Dear Emily Post-Avant,

I know this is maybe a little late to ask about, but I am doing a paper for my Lit class (Modern Poetry) on H.D., and I came across this Paris Review blog entry, written a year ago by Anthony Madrid. I don’t just want to accept and paraphrase anything the Paris Review says, of course (and I don’t want to be accused of plagiarism!), so I wanted to ask if you had any different thoughts about H.D. Or is Mr. Madrid right? Any help will be appreciated. I really need to ace this course, and I only have a B going right now.

–A Student at University of Wisconsin/Superior


Dear Student at University of Wisconsin/Superior,

I’m glad you wrote, because I hadn’t seen that one. Anthony Madrid can be a thrilling poet, and he is a clever man—albeit one who seems hyper-eager to parade his learning, and usually through the mask of a ring-a-ding, cooler-than-thou glib affectation that can be totally grating to anyone not as hip as he clearly feels himself to be. True, his content is usually interesting enough to rise above the inane, sophomoric lilt. But in this case not. One wonders what led him to blow shit all over the room about a poet he clearly knows very little about. (When I use the phrase “blow shit all over the room,” I am trying to sound a bit like Anthony, though probably not as capably as Anthony sounds like himself.)

 Alright, so here’s Anthony in that post:

Before my H.D. project, my assumption was that these books [AsphodelHERmione, Majic Ring, The White Rose and the Red] 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.

Anthony (and by the way, with all the West Side Story cock-strut of his blog prose, why doesn’t he call himself “Tony,” I wonder) is a bit confused. H.D.’s unpublished manuscripts, as students of her work have long known, fall into two categories: the ones she wanted published, her finished novels; and the ones she did not want published, the “drafts” she wrote to get to the finished work. Some, like Paint It Today, Hermione, and Asphodel, were rough drafts, early attempts to hone her writing that led eventually to Bid Me to Live–A Madrigal.  She wrote “Destroy” on those early drafts, but did send them to Pearson for the archive.  They were later “discovered” by grad students ransacking the archive looking for a PhD. project and published as novels, even though this was against her wishes. Others, White Rose and the Red, The Sword Went Out to Sea, and Pilate’s Wife (which she referred to as her Commedia), she wanted published. But Pearson couldn’t find any takers. The time had passed for that kind of dense prose work.

So, Tony continues:

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.

Serious confusion, again: H.D. was not a miniaturist who “evolved” into larger forms. Her very first book, Sea Garden, is composed as a book. She beats Spicer to the punch by mixing up translations (from the Greek) with her own poems, all of which address a common concern with–and attention to–clarity, brevity, and intensity, the essential qualities of modernism in revolt against bourgeois consumer culture. She then ends these with a scathing longish poem called “Cities,” which condemns that culture as parasitic. Her “static narratives” are her translation of the hierophantic image into narrative, her explorations of ways that eternity can manifest in time. Insofar as H.D. is concerned, Tony has a reading problem. Maybe he also thinks WCW meant “The Red Wheelbarrow” as a “stele” poem.

Tony keeps going, he just can’t stop:

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.

Hard to understand? Really? It would seem Tony is in the wrong profession. Mythology on the brain? WTF? Is Tony serious, or is he just temporarily playing at being a fictional smart ass, know-nothing dork? First of all, myth was THE common language of modernism — Pound, Eliot, Crane, Joyce, even Williams, all related to the explosion of knowledge about myth from the Cambridge school, and others, including Frazer and Graves, proposing myth as implicate in ritual knowledge of, and address to, pre-modern forms of reality. Myth as knowledge. The phrase “mythology on the brain” is what I mean by Tony “blowing shit all around the room.” Myth is fundamental to H.D.’s thought, a language through which she engages the world. To dismiss it is to dismiss H.D.’s entire life and work.

Tony proceeds, and it keeps getting worse:

Remember: H.D. was more of a priestess than anything else. She was more priestess than lover, more priestess than thinker, more priestess than woman, American, or (truth be told) artist.

What a bunch of fucking unadulterated bullshit. And sexist bullshit, too, I call it. She was a poet–nothing more, nothing less, and Tony’s patronizing priestess trash basically sets up the dismissal of her writing. His supercilious take is no different, in broad effect, from the old sexist saw of Emily Dickinson as the fruitcake, miniaturist-poetess shut-in.

Then Tony actually writes this, and this one is a stunner. Because he actually knows quite a lot about rhyme. That he would say this, in fact, basically confirms my above stated suspicion that Tony is really just temporarily playing (though the reasons be mysterious) at a fictional smart-ass, know-nothing dick:

We have no established term for her technique. I call it “peek-a-boo rhyme.” I just mean unmistakable rhymes and rhyme effects in places you don’t expect to find them.

Is he serious? We have no established term for her technique? Tony well knows, I do believe, about off-center rhyme. He no doubt has even heard of slant rhyme, or off rhyme. Peek-a-boo? Jesus. Poets have been practicing off-center rhyme forever, and across cultures. But to reiterate, I’m pretty sure this article is an experiment in posing as a snide-talking know-it-all who doesn’t understand he is out of his content-depth.

Then Tony says, speaking of H.D.’s amorous proclivities (by the way, was this piece written before the #MeToo movement? I can’t quite remember when all that really got going):

As far as I can see, she never got rid of anybody.

True, by and large, H.D. was able to maintain friendships with her former husbands and lovers, although “getting rid of” seems like more of Madrid’s rig-a-ding-ding nonsense. And of course, like so much else in his groovy essay, it is superficial and inaccurate. What about Cecil Gray? Remember him? He was the father of her child. And Bill Williams? She “got rid” of him, for sure. She told Norman Holmes Pearson that she never knew him, even though when they were kids at Penn he proposed to her and she rejected him. He really pissed her off (read his Autobiography). But then, “as far as [Madrid] can see” turns out not to be very far at all.

OK, good luck with your paper, darling. If you use any of this, make sure you change some of the words, so you don’t get an F for plagiarism. And if your prof has any questions, you can have her or him call up Mike Boughn, one of my two bosses, who is an H.D. scholar.

–Emily Post-Avant