Fanny Howe

Unteachable and Unteachable:
The Black Mountain College Exhibit,
ICA, Boston, MA   2015


For Gerrit Lansing


First there is a minimum house
And then a quiet house
Katherine Litz has her back to the dining hall,
Her foot extended and looks at the lake and the Black Mountain.
And Charles Olson sits beside a window.
Anni Albers draws knots
And John Dewey the Democrat
Weaves thought into matter.

These are their relics. They are all poets.
They have fabrics hanging in space
And lines of music without notes.
This is why they stand by a door like those
Who choose an aisle seat.

They have left these traces
Of their silence, neuroses and histories
In war.

They are a proud, cold and poetic people.
You can tell. They can’t be forced
To stay anywhere but never stay still.
They don’t say die, they say disappear.


A transparent leaf.
A selection of leaves.
A piano where leaves of music flutter.


One of them could uncover and reproduce the pattern
Of a kitten’s coat by using string
Of various colors, pulled tight.
Before the fur has grown in.


Look at their faces. Anni Albers has seen everything.
John Cage has not and still has hope.
John Dewey is analytical but his mouth is soft.

Dewey noticed life is education enough.
Can you teach life?
Yes, experiment with the real.

So what is the teacher’s purpose except
To deliver a body from prison.

Dewey said, “We get used to the chains we wear.”


A free-hanging space divider,
knots of wool and string uncurling,
mirrors of stars and plasma from their brains
that have evolved at the same rate as Einstein’s.

Ancient people drew glyphs and Katherine Litz
in a bag choregraphed one.
Merce Cunningham made an alphabet out of his arms and legs.
The mathematical genius of the glyph carvers
Shows that time is not progress.
The rhythm of chatter gets you somewhere.

You find in its poetry what you knew already.


Joseph Albers taught in America without the English language.
Paint and proportion was his vocabulary.
It was the Weimar period in Germany.
Bauhaus had ended under the aesthetic of Hitler.
Painters painted in abstractions and codes.


Dewey noted that it takes a lot of work
to change a person’s beliefs.
He dared them to try.

Outside the window of the Black Mountain show
Boston had the russet and reserved tone
Of the nineteenth century.

Formal trees saluted
Both the end and beginning of catastrophe.


Some unteachables are children, some are poems.
Some children become poets.
(Invincible Lyn Hejinian.)
Some poems are films,
Some are pots and pans, some are rings around the moon.

Why write down what can’t be taught?
Alice Coltrane drove her shuttle out of her saxophone.
An octave or a fifth, it was a poem.

Coffers, coffins, more of them filled
During a war. Many poems follow force
Because at the end of the day
We will have nonviolence and Simone Weil and her poem The Iliad.



Fanny Howe

Fanny Howe has written poetry, fiction, and essays; her most recent book is The Needle’s Eye from Graywolf Press.