Poetry at Beinecke Library

Welcome Gallup Fellow Alexander Runchman

Posted in Announcements, Beinecke Collections, Poetry at Yale by beineckepoetry on September 5, 2012

The Yale Collection of American Literature Welcomes Donald C. Gallup Fellowship in American literature Alexander Runchman, Trinity College Dublin. Fellowship research: Delmore Schwartz’s ‘International Consciousness’

Alex Runchman completed his PhD thesis, Europe is the Greatest Thing in North America: Delmore Schwartz’s “International Consciousness”, at Trinity College Dublin in October 2011. He is currently revising a manuscript to submit for monograph publication in Palgrave Macmillan’s ‘Modern and Contemporary American Poetry’ series. The research he is undertaking at the Beinecke Rare Books & Manuscript Library will help to consolidate the renewed claims he is making for Schwartz in this study. In addition to his work on Schwartz, Alex has contributed an essay on the epic to Blackwell-Wiley’s A Companion to Poetic Genre, a bibliographic essay on the Irish poet Pearse Hutchinson to a new collection of critical essays on his work, and an essay on John Berryman and Robert Lowell’s sonnets to After Thirty Falls: New Essays on John Berryman (ed. Philip Coleman and Philip MacGowan). He is currently writing an article on the Scottish poet Mick Imlah’s allusive practice. He is an associate lecturer at TCD, and also teaches and lectures at University College Dublin and the Mater Dei Institute, Dublin City University.

Exile as Destiny Online

Posted in Announcements, Beinecke Collections, Exhibitions, Poetry at Yale by beineckepoetry on July 23, 2012

Beinecke Library announces the opening of its latest web exhibition, Exile as Destiny: Czesław Miłosz and America. The web gallery includes selections from the full exhibition, which was on view October 24 through December 17, 2011.

Exile as Destiny celebrates the centennial of Czesław Miłosz (1911-2004), Polish poet, novelist, diplomat, and Nobel Laureate, with an exhibition drawn from the library’s holdings. The manuscripts, documents, and photographs on display document Miłosz’s great works of literature and also reveal lesser-known aspects of Miłosz’s multifaceted relationship with America, with his adopted home in California, with fellow émigré authors, and with the English language.

Researchers are welcome to consult the Czesław Miłosz Papers (GEN MSS 661) at the Beinecke. The papers consist of writings, correspondence, photographs, personal papers, audio material, and printed material (including newspaper clippings, printed ephemera, and clan- destine samizdat publications), spanning the years 1880–2000, with the bulk of the material dating from 1940 to 1989. While some writings, photographs, and personal documents predate the Second World War, the earliest correspondence dates from 1946.

For further information about the Czesław Miłosz Papers and other collections of Eastern European émigré literature (including the papers of Joseph Brodsky, Aleksander Wat, Witold Gombrowicz, and Tomas Venclova), please contact the Beinecke Library Reference Staff.

Image: Photograph of Czesław Miłosz reading the journal Kultura, 1951

88 Books that Shaped America

Posted in Announcements, Beinecke Collections, Poetry at Yale by beineckepoetry on July 10, 2012

The Library of Congress has recently identified a list of  important American books: 88 Books that Shaped America. The list (see below) includes the work of many writer whose literary manuscripts are represented in the Yale Collection of American Literature, including: Mark Twain, James Baldwin, Eugene O’Neill, Walt Whitman, Richard Wright, Thornton Wilder, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Rachel Carson, W. E. B. Du Bois, William Carlos Williams, Zora Neale Hurston, Henry David Thoreau, and Langston Hughes. The Yale Collection of American Literature also includes distinguished copies of many of the titles on the list, such as: Gertrude Stein’s copy of The Great Gatsby, Sinclair Lewis’s copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls, James Weldon Johnson’s copy of The Weary Blues among many others. To locate detailed descriptions of these and other books and archives, search Orbis, Yale Library’s Catalog for Book and Yale’s Finding Aid Database. For images from Beinecke Library collections, visit the Beinecke Digital Library.

