10 September 2006


Mostly I adore HD, and particularly Trilogy, but yesterday John Wright did point out some moments when her language is either gratingly near-rhymey, or academically so, such as

This search for historical parallels,
research into psychic affinities

"The Walls Do Not Fall," XXXVIII


states economically
in a simple dream-equation

the most profound philosophy

"The Walls Do Not Fall," XX

I wonder, though, for this poet, who was entirely conscious of having been labeled, H.D., Imagiste, and who bristled under that label, if a little of the flatness that occurs now & then in Trilogy, a little of the parts that don't exhibit her usually superb and cool soundings of the language, aren't intentional. I.e., as another member of the reading group I am involved with that is now reading HD, said, with full admiration, "HD works hard sometimes not to be a tight-ass."

I was really surprised to find, in Trilogy, and particularly in "Tribute to the Angels," a poetic tone of arch & cool distance that I primarily associate with the beginning of Edward Dorn's Gunslinger. Think of lines about meeting "the Cautious Gunslinger / of impeccable personal smoothness," and the distance and raised eyebrow tone in "Is it the domicile it looks to be / or simply a retinal block / of seats in, / he will flip the phrase / the theater of impatience." Also the act of the Gunslinger as "he will unroll the map of locations." Also the concern with "Time" in Gunslinger as in "Time is more fundamental than space," and the concern about relating self (or multiple selves, or culture) to time.

Then look at these lines, chosen from various places in "Tribute To The Angels"

as if she had miraculously
related herself to time here,

which is no easy trick, difficult
even for the experienced stranger (XXVII)

But none of these, none of these
suggest her as I saw her,

though we approach possibly
something of her cool beneficence (XXXI)

I see her as you project her,
not out of place

flanked by Corinthian capitals,
or in a Coptic nave

or frozen above the centre door
of a Gothic cathedral;

you have done very well by her
(to repeat your own phrase) (XXXVII)

she carries a book but it is not
the tome of the ancient wisdom (XXXVIII)

Certainly Dorn, in a class with Robert Duncan at Black Mountain College, would have had impetus to read HD. Whether he actually did or not, when he read her, and with what result, I can't say. I just find the juxtaposition of tone fascinating, and when I hear that tone in HD, I like it very much. It confirms to me something I have suspected, but that is not part of the picture usually conveyed of HD, that is, of how tough-minded she is, and how entirely conscious of every aspect of her work she must be. Devotee & seeker of wisdom that is intellectual & spiritual, yes, but never one to give in or over to anything not clearly in her mind's eye.

Moving from reading HD to reading Gertrude Stein's Geography and Plays. First, I am immediately struck with how I admire HD, & read her with taut attention and a bit of awe, yet how I simply so enjoy reading Stein. There is so much abundant energy, leaps of imagination, and sheer fun in her work.

"Susie Asado" is like, or is, having sex in language. Try to understand it as modulations of breathing, with the breath getting somewhat louder & shorter with each "sweet" in the first line to a climax in "tea" and then an exhalation of relief/release in the first "Susie Asado." Then again. And continue with this kind of thinking/hearing/feeling the poem throughout. Ulla Dydo of course has noticed and noted this in her great work on Stein, The Language That Rises (Northwestern Univ. Press, 2003), but what's great about Stein, or one of the many things, is that so often, if you just hear the work, it doesn't need explication. It is what it is what it is, and we find joy in it.

I love the moments in Stein when, in the midst of long strains of variation on word combinations, sentence possibilities, gradually shifting and sliding, all the while carrying information (yes, Stein is understandable, quite often, as providing information), she inserts a sentence in which it's clear the work is about what the language in it does. Such as

Education, education, apprenticeship, and all the meeting of nephews and trains and changing papers and remaining when there is no chance to go there, all this occupied a whole sentence.

from "France," in Geography and Plays

and of course the "whole sentence" it occupied is the one you have just finished reading, and all of a sudden instead of being absorbed in the work, you are back to yourself and, if you experience it as I do, laughing for a moment, yet also better prepared to launch back into reading the work, which, while a lot of fun, is also entirely demanding of one's attention.


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