Thursday, September 27, 2007

WordPlay this week ...

This week Sebastian and I rushed back from a fine reading at the Flood Gallery by our own sometime co-host Glenis Redmond, A. Van Jordan, and Juilian Vorus to talk with poet Steve Godwin. Fortunately, Steve had also been at the reading and could share his impressions of it, as well as some recent work. Sebastian read from Jordan's new Quantum Lyrics.

Two weeks ago I took some time off to visit my son in Chapel Hill - and, of course, book addict that I am, hit a couple of used book stores, including the great The Bookshop on Franklin Street. There I found some early books by the sage of Scaly Mountain, Jonathan Williams, including his Amen Huzzah Selah, which collected very early work - poems, in fact, from the period when he was a student of Charles Olson's at Black Mountain College. From it I read "The Anchorite", a poem that's held up well enough through the years to have been included in 2005's Jubilant Thicket, a selection of poems from his whole career to date.

We had a little time, so I also read a poem by the great Hilda Doolittle, or H.D., as she preferred to be known, her musical take on Sappho's "Fragment 113", neither honey nor bee for me ... I've been re-reading, or in some cases reading for the first time, work from her whole career as a way to participate at a distance in the H.D. Group that's developed on the Lucipo list. It's been a great pleasure, of course; how not stand in wonder before a woman who, even had she no claim of her own to make on the memory of history, was intimately involved with both Ezra Pound and D.H. Lawrence (ever read Lady Chatterley's Lover?)? And was psychoanalyzed by Freud himself?

And the lady does have a large claim to make on the basis of her own work. I wish I'd read more of it sooner. Back in the benighted epoch when I was going for my degree, though, she was barely mentioned, and seldom read extensively; she was thought a bit ... "unusual", in that era before sexuality and gender were discussed, you know, in polite company, much less the classroom. Much of her work, too, had yet to surface fully, as many volumes were first published (or re-published after obscure first publication) only after her death in 1961, just the year before I started the university in Chapel Hill.

My first encounter with her work came in my final year in Chapel Hill, I believe, when I was working in the old Bull's Head Bookstore, then in the basement of the library. There I often had time to browse, and even read, between tweedy customers. Her Helen in Egypt had appeared in the last year of her life, and the shop still had copies in its poetry section. I found that text a difficult place to jump in, but intriguing, nonetheless, and explored more of her work later, in Buffalo and after.

Here's a poem from her 1924 volume Heliodora:

Mysteries Remain

The mysteries remain,
I keep the same
cycle of seed-time
and of sun and rain;
Demeter in the grass,
I multiply,
renew and bless
Bacchus in the vine;
I hold the law,
I keep the mysteries true,
the first of these
to name the living, dead;
I am the wine and bread.

I keep the law,
I hold the mysteries true,
I am the vine,
the branches, you,
and you.

There's a great deal more over on her Modern American Poetry page, where I borrowed the photo I've used here.

Enjoy. And, hey, it won't hurt you to read a poem this week.

(The initial version of this text cross-posted at WPVM).

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