The Library of Congress’ list of 88 books that shaped America
“Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain (1884)
“Alcoholics Anonymous” by anonymous (1939)
“American Cookery” by Amelia Simmons (1796)
“The American Woman’s Home” by Catharine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe (1869)
“And the Band Played On” by Randy Shilts (1987)
“Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand (1957)
“The Autobiography of Malcolm X” by Malcolm X and Alex Haley (1965)
“Beloved” by Toni Morrison (1987)
“Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown (1970)
“The Call of the Wild” by Jack London (1903)
“The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss (1957)
“Catch-22” by Joseph Heller (1961)
“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger (1951)
“Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White    (1952)
“Common Sense” by Thomas Paine (1776)
“The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care” by Benjamin Spock (1946)
“Cosmos” by Carl Sagan (1980)
“A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible” by anonymous (1788)
“The Double Helix” by James D. Watson (1968)
“The Education of Henry Adams” by Henry Adams (1907)
“Experiments and Observations on Electricity” by Benjamin Franklin (1751)
“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury  (1953)
“Family Limitation” by Margaret Sanger (1914)
“The Federalist” by anonymous/ thought to be Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (1787)
“The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan (1963)
“The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin (1963)
“For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Ernest Hemingway (1940)
“Gone With the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell  (1936)
“Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown (1947)
“A Grammatical Institute of the English Language” by Noah Webster (1783)
“The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck (1939)
“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
“Harriet, the Moses of Her People” by Sarah H. Bradford (1901)
“The History of Standard Oil” by Ida Tarbell  (1904)
“History of the Expedition Under the Command of the Captains Lewis and Clark” by Meriwether Lewis (1814)
“How the Other Half Lives” by Jacob Riis (1890)
“How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie (1936)
“Howl” by Allen Ginsberg (1956)
“The Iceman Cometh” by  Eugene O’Neill (1946)
“Idaho: A Guide in Word and Pictures” by Federal Writers’ Project (1937)
“In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote (1966)
“Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison (1952)
“Joy of Cooking” by Irma Rombauer (1931)
“The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair (1906)
“Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman (1855)
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving (1820)
“Little Women, or Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy” by Louisa May Alcott (1868)
“Mark, the Match Boy” by Horatio Alger Jr. (1869)
“McGuffey’s Newly Revised Eclectic Primer” by William Holmes McGuffey (1836)
“Moby-Dick; or The Whale” by Herman Melville (1851)
“The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” by Frederick Douglass (1845)
“Native Son” by Richard Wright (1940)
“New England Primer” by anonymous (1803)
“New Hampshire” by Robert Frost (1923)
“On the Road” by Jack Kerouac (1957)
“Our Bodies, Ourselves” by Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (1971)
“Our Town: A Play” by Thornton Wilder (1938)
“Peter Parley’s Universal History” by Samuel Goodrich (1837)
“Poems” by Emily Dickinson (1890)
“Poor Richard Improved and The Way to Wealth” by Benjamin Franklin (1758)
“Pragmatism” by William James (1907)
“The Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin, LL.D.” by Benjamin Franklin (1793)
“The Red Badge of Courage” by Stephen Crane (1895)
“Red Harvest” by Dashiell Hammett (1929)
“Riders of the Purple Sage” by Zane Grey (1912)
“The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)
“Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” by Alfred C. Kinsey (1948)
“Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson (1962)
“The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats (1962)
“The Souls of Black Folk” by W.E.B. Du Bois (1903)
“The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner (1929)
“Spring and All” by William Carlos Williams (1923)
“Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert E. Heinlein (1961)
“A Street in Bronzeville” by Gwendolyn Brooks (1945)
“A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams (1947)
“A Survey of the Roads of the United States of America” by Christopher Colles (1789)
“Tarzan of the Apes” by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1914)
“Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee (1960)
“A Treasury of American Folklore” by Benjamin A. Botkin (1944)
“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith (1943)
“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)
“Unsafe at Any Speed” by Ralph Nader (1965)
“Walden; or Life in the Woods” by Henry David Thoreau (1854)
“The Weary Blues” by Langston Hughes (1925)
“Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak (1963)
“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum (1900)
“The Words of Cesar Chavez” by Cesar Chavez (2002)

Gertrude Stein in the News

Posted in Announcements, Beinecke Collections, Poetry at Yale by beineckepoetry on June 25, 2012

