Bethlehem-born poet H. D. capturing a “fresh active, moment in time” (17)

(17th in a series of posts on H.D.)

Finding H.D.:
A Community Exploration of the Life and Work of Hilda Doolittle

You thought I forgot about our year-long discovery of H.D., didn’t you?

We continue to learn about this Bethlehem-born writer (1886-1961), the “Lehigh Valley’s most important literary figure,” as the plaque at the entrance announces to our library patrons. Poetry mag

Listen to this rollicking 10 minutes from the April 29 talk by the delightful Liz Bradbury for a powerful understanding of what made H. D. and Imagism, the poetic movement she was associated with and helped define, so special.

Liz contrasts H. D.’s poetry with that of Agatha Christie, Richard Aldington, and Ezra Pound with specific regard to a principle that poetry should capture a “fresh active, moment in time.”

(Aldington, Pound, and H. D. are thought of as the founders of Imagism.)

Liz will make you laugh. She reads with gusto. You can’t miss how different H. D. is!

Linger on Liz’s charged readings of these poems.

Storm

You crash over the trees,
you crack the live branch,
the branch is white,
the green crushed,
each leaf is rent like split wood.

You burden the trees
with black drops,
you swirl and crash,
you have broken off a weighted leaf
in the wind,
it is hurled out,
whirls up and sinks,
a green stone.

Oread

Whirl up, sea—
whirl your pointed pines,
splash your great pines
on our rocks,
hurl your green over us,
cover us with your pools of fir.

Heat

O wind, rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.

Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air–
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.

Cut the heat–
plough through it,
turning it on either side
of your path.

Time-out for an H. D. (16)

(16th in a series of posts on H.D.)

Finding H.D.: A Community Exploration of the Life and Work of Hilda Doolittle

The next event in this year-long series is a lecture by Liz Bradbury,
H.D. and Emily Dickinson: Bisexual Women Poets Who Made History,”
Monday, April 29, 6-8pm, Bradbury-Sullivan, LGBT Community Center,
522 West Maple Street, Allentown
(the location may be hard to find, so figuring a bit of extra travel time is good)

Nature retracts as evening creeps

Evening

The light passes
From ridge to ridge,
From flower to flower—
The hepaticas, wide-spread
Under the light
Grow faint—
The petals reach inward,
The blue tips bend
Toward the bluer heart
And the flowers are lost.

The cornel-buds are still white,
But shadows dart
From the cornel-roots—
Black creeps from root to root,
Each leaf
Cuts another leaf on the grass,
Shadow seeks shadow,
Then both leaf
and leaf-shadow are lost.

 

Marilyn Hazleton called this poem to our attention during the last event in the series, “H. D. and the Natural World.” Thanks, Marilyn!

 

Remember:

The next event in this year-long series is a lecture by Liz Bradbury,
H.D. and Emily Dickinson: Bisexual Women Poets Who Made History,”
Monday, April 29, 6-8pm, Bradbury-Sullivan, LGBT Community Center,
522 West Maple Street, Allentown

H. