Living do (1998), and The Kingdom of Ordinary Time (2008). I highly recommend all of Marie Howe's poetry.
Mar 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
There are five or six really great poems in this collection and another dozen stand-outs. We shouldn't be too greedy.

Nov 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
I like her poetry and its development over time. This is an early book, perhaps her first.
Oct 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Spare, deep, abstract, humane.
May 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, 2014
wonderful, I'm a big fan of her work
Joanna Chen
Apr 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Marie Howe says it right in your face. She writes about experiences other people aren;t even aware of, or won't admit in a candid and often frightening way. I also love What the Living Do.
Mar 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
4.5 omg babe!?!!?
Jan 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Religious, spiritual, and real. Marie Howe moves her words across the page like her long hair flows down her body. The Good Thief is a small book full of life and fear and death and awe.
Sep 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone-- particularly those who find Judæo-Christian imagery evocative--
I love this book so much.
Jul 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Many scary poems with memories, folktale, Biblical imagery throughout. Fear, rescue, half-memories, uncompleted actions, regret...and compassion for all that. And above all, the saving force of the everyday in the now.
Feb 02, 2018 rated it did not like it
Too sparse. Perhaps read it way to quickly. Next poet, please.
Jan 11, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
Marie Howe's first collection is short, very tight in it composition, almost abstract in its treatment of themes of identity, family, religion, and nature and quite good. Lines like “At first, the scissors seemed perfectly harmless” (What the Angels Left), “No matter how many times I try I can’t stop my father / from walking into my sister’s room” (How Many Times), and “My brother already wears / his nervous look” (Apology) abound and give a sense of foreboding. “Veteran’s Day” seems a metaphori ...more
Mar 19, 2013 rated it liked it
The stars reflect my mood, not the way Marie Howe knows how to make a reader shiver. I love that her teacher, Kunitz says about her writing: "joys/terrors treated with grace and charity. Indeed. She's not poet laureate of New York without merit!
Apr 10, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
As a first collection of poetry, this was good. I like Howe's later two collections more than this one. A few stand-outs:

The Meadow
Grosvenor Road
Oct 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Great writing. Disturbing, makes me think hard, question the meaning of words assembled in a certain way...
Maureen E
Nov 04, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
Another book of poetry. Very beautiful poems, although pretty explicit in places, so I can’t just recommend it.
rated it really liked it
Jun 05, 2008
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  • Atlantis
  • What We Carry
  • Interior with Sudden Joy: Poems
  • Some Ether
  • Song
  • Donkey Gospel
  • Miracle Fruit
  • The Wellspring
  • Sun Under Wood
  • Colosseum: Poems
  • Breath
  • Otherwise: New and Selected Poems
  • White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems, 1946-2006
  • Given Sugar, Given Salt
  • Elegy
  • Domestic Work: Poems
  • Worshipful Company of Fletchers
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 fr
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“Without devotion any life becomes a stranger's story...told for the body to forget what it once loved.” 7 likes
“A traitor commits his crime but once. The rest/is retribution.” 7 likes
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