Bruce Boone and H.D.

H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) by way the Beinecke Rare Books Library

When thinking back to Sagetrieb’s long legacy of special issues devoted to single authors, one would be remiss not to remember the journal’s devotion to the modernist poet H.D. (1886-1961), of which four issues were devoted solely to scholarship on her work (more than any other single author).

In the first of these special issues, Sagetrieb 6.2 (Fall 1987), edited by Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Bruce Boone wrote a spiritual exegesis on H.D.’s work entitled: “H.D.’s Writing: Herself a Ghost.” While the piece is brief in page count, its probings into the mind and work of H.D. run deep. It begins with Boone acting as host to the spirit of H.D. The piece then slides into a kind of interpretive channeling  of both text and of life, making what seems to this reader an argument for a reading of the life-text (or body of texts) that could only be done by a true devotee:

Do you believe you’re dead when you’re dead? Far from it! she’d answer — returning from Egyptian Karnak to London, presenting in exclamatory haste her great discovery to her friend Pearson — London is Karnak — you know? Meaning partly the Blitz is  going on outside her window. When a roof falls down on you in London, this reveals something (think of Virginia Woolf resolving on, successfully attempting suicide because of an intuition that comes to her: this is WWI all over again!) And when ruins come to light in the sand — that’s when you know something.[…] Negating vampires emerge from the tomb in the form of H.D.’s mystical wish that meaning exist where none is or can be. […] Experience means the present for the French author. For her, a glistening goal

In closing, and in true homage to H.D., Boone reaches out, and through, to the historical and epistemological limits of thought, the slips and hollow of interpretation. He then asks:

Will those who read these words of mine when I’m dead one day empty them of the meaning I intend for them — in fairness proportional to me — as I’ve done with her?

“…She Had a Cool Bob Haircut…”

This past Friday was H. D.’s birthday. Didn’t expect to hear it marked on Sports Talk Radio. But Petros and Money would do it, if anyone. How much did I enjoy this? Enough to overlook the snicker when Petros says “American poet.”

Click on the text below for a link to the audio:

PETROS: Leading off Rin Tin Tin and Roger Maris for your dead guy birth of the day is H.D., a.k.a. Hilda Doolittle, 124 years old, American poet and novelist. She had a cool bob haircut. She was an early twentieth-century avant-garde imagist. Hung out with dudes like Ezra Pound. She was the daughter of academics in Pennsylvania. She was married to the poet Richard Aldington. And she underwent psychoanalysis from Sigmund Freud. How many people can say that?

MONEY: I’m gonna say . . . not a lot . . . of people can say that?

And then it’s on to John William “Bill” Stevenson of the Descendents, born the same day as H. D. . . . and still living.

(For podcasts of the show go here; scroll down to “9/10 PMS Hour 4” for the whole segment.)

Preview of Paideuma 36: Sarah Barnsley

Sarah Barnsley‘s article, “‘Sand Is the Beginning and the End / of Our Dominion’: Mary Barnard, H.D. and Imagism,” explores a poetics of history in the Imagist landscapes of these two poets. The article makes good use of the archive, offering unpublished work by Barnard for attentive reading. Using the metaphor of sand, “a substance [that] lends itself well to poetic appropriation,” Barnsley develops a particular understanding of perspective and of Barnard’s and H.D.’s articulation of time through sensitive and perceptive examinations of their poems.

Barnsley fully and thoughtfully pursues the versatility of sand in the poems of Barnard and H.D., which she sees sometimes as Imagist “‘verbal grit,'” while at other times as simultaneously “solid and liquid” or even “fruity.” The porous texture of sand allows it to adhere to poetics with startlingly adaptive ease that results in fascinating new readings of these poets.

Please enjoy this short excerpt from Barnsley’s essay:

For Barnard and H.D., sand possesses a translucence replete with possibilities, from the “reflecting sands” in “Shoreline” to “grains…clear as wine” in “Hermes of the Ways.” Theirs is an elegant yet raw poetic program, producing a spare poetry that is both coarse and irregular in places, like a handful of sand grains, yet that conceals a portal to the sublime when perceived as a whole, like the awe-inspiring visual spectacle of the beach that has enthralled poets particularly since the Romantic period.

Sarah Barnsley is a Tutor in English and American Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London, where she is also Director of the English distance-learning program. Her other scholarship on Mary Barnard includes the recently-published “Mary Barnard’s ‘North Window’: Imagism and the Pacific Northwest” in Western American Literature 44.3 (Fall 2009). Additionally, she is completing a book manuscript, “Mary Barnard, Late Imagist,” and co-organizing a Mary Barnard centenary event to take place in June 2011 at Reed College, Portland, Oregon.

The Borderline Pamphlet

Recently, the Beinecke Library at Yale purchased a copy of the short film Monkeys’ Moon (1929), making it available for viewing on their website (link here). Richard Deming — who read in the UMaine New Writing Series Fall 2008 — has written a brief article about the film for Artforum (.pdf here).