Reviews of new editions of several Gertrude Stein volumes, notices of recent scholarship and exhibition catalogs, and discussions of Stein’s life and work have recently appeared in numerous magazines, journals, and blogs (examples are linked below). A detailed description of the Stein and Toklas Archive can be found here: Guide to the Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas Papers: http://hdl.handle.net/10079/fa/beinecke.stein. Materials from the archive, including manuscripts and documents related to the new editions of Stanzas in Meditation and Ida: A Novel, can be viewed online: Stein and Toklas Papers Image Guide: http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digitallibrary/stein.html). An exhibition of materials in the Stein and Toklas Papers, “Descriptions of Literature: Texts and Contexts in the Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas Papers,” will be on view at the Beinecke Library from October 8 to December 14.

The Practice of Everyday Life: Gertrude Stein’s Stanzas by Christopher Schmidt, Boston Review, June 20, 2012

The Alibi of Ambiguity by Christopher Benfey, The New Republic, June 7, 2012

Gertrude Stein’s war years: Setting the record straight, A dossier edited by Charles Bernstein, May 9, 2012

Gertrude Stein’s Posthumous Alphabet Book by Maria Popova, The Atlantic, May 24 2012

Missionaries by Michael Kimmelman, The New York Review of Books, April 26, 2012
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/apr/26/missionaries/; follow up commentary: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/jul/12/gertrude-stein-fascism/

Reconsidering the Genius of Gertrude Stein by Lynne Tillman, New York Times Sunday Book Review, January 27, 2012

About the new Yale UP editions of Gertrude Stein texts: The Many Lives of Gertrude Stein: http://yalebooks.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/the-many-lives-of-gertrude-stein/; To Do, A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays: http://yalepress.yale.edu/book.asp?isbn=9780300170979; Ida, A Novel: http://yalepress.yale.edu/book.asp?isbn=9780300169768; Stanzas in Meditation: http://yalepress.yale.edu/book.asp?isbn=9780300153095.

Image: Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein with Pepe and Basket I, [1932]

Beinecke Fellow Named Poet Laureate

Posted in Announcements, Beinecke Collections, Poetry at Yale by beineckepoetry on June 7, 2012

Congratulations to 2009 James Weldon Johnson Memorial Fellow Natasha Trethewey, the next Poet Laureate of the United States.

New Laureate Looks Deep Into Memory
By CHARLES McGRATH — Published in the New York Times: June 6, 2012

Selected Poems by Natasha Trethewey(June 7, 2012)

Image Credit: John Amis for The New York Times

The Library of Congress is to announce Thursday that the next poet laureate is Natasha Trethewey, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of three collections and a professor of creative writing at Emory University in Atlanta. Ms. Trethewey, 46, was born in Gulfport, Miss., and is the first Southerner to hold the post since Robert Penn Warren, the original laureate, and the first African-American since Rita Dove in 1993.

“I’m still a little in disbelief,” Ms. Trethewey said on Monday.

Unlike the recent laureates W. S. Merwin and her immediate predecessor, Philip Levine, both in their 80s when appointed, Ms. Trethewey, who will officially take up her duties in September, is still in midcareer and not well-known outside poetry circles. Her work combines free verse with more traditional forms like the sonnet and the villanelle to explore memory and the racial legacy of America. Her fourth collection, “Thrall,” is scheduled to appear in the fall. She is also the author of a 2010 nonfiction book, “Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”

“The appointment of Natasha Trethewey is a very welcome event,” said Dana Gioia, a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and an early admirer of her work. “She writes out of the complicated history of the region, and even from her own complicated history.” In a phone interview explaining his choice James Billington, the librarian of Congress, said: “We’re not necessarily on some kick to find a younger poet. The more I read of it, American poetry seems extremely rich in diversity, talent and freedom of expression, and she has a voice that is already original and accomplished. I have an affinity for American individuals who are absolutely unique, and I think that this is one.”

He first became aware of Ms. Trethewey (pronounced TRETH-eh-way) when she gave a reading at the National Book Festival in 2004: “I admired the way she had a certain classical sound but also moved easily from traditional forms to free verse. And then when I began reading her poems for myself, that impression was just confirmed. It seemed very natural, all of a piece.” He added: “I go to a fair number of poetry readings, and I’m not always motivated to go back and read the poems. But in her case I was.”

