On Wednesday, Nov. 19, Fanny Howe traveled to New York city for the National Book Award ceremony. Her latest book of poetry, Second Childhood, was a finalist for the award.

The event itself was “a bit of a nightmare,” Ms. Howe said. It was held at Cipriani’s Restaurant near Wall street, and she felt that commercialization had not only eclipsed, but had perhaps eaten whole any semblance of art at the ceremony.

On the bright side, she did get to spend time with a friend from the Vineyard. “Our neighbor, Geraldine [Brooks], was at the award ceremony presenting, and it was great to see her there because I never see her otherwise,” Ms. Howe said.

Second Childhood is a collection of poems that all emanate from a single theme. “It is about the convergence between old age and childhood,” Ms. Howe said. “We all know the meaning of the term second childhood. You get old and then you may begin acting like a chid again.”

But this doesn’t mean the poems resemble each other in a concrete way. “There are a variety of ways you can look at the subject,” Ms. Howe said.

Plus, there is the style with which Ms. Howe approaches her art. Ms. Howe received the Ruth Lilly poetry prize in 2009. At that time, Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry Magazine which administers the prize, said of her work, “her poetry can be elusive and hermetic, and then abruptly and devastatingly candid; it is marked by the pressures of history and culture, yet defiantly, transcendently lyrical. She is a demanding and deeply rewarding artist.”

When asked about this description of being a demanding poet, Ms. Howe said she never tries to be difficult. “It’s just that the music is more important than the sense. I often depart from the melody to do something else and then return. I let the sound carry the poem.”

She suggests that readers of her poems, “not try to understand it, just listen to it.”

The following is excerpted from the title poem in her collection.

Second Childhood

I have a fairy rosary called Silver who answers

questions when I dangle her in the sun at the window.

So I’ve asked her if I have a big ego and she swings

from side to side to say no.

We have other children for friends.

We don’t understand why we are here in the world

with horrible grown-ups or what the lessons are that

we’re supposed to learn.

It’s not helpful for us to hear ourselves described in

religious, geriatric or psychological terms, because we

don’t remember what they mean.

One cruel female said, “Don’t laugh so much. You’re

not a child.”

My cheeks burned and my eyes grew hot.

I decided to stop becoming an adult. That day I chose

to blur facts, fail at tests, and slouch under a hood.

School was my first testing ground. I misunderstood

lessons, assignments, meanings of poems and stories,

and misinterpreted the gestures of characters in

novels. I was awestruck by geology but mixed up the

ages of rocks. I stared and giggled, and refused to

take orders and was punished.

Throughout my life I have remained vague and

have accepted the humiliation it brought, almost

as if stupefaction was a gift. I willfully repeat

my mistakes over and over and never learn from


Every day has been a threat to this attitude so I avoid


For example, last night I dreamed I was on an airplane

that was open to the sky and a storm was coming

from a hive of stars, and I wanted to sit beside my

daughter to watch the wind as we strapped ourselves

tight to the invisible seats and stayed awake in the air.

If we had been grown-ups, we wouldn’t have been

able to see the stars or the storm. We would have


So my commitment to childhood has once again been


Read the signs, not the authorities.

You might think I am just old but I have finally

decided to make the decision to never grow up, and

remain under my hood.

We are like tiny egos inside of a great mountain of air.

Pressed upon by the weight of ether, we can barely