Monkeys’ Moon was produced by the circle around H.D., a group associated with the cinema journal Close Up and film company POOL Productions. The key personnel were H.D., Bryher (Winifred Ellerman), and Kenneth Macpherson, but other creative participants included Oswell Blakeston, René Crevel, Dorothy Richardson, Paul Robeson, Hanns Sachs, and Gertrude Stein.

In 1930, POOL released the silent feature Borderline (65 minutes), directed by Macpherson and starring Robeson. The other actors included Robeson’s wife, Eslanda; H.D. (credited as Helga Doorn); and Gavin Arthur, a gay rights pioneer and grandson of U.S. President Chester A. Arthur. In conjunction with the film’s release H.D. wrote an essay on the production, published by Mercury Press in London. The pamphlet was reprinted by the NPF in 1987 as part of the first of several issues of Sagetrieb dedicated to H.D.  The issue — guest-edited by Rachel Blau DuPlessis — is still available for sale ($8.95 plus shipping; ordering info here).The issue includes contributions by Anne Waldman, Beverly Dahlen, Robert Creeley, Bruce Boone, Fielding Dawson, Susan Stanford Friedman, Cassandra Laity, Eileen Gregory, Michael Boughn, S. Travis, and Burton Hatlen.

Monkeys’ Moon sent us back to the Borderline pamphlet, prompting the following thoughts from NPF editorial assistant Alison Fraser.

◊  ◊  ◊

The Borderline Pamphlet is an exploration of the artistic and intellectual possibilities of experimental cinema. The film’s title signifies the tension in polarity and the space that develops between polarized energies: the literal borderline location of the film’s town; visual polarity of black and white film; the borderline social status of its main characters, who are “not out of life, not in life.” But, most significantly to the Pamphlet, the director “Mr. Kenneth Macpherson is ‘borderline.’” It is only in this in-between position that he can create this art:

There is beauty, there has always been beauty. The problem in every art period is to present that beauty in a form allied to its environment and its time. …

Light flows over a face. That means nothing or little to you. There is a bronze forehead and the eye sockets are gouged out just this way; there is a concentration of shadow here, a plane of light there. You see a face, perhaps at most you see a pleasing portrait. You may even murmur “Gauguin.” You think, no doubt, that this is clever posing or perhaps delightful portraiture. You do not realize that that face has been moulded, modelled by an artist, that those lights have been arranged, re-arranged deliberately focussed. … Macpherson sculpts literally with light. He gouges, he reveals, he conceals.

In her 1931 poem “Red Roses for Bronze,” H.D. casts her speaker as a sculptor fashioning an image of her lover from “dark bronze.” Fantasizing on the completed project, the lover captured in bronze, H.D. writes that she might then

stroke at — something (stone, marble, intent, stable, materialized)
even magic sleep
might come again.

The same desire to approach the tangible is manifest in The Borderline Pamphlet even as the film itself defies capture by way of summary. The Borderline Pamphlet, written contemporaneously with “Red Roses for Bronze,” demonstrates H.D.’s struggle to establish a working context for film criticism, something she does primarily through the re-appropriation of visual art and musical terminology. She is self-aware of her approach, and its inherent difficulties:

It is unusual to weld the idea of bronze with movement, but a head is sculptured, gouged out in planes and focus of light and shadow and inset with eyes like those Mena period Egyptian heads with amber glass, yet that head moves.

Despite connecting Borderline to music and various facets of visual art, H.D. makes no outright attempt to connect it with poetry or her own poetics, although the latter is implied. The contrast between her poem and her pamphlet — even while both operate with the same material of bronze — is clear: in the poem, bronze is static, and all the better for the speaker who wishes encase her lover within it. In her analysis of the film, H.D. invokes bronze not simply as a remolding of its possibilities but as a complete revisualization of the abilities and laws of the medium.

Borderline is a dream and perhaps when we say that we have said everything.

In “Red Roses for Bronze,” the speaker hopes that with the completion of her art object, “magic sleep / might come again.” The ability of both art forms to initiate mental transmutation between life and art is one understood through the experience of sleep and dreams. This is illuminating for H.D.:

The film is the art of dream portrayal and perhaps when we say that we have achieved the definition, the synthesis toward which we have been striving. Film is art of another dimension, including not only all art but including all life. Art and life walk hand in hand, drama and music, epic song and lyric rhythm, dance and the matter of science here again, as in some elaborate “allegory” of the Florentines, take hands, twine in sisterly embrace before their one God, here electrically incarnated, LIGHT.

A conclusion, found near the beginning of The Borderline Pamphlet, argues for the subjectivity of beauty and the possibilities inherent in any art form. Though the specific example of H.D.’s pamphlet — that film should be considered a valuable art — is no longer necessary, the general thrust of her sentiments is:

There is no such thing as any fixed art standard. This is beautiful, this was beautiful, this may be beautiful. There is one beauty, it is the beauty of belief, of faith, of hope. And if that beauty is allied to sheer grit and technical efficiency, you get a new sort of art creation.