Ms. Trethewey’s great theme is memory, and in particular the way private recollection and public history sometimes intersect but more often diverge. “The ghost of history lies down beside me,” she writes in one of her poems, “rolls over, pins me beneath a heavy arm.”

She has devoted much of her career to resurrecting or recreating the histories of people who don’t often make it into poetry books. Her first volume, “Domestic Work” (2000), is about just what the title says: black maids, washerwomen, factory workers. One of the poems begins:

“The eyes of eight women

I don’t know

stare out of this photograph

saying remember.”

“Bellocq’s Ophelia” (2002) is a sort of epistolary novella in verse, telling the imagined story of one of the mixed-race prostitutes photographed in the early 20th century by E. J. Bellocq in New Orleans. “Native Guard,” which won the Pulitzer in 2007, devotes its central sequence to the Louisiana Native Guards, a black regiment in the Union Army, composed mostly of former slaves who enlisted, that was assigned to guard Confederate prisoners of war. Ms. Trethewey used to visit a memorial to those prisoners as a child, but according to her poem “Elegy for the Native Guards,” their graves have gone unmarked and unrecorded.

In a phone interview from her home in Decatur, Ga., where she lives with her husband, Brett Gadsden, a history professor at Emory, Ms. Trethewey explained that the Civil War has fascinated her since childhood, and that she eventually came to feel that she embodied some of its contradictions. “My birthday is April 26th, Confederate Memorial Day,” she said. “I was born 100 years to the day after that holiday was invented. I don’t think I could have escaped learning about the Civil War and what it represented.”

Robert Penn Warren, who wrote so eloquently and at times conflictedly about the South and its history, is one of her models, and so is Gwendolyn Brooks, the first black laureate. But just as helpful in the writing of “Native Guard,” Ms. Trethewey said, was the example of Seamus Heaney and especially his 1975 book “North,” in which he responds to the violent political history of Ulster. “I read and reread the book to help understand my own relationship to history,” she said.

As one of her poems explains, Ms. Trethewey is the product of a union that was still a crime in Mississippi when her parents married: her mother was black and her father was white. Years later, after her mother’s death, she came across her own birth certificate and saw that the line for the race of her mother says, “colored,” the race of her father, “Canadian.”

“That’s how language works — how we change and rewrite ourselves,” she said.

When Ms. Trethewey was 19 and in college, her mother was murdered by her second husband, an abusive man she had divorced, and the effort of trying to recover her mother’s memory is one of Ms. Trethewey’s other major themes. “But in dreams you live,” she writes in “Native Guard,” “so I try taking, not to let go. You’ll be dead again tomorrow.”

Recalling her mother’s death, she said, “Strangely enough, that was the moment when I both felt that I would become a poet and then immediately afterward felt that I would not. I turned to poetry to make sense of what had happened and started writing what I knew even then were really bad poems. It took me nearly 20 years to find the right language, to write poems that were successful enough to explain my own feelings to me and that might also be meaningful to others.”

Speaking of the laureateship, she said, “One needs to admit it’s something that crosses the mind.” All the same, when the phone rang in early May and she saw the Library of Congress number on caller ID, she thought it might be a prank. “I thought to myself, ‘Really?’ ” she said.

Student Research in Beinecke Collections

Posted in Announcements, Beinecke Collections, Poetry at Yale by beineckepoetry on June 4, 2012

Zoe Mercer-Golden, Yale Class of 2013

Radical Reading Practices in the Archives of H.D. and Gertrude Stein:
A New Approach to Autobiography

This paper was born out of an independent study conducted under Richard Deming about modernist female poets whose archives we have at the Beinecke. I looked at the archives of Gertrude Stein and H.D., both American women writers who lived in Europe for most of their careers. The two writers are radically different in terms of the themes that they explored and the styles of their writing, which was an aspect of their work that I studied through my final paper.

