This essay studies the particular conjunction of documentation (“hard facts”) and highly wrought lyric verse and prose in Susan Howe's book The Midnight, a collage text consisting of historical extracts, archival fragments, biographical information, photographs, drawings, cited poems, folk songs, letters, and the original lyrics of the “Bed Hangings” sequence—the whole designed to create an elegiac memoir of the poet's mother, Mary Manning Howe, that is also an autobiographical account of the poet's own discovery of her vocation and her place in her maternal family history. In Howe's text, various bits of documentary “evidence” jostle and contradict one another, providing a portrait of both mother and daughter as mysterious as it is complex. The seemingly unrelated items begin to coalesce even as the text foregrounds its “textile” production—its awareness of itself as an example of bookmaking. The Midnight is thus a new sort of poem—at once documentary and visionary—whose language play is everywhere charged with meaning.

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