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.
Anelise Chen is the Daily’s “mollusk” correspondent. This week, the mollusk worries about how to maintain barriers in a dissolving world.
Growing up in Los Angeles in the early nineties, the mollusk had worried often about acid rain. Spawned in Taiwan, on an island choked with lush, photosynthetic matter, the mollusk had felt most at home among wet, squishy kin. Rain was not yet something to fear; she would play in it alongside the snails and polliwogs who lived in the shallow puddles by her house. But after she moved to LA, there was nothing but cars and smog, which clung in the air like the toxic atmosphere on Venus. Eventually, the mollusk learned that the smog precipitated into acid rain, which—her fourth-grade science teacher said—could sear the hair right off your head. The rain was just as acidic as lemon juice, and it had the power to corrode a car’s expensive paint job! Her teacher always seemed bitterly emphatic on this point, as though he had suffered personal losses. He told his students to construct rain catchers out of liter soda bottles and hang them outside. One dark afternoon, the mollusk heard pitter-patter on the roof. When the rain ceased, she ran out with her packet of pH strips. She watched in high suspense as the water absorbed into the strip, streaking it a dark, insalubrious yellow, just like Venus: acid rain. Read More
I actually have two magazines. They don’t exist. Each one is better and more interesting than the other. I am the sole editor, have been from the beginning. There are no copies of either of these magazines. They are famous all over Europe and South America.
Maybe you would like to write something for one of my magazines?
The older of the two, there’s no way you’ve ever heard of it, is called The In-House Newsletter. Some people just call it Book Report. One smart-mouth in Laos calls it What I Did Over My Summer Vacation. No one has ever seen or discussed this magazine in any way. Let me tell you how it works. Read More
I have just closed Isaac Watts’s once-famous book of children’s poetry, Divine Songs Attempted in Easy Language for the Use of Children. This book came out in 1715 and went through nobody-knows-how-many editions. Billions. Apparently there was a very long period during which it could reasonably be expected that any English-speaker could recite every one of these twenty-eight poems backward, under any conditions, including hanging upside-down drunk on two hits of acid.
Today, most people only know of the book’s existence because two of its pieces are parodied in Alice in Wonderland (Watts: “ ’Tis the voice of the sluggard … ” and “How doth the little busy bee … ” versus Carroll: “ ’Tis the voice of the lobster … ” and “How doth the little crocodile … ”). Modern readers usually assume Carroll is cocking a snoot at old Watts for being a moralistic, unfun and quadrilateral prig. It is, of course, possible that Carroll thought that, but I must say I doubt it. After all, Carroll was himself a supreme goody-goody, every bit as much as Watts. Read Carroll’s in-earnest poem on the first page of Alice (“From a Fairy to a Child”). Read his diary. Read More