Headnote: Part 1 of this piece appeared here (on The Paris Review Daily), on Wednesday, May 3, 2017. Mr. Madrid originally intended to publish part 2 in June, but lost track of time. You needn’t read part 1 to understand part 2. There is no part 3.
Poetry readers who spend a lot of time in used bookstores will have seen some of H.D.’s novels from time to time. They stand out because their titles are unfamiliar, and because they are recently printed books. One does not find old-looking hardcovers.
Asphodel. What is that. HERmione. What is that. Majic Ring. The White Rose and the Red. Friends of modernism say: “Why have I never heard of these?”
Before my H.D. 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. Wrong. None of them have explicit scenes of any kind of love. The only hot-sex bit in any of the H.D. prose I’ve read actually was printed in her lifetime. Privately printed, but printed. It’s in her novella Nights, and it’s woefully hetero. (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. This would have made her a very unusual case: a writer whose prose was private but whose poetry was invariably intended for the public. 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. She sent ’em around or allowed Norman Pearson to send ’em around for her. They just never found takers.
This—or rather the equivalent of this—would not happen today. Or I doubt it. 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. Their mission statements literally say this.