After spending a semester reading Stein and H.D.’s work in published and archival form, I decided to focus on their autobiographical (or semi-autobiographical) writing for the sake of comparing their two literary styles and thematic preoccupations. For H.D., I considered how her work was a process of “translation,” how her work with Sigmund Freud, which she discusses in Tribute to Freud, and her sense of her own “giftedness,” which she writes about in The Gift, inform her writing technique and her drafting proclivities. By reading the various drafts of The Gift and the notebook in which she wrote Writing on the Wall (the first part of Tribute to Freud), I wrote about H.D’s characterization of herself. as a channeler of stories and images that came from realms beyond her and how this affected her writing process and the form that her archive takes. For Gertrude Stein, I thought about the word “making” in light of her epic novel/memoir The Making of Americans and how this word (like H.D.’s “translating”) informs her writing and writing process. As with H.D., I looked at Stein’s various drafts and notes for The Making of Americans and her writing about The Making of Americans in order to make sense of the process behind these works and what this process signaled about Stein’s thematic and stylistic interests. By comparing the work, archives, and writing processes of these two writers, who superficially have much in common, I drew attention to the ways in which writers ask to be read differently, as individuals with their own unique processes and preoccupations, distinct from movements or time periods.

Read the essay: Zoe Mercer-Golden, “Radical Reading Practices in the Archives of H.D. and Gertrude Stein:
A New Approach to Autobiography”

Images: Man Ray, photographs of H. D. and Gertrude Stein (1920-22)

Henri Chopin Papers

Posted in Announcements, Beinecke Collections, Poetry at Yale by beineckepoetry on May 18, 2012

Henri Chopin: An Introduction

May 15, 2012 — Sara Softness

At left: Chopin at a sound poetry performance. At right: sample dactylopoème or typewriterpoem.

General Modern has recently acquired the library and archive of the late Henri Chopin, avant-garde artist and poet (1922-2008).  Following on the heels of French lettrisme, Dada, and Surrealism, Chopin is probably best remembered for his contribution to the budding discipline of “poésie sonore” or sound poetry, wherein he might swallow a microphone and record the minute vibrations of the human instrument, often layered on top of other recorded sounds, producing such works as “Throat Power,” “Digestion,” and “Interplanetary Rocket.”  He used very basic equipment and often tampered with the tape path by pasting matchsticks on the reel bed to create purposeful distortions.  (He would also perform his works, which is quite fun to watch; check it out here.)

By passing the same sheet of paper through the typewriter multiple times and at varying angles, Chopin achieves this design.


But throughout his 50+ year career, Chopin was prolific also as a painter, graphic designer, typographer, and film-maker.  He published dozens of volumes of his audio-visual magazines “OU” and “Cinquième Saison,” as well as many original books, collage works, installation pieces, and writings.  While he was careful to remain unaffiliated with any particular grouping–he called Lettrism “a dictatorship”–and cherished his artistic independence, he nevertheless collaborated and corresponded constantly with other leading figures of the European avant-garde.  A big portion of his collection are various books, letters, and art pieces dedicated to him by the likes of Raoul Hausmann, Brion Gysin, Francois Dufrene, William Burroughs and Gianni Bertini.  His connections across Europe and disciplines reveals he was a major point of contact on the international post-war art scene, and through tracking this network we can index the ever-shifting preoccupations of the avant-garde.

Underappreciated in mainstream art historical dialogue, Chopin’s work plays with and challenges conventional notions of speech, language, music, sound, and semantics.  His sound poems and dactylopoemes shed previously held verbal or symbolic value, to focus instead on purely sonorous or decorative qualities.  The latin alphabet, he insists, “is more geometric than calligraphic for our vision,” and “consists of constructivist forms.”

An ode to the dynamism of the sound recorder, here depicted as the Paris metro in a series called “Tubes.”

By manipulating modern-age technology, Chopin seeks to access the primal expanse of communication, the infinity beyond symbolic meaning.  The tape recorder makes possible the elongation and elaboration of sound shapes, makes audible the normally inaudible.  Similarly, the typewriter, in its perfect repetitious typescript, showcases the “architectural skeleton” or pure form of letters and words. In this way, Chopin simultaneously engages the mysterious archaic and the mechanical state-of-the-art.

Perhaps this interest in the intersection of modern and primal can be traced back to Chopin’s experience of the Nazi regime, with its prehistoric violent warfare and hatred in a modern technological context. After France fell under German occupation, he was captured and sent to a POW camp in the Czech Republic from which he managed to escape.  After spending time with the advancing Red Army, he was recaptured by German forces and sent west on a Nazi “Death March.”  It was then he discovered the power of “extra-verbal communication.” He also lost two brothers in the war, both, like him, renegade spirits who didn’t share Henri’s luck.  The sounds he creates, then–from vibrating nose hairs, to farts, hisses, and labial snaps–become profound expressions of human existence, made possible, perhaps, by his very own humanity having been called into question. Beyond the obvious quirk and hilarity in his work, there lies beneath a deeply poignant creative act.

From his “Concerto en Zhopin mineur,” a simultaneous play on the “z” sound and the “z” formation.

Much of his library (around 500 books) is catalogued and available for study, and his amazing archive forthcoming.


New from Beinecke Collections

Posted in Announcements, Beinecke Collections by beineckepoetry on May 14, 2012

New from Yale Univeristy Press

My Dear Governess: The Letters of Edith Wharton to Anna Bahlmann
Edited by Irene Goldman-Price

An exciting archive came to auction in 2009: the papers and personal effects of Anna Catherine Bahlmann (1849–1916), a governess and companion to several prominent American families. Among the collection were one hundred thirty-five letters from her most famous pupil, Edith Newbold Jones, later the great American novelist Edith Wharton. Remarkably, until now, just three letters from Wharton’s childhood and early adulthood were thought to survive. Bahlmann, who would become Wharton’s literary secretary and confidante, emerges in the letters as a seminal influence, closely guiding her precocious young student’s readings, translations, and personal writing. Taken together, these letters, written over the course of forty-two years, provide a deeply affecting portrait of mutual loyalty and influence between two women from different social classes.

This correspondence reveals Wharton’s maturing sensibility and vocation, and includes details of her life that will challenge long-held assumptions about her formative years. Wharton scholar Irene Goldman-Price provides a rich introduction to My Dear Governess that restores Bahlmann to her central place in Wharton’s life.

Irene Goldman-Price has taught literature and women’s studies at Ball State University and Penn State University. She serves on the editorial board of the Edith Wharton Review and has consulted and taught at The Mount, Edith Wharton’s house museum in Massachusetts. In 2010–2011 she was a visiting fellow at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, where the Wharton letters are held.

Related Beinecke Collections: Anna Catherine Bahlmann Rapers relating to Edith Wharton; Edith Wharton Collection; Henry James Collection

More about the CollectionAnna Catherine Bahlmann Papers Relating to Edith Wharton

New Research from the Beinecke Collections

Posted in Announcements, Beinecke Collections by beineckepoetry on May 10, 2012

New from the University of Iowa Press: The American H. D., by Annette Debo

In The American H.D., Annette Debo considers the significance of nation in the artistic vision and life of the modernist writer Hilda Doolittle. Her versatile career stretching from 1906 to 1961, H.D. was a major American writer who spent her adult life abroad; a poet and translator who also wrote experimental novels, short stories, essays, reviews, and a children’s book; a white writer with ties to the Harlem Renaissance; an intellectual who collaborated on avant-garde films and film criticism; and an upper-middle-class woman who refused to follow gender conventions. Her wide-ranging career thus embodies an expansive narrative about the relationship of modernism to the United States and the nuances of the American nation from the Gilded Age to the Cold War.

Making extensive use of material in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale—including correspondence, unpublished autobiographical writings, family papers, photographs, and Professor Norman Holmes Pearson’s notes for a planned biography of H.D.—Debo’s American H.D. reveals details about its subject never before published. Adroitly weaving together literary criticism, biography, and cultural history, The American H.D. tells a new story about the significance of this important writer.

Written with clarity and sincere affection for its subject, The American H.D. brings together a sophisticated understanding of modernism, the poetry and prose of H.D., the personalities of her era, and the historical and cultural context in which they developed: America’s emergence as a dominant economic and political power that was riven by racial and social inequities at home.

Beiencke Collections: H. D. Papers; Bryher Papers; Norman Holmes Pearson Papers

“In The American H.D., Annette Debo examines the importance of the history and identity of America—in the context of theories of nation-state and nation-building—to H.D.’s artistic vision. Debo’s opening chapters invoke the world into which H.D. was born—a mere generation after the end of the Civil War, a decade after the end of Reconstruction—as characterized by a diverse country defining itself as homogenous. Debo’s analysis of the telling influence of the Harlem Renaissance on H.D.’s work comprises a nuanced reading of H.D.’s study of whiteness itself. A final chapter addressing the fraught relationship between women of H.D.’s class and the concept of nation will take its place as a significant corrective to the field of H.D. scholarship. This magisterial study of H.D. as a quintessentially American writer will forever change how we read and teach this great twentieth-century poet.”—Cynthia Hogue, Arizona State University

The American H.D. reminds us that the nomadic lives of expatriate modernists contain within their transnational scope a rootedness in the landscapes, literary cultures, histories, and politics of their place of national origin. Doing for H.D. what Wendy Flory’s The American Ezra Pound did for its subject, Debo charts the biographical, political, and literary traces of H.D.’s Americanness. The land- and seascapes of H.D.’s national identity constitute a kind of ‘environmental determinism’ that shapes her literary identifications and placement within an American literary canon that includes Thoreau, Melville, Whitman, Dickinson, and Moore. A valuable addition to the growing corpus of work on H.D., The American H.D. is a thoroughly researched and illuminating examination of the tensions between the exilic and the national as they played out in her life and work.”—Susan Stanford Friedman, author, Analyzing Freud: Letters of H.D., Bryher, and Their Circle

New Research from the Beinecke Collections

Posted in Announcements, Beinecke Collections, Poetry at Yale by beineckepoetry on April 9, 2012

(Re)Storing Happiness: Toward an Ecopoetic Reading of H.D.’s The Sword Went Out to Sea (Synthesis of a Dream), by Delia Alton, from Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment 2011, an essay by Cynthia Hogue, 2005 H. D. Fellow at the Beinecke Library — Full text PDF


The modernist poet H.D. described her postwar novel, The Sword Went Out to Sea (Synthesis of a Dream), as an “exploratory” roman vecu, a description which points to the work’s experimental structure and its basis in autobiography. Sword is a palimpsest; the contemporary plot and characters in the first section, “Wintersleep,” are layered over—and recast in earlier eras—in the second section, “Summerdream.” The novel’s subject, Spiritualism and reincarnation, is esoteric. H.D. wrote the novel under the name she also gave her main character, the Spiritualist Delia Alton, a nom de plume that she adopted, as Demetres Tryphonopoulos suggests in his scholarly edition of H.D.’s Majic Ring, “for her psychically ‘gifted’ and mystically inspired authorial alter ego.”1 Sword includes details not only about H.D.’s Spiritualist activities, but also about her acquaintance with Lord Dowding, a Spiritualist who had been Air Chief Marshal of the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain. The novel was drafted soon after H.D. recovered from a psychotic breakdown in 1946 that is often attributed to Lord Dowding’s repudiation of her psychic gifts, a series of events that has colored the novel’s reception.

In the essay that follows, I shift the terms in which this work has been placed. I begin with its esoteric context and proceed to its ecopoetic concerns, in order to explore the novel’s environmental awareness and what I argue is a gynocentric vision of a replenished natural world. Sword cultivates a precision of attention—an “ethics of looking,” to invoke Elizabeth-Jane Burnett’s definition of feminist ecopoetics3—brought into sharp focus by duress. The novel is a poet’s prose, so highly attuned to its environment—dramatically, insistently, a city under siege in a world at war—that H.D.’s experience of the intensity of civilian life in London during war-time is palpable even some 60 years later. To be sure, she testifies to that intensity more lyrically in Trilogy, written before the war ended, and the contrast between the two works is instructive. Sword spells out what Trilogy encodes, as if its author were too traumatized by war’s aftermath to sublimate the actual events, the personal and global devastation in the context of which she wrote. Sword does not transcend its circumstances, because the novel is grounded in them, literally thinking-through war’s aftermath. But in the end, I suggest, H.D. transposes what she construes from the Second World War into a profoundly ecopoetic vision of a healed and restored earth.

Read the rest of the essay here: (Re)Storing Happiness, Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment 2011 18: 840-860

Image: Bookplate from H. D.’s library