Fanny Howe’s poetry collection, The Lyrics, includes poems that thrive on the lyric poem’s conventions; the poems include both the personal world of the speaker, as well as the universal world. Each poem is also a lyric by itself; each lyric comprises The Lyrics spoken about in the title. It is not uncommon for Howe to include first person plurals; the result is a collection that addresses the emotional journey of not just its speakers, but the people around the speakers.
If ever there was a poem serving as an atlas or guide for this collection’s reader, it is the poem “28.” from the first section of the book, “The Days.” This poem represents the journey that the reader, speaker(s) and poet are taking. Howe writes:
*A day is a freely given poem; it can be short or long. Contradiction, coincidence.
An emotional experience. Perseverance through hell.
A series of events you must not forget. Twelve sunsets, twenty nine dawns, all in one.
An epiphany. How long your hopes last
Until the next poem.*
This poem explains both the terrain of the poem’s conception and focus, as well as the terrain of human experience. The poems in this collection deal with “contradiction” and “coincidence” and how each “epiphany” leads to another “series of events.” The poems are short, but together they make one large poem. These “lyrics” are subtitled with numbers, as each forms the bulk of a larger poem. As the aforementioned poem is contained under “The Days,” it is both its own poem, as well as a piece of a larger poem. The lyrical poem’s “emotional experience” is what drives the collection’s pieces, but, oftentimes, the poems circle around subject matter just as humans see the world.
Gender has a prominent place in Howe’s book. If this collection is about the journeys we take and the accompanying emotions, then gender is a logical issue to include; afterall, Howe is not only a poet, but also a female poet. In poems such as “5.” - in the section titled, “Home” - power and equality are spoken about in the situation Howe presents. She writes about “the long pause” when “men and women/struggle with equal strength” and how, eventually, the man will “drag me through the streets” and how he “dropped me and the children at a station/Like statues he had cut, baked and broken.” Here, gender is spoken about explicitly. The male figure uses and abuses, and the female speaks as if beyond the grave of how “I must have been insane.” Here, Howe demonstrates the ways in which men and women have interacted, and how violent a traditional space, such as “home,” can be.
Patriarchal culture is also discussed in terms of war. In her poem, “6.” - in the section titled “School” - she writes how “humans and horses together” are “one thing.” Here, the culture is brought to an animalistic level; horses and humans, “pricks/in their pants…/draw up plans/for the continuing slaughter.” Here, the patriarchial violence is highlighted to draw attention to the culture’s violence. For this poem to exist in the "School" section insinuates the way in which violence and patriarchal culture are things that are learned.
The poems in Howe’s collection explore the world in which people live and the elements that affect each collective and individual experience. The poems contain inversions, repetition and an elliptical take on subjects such as religion, education, nature and gender. The world is broken into pieces, but the whole is created through each “lyric.”