H.D. Notebook (Part 2)

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Well. What is that. as a master rhymer, but if I ever write my rhyme book, she’s definitely getting a chapter. I call it “peek-a-boo rhyme.” I just mean unmistakable rhymes and rhyme effects in places you don’t expect to find them. Wrong. Trilogy   is basically three half-hour-long incantations. There is no part 3. speaks for the first time on page 245—Halloween 1939,   ætatis suæ   fifty-three. But H.D.   ❧   5
The Freud book. All of ’em—or anyhow all the ones who were up for it. performing   Helen in Egypt   is the closest thing I know to that situation. The letters I want to read haven’t been printed. Anything in a poetic presentation that “could not possibly be improvised” yet seems improvised—does that. Which was almost all of ’em. It’s in her novella   Nights, and it’s woefully hetero. She becomes more fluid. Reminds me of a joke Samuel Johnson alludes to in the preface of his edition of a certain Very Big Poet, whose greatness was (Johnson asserts) not to be found in particular passages but in the overall effect. What you won’t find in the book: H.D. ❧   2
H.D. His second book is   Try Never   (Canarium Books, 2017). One does not find old-looking hardcovers. engineers something quite out of the ordinary. Madrid originally intended to publish   part 2 in June, but lost track of time. Friends of modernism say: “Why have I never heard of these?”
Before my H.D. We have no established term for her technique. She sent ’em around or allowed Norman Pearson to send ’em around for her. Long, breathless, agglutinative sentences serve this purpose; they “draw you by the nose”; they make you get used to that vatic atmosphere of semi-comprehension. My considered opinion as to why I and so many others prefer her last books is that, simply, she became a better writer. “The artist presents; he does not comment”—nobody ever took that maxim to heart more than H.D. Nobody thinks of H.D. What is that. But a big disappointment awaits you! That line of thought is so romantic and uplifting it’s almost impossible to accept that it has any truth to it. What in the world did she make of this shocking revelation? Everything about them suggests that the poet is in a trance. I somehow want to find a reason to fault her for this, but I can’t find any. Trilogy   is good partly because she directly made   being a priestess   her theme. This is the place to mention: There is no need for a conspiracy theory regarding the fact that anthologists always reach for the 1925   Collected.  
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Poetry readers who spend a lot of time in used bookstores will have seen some of H.D.’s novels from time to time. against her character in   Bid Me to Live, you would think the ideal thing would be to spend some quality time with her letters to Richard Aldington—one of the other main characters in   Bid. The problem is she doesn’t touch on any intimate themes whatsoever. I do not know exactly what I had said. ❧   6
One turns to H.D.’s letters partly longing to hear her come off it. Granted, all her life she was hard to understand, and she always has mythology on the brain, but—at least for some people—her last three books are where the action is. And if it’s hopelessly ambiguous, essentially mute—tough titty. This, despite the fact that (a) I usually prefer steles to stories, and (b) I   much   prefer H.D.’s 1915 mentality to her post–World War II mentality. The scene must speak for itself. Majic Ring. She seems neither coy nor self-important nor straining for effect. She really did go from being a kind of miniaturist, whose every poem was designed to stand alone like a carved stele in the middle of a field, to being a poet who thought in terms of book-length kaleidoscopic visions and static narratives. Anthologies are for stele poems. The “gossip” element is   very   mild, the way one might venture a little dot of gossip with a new acquaintance, to sound his or her taste for gossip itself. But surely you’ve wondered what Shakespeare sounded like when he performed parts in his own plays? H.D. Whoever is interested in that, and the fact that she saw herself as the necessary corrective to skeptical, unbelieving Freud, will find   Tribute   much more revealing than anything else she ever wrote. Remember: H.D. I veered round off the couch, my feet on the floor. All the rest of us have to “work on accepting people as they are.” The Buddha does not have to work on that. Much huffing and puffing has been huffed and puffed over the last forty years in an effort to distract potential readers from the pernicious idea that she was mainly an Imagist. The middles of lines, say, or just really close together. I don’t know too many poets who sound like trained Shakespearean actors. ❧   7
The phenomenon of staying friends with one’s ex-lovers. Their mission statements literally say this. Yet anybody who knows H.D.’s prose will tell ya: she would never, ever give a “reaction shot” for a thing like that. Her weird love-mind, age seventy or whatever, is on display there, and nowhere else. The much more ready-to-hand explanation is that excerpts from   Trilogy   and   Helen in Egypt   and   Hermetic Definition   never “sound right” to people who like those books. Little bit like certain long medieval poems that nobody reads these days. Things like this:

Good was the tasteless   pod,
stripped from the manna-beans, pulse, lentils:

they were   angry when we were so   hungry
for the nourishment,   God;

they snatched off our amulets,
charms are   not, they said,   grace;

but   gods   always   face   two-ways,
so let us search the old   highways

for the   true–rune, the   right-spell,
recover old values   …

For my purposes, it’s specially interesting that though she is deeply in love with occult semantic connections between words, she still follows the classic procedures for rhyme selection. HERmione. H.D. She out-Helens Helen. All rhyme does that. [A page and a half of slow-burn divagation omitted here.] The Professor himself is uncanonical enough; he is beating with his hand, with his fist, on the head-piece of the old-fashioned horsehair sofa that had heard more secrets than the confession box of any popular Roman Catholic father-confessor in his heyday. Semi-unintelligible melodramas, thoroughly interesting and impossible to care about, where the point of view is suppressed to the threshold of nonexistence—there are many, many small presses who would be happy to put these works into circulation in 2017. This—or rather the equivalent of this—would not happen today. For such is the nature of genius, especially wronged genius. Her letters, for example, to Norman Pearson and Robert Duncan, are utterly straightforward. was more of a priestess than anything else. Most people are just the opposite, but that doesn’t matter, ’cuz she   did   intend to publish these novels and memoirs—the ones she finished anyway, with maybe like one exception. Consciously, I was not aware of having said anything that might account for Professor’s outburst. fans rightly bristle at the idea that her best and most characteristic poetic work is contained in the 1925   Collected Poems, published when she was thirty-eight. As it were. And even as I veered around, facing him, my mind was detached enough to wonder if this was some idea of   his   for speeding up the analytic content or redirecting the flow of associated images. What does that have to do with rhyme. ❧   4
Just a few words about the rhymes in   Trilogy. Or I doubt it. The ideal rhyme pair, to her as to almost everybody else, was one in which the two words bore no relation to each other except that of sound. They get you into a spirit of just going with it. That kind of tentativeness makes perfect sense in dealing with Robert Duncan, with whom she only corresponded for a brief period before she died. It’s called   Tribute to Freud, written in 1944, published in 1956. They stand out because their titles are unfamiliar, and because they are recently printed books. The only hot-sex bit in any of the H.D. None of them have explicit scenes of any kind of love. And the stuff puts the reader into a trance, too. You needn’t read part 1 to understand part 2. And she does. The comparison I am about to make has an element of wildness to it; I’m going to admit that up front. The joke was: “He who tries to recommend him by select quotations, will succeed like the pedant in   Hierocles,   who, when he offered his house for sale, carried a brick in his pocket as a specimen.”
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Speaking of Shakespeare, whoever has any doubts about H.D.’s later poetry should get a load of the recordings we have of her doing Helen in Egypt. She cannot have remained a mere party member, she must have struck out on her own. He was, after all, a trained actor, and I think we can agree it would be, ah, challenging for any actor to be more   Shakespearean   than he … Anyhow, H.D. He is a correspondent for the   Daily. “Perhaps I’ll find some kind of clue, / So I can be a Buddha too.”

 

Anthony Madrid   lives in Chicago. This would have made her a very unusual case: a writer whose   prose   was private but whose poetry was invariably intended for the public. revealing to Freud anything about her family, her lovers, her ideas, or her activities. At the time of publication, Freud had been dead seventeen or eighteen years. Pray   you   check it out. project, my assumption was that these books must have been previously judged unfit for publication on the grounds of their containing explicit scenes of girl love. Outbursts are followed by white space. I’m one of these. I know plenty of people who can perform their own stuff, but not like   that. (It’s her and that musician guy, father of her only kid.)
My next wrong thought was that she had written all those books “for the drawer,” just her way of working out her feelings, et cetera. The whole thing is spoken from the vantage of a tripod at Delphi. The White Rose and the Red. Asphodel. This was the homely historical instrument of the original scheme of psychotherapy, of psychoanalysis, the science of the unraveling of the tangled skeins of the unconscious mind and the healing implicit in the process. I need to read   Hermetic Definition   much more closely. prose I’ve read actually   was   printed in her lifetime. Mr. She   did   tell him about those things, as we know from other sources, but the author of   Tribute to Freud   was much more interested in (a) the interpretation of one or two dreams, and (b) parading the personal relationship she had with “the Professor.”
I’m not speaking loosely when I say she very much liked the idea that she was to be, in some sense, Freud’s successor. On this point, I think she was a Buddha. For example, there is an unforgettable scene where Freud has an “outburst.” Paraphrase will not do here; you must see H.D.’s exact words:

I did not know what enraged him suddenly. Yet it’s quite true. Privately printed, but printed. The son of a bitch burned all of her letters from that time period. They just never found takers. She was more priestess than lover, more priestess than thinker, more priestess than woman, American, or (truth be told) artist. But Pearson she knew for twenty or thirty years …
If you want to check the real H.D. Headnote:   Part 1 of this piece appeared   here   (on   The Paris Review Daily), on Wednesday, May 3, 2017. The Professor said, “The trouble is—I am an old man—you do not think it worth your while to love me.”

Anyone reading this who has a soul will certainly want to see H.D.’s reaction shot. As far as I can see, she never got rid of anybody. The density of the material—or better say viscosity—changes a lot. H.D., however, did not destroy his letters, so all we get, covering World War I   and the next twenty years   (in   Richard Aldington and H.D.: Their Lives in Letters, 1918–1961) is literally hundreds of pages of Aldington’s letters, all written in his distinctively rich vein of self-approval. It’s vital the language be heightened in a way that is convincingly superhuman: that’s where rhyme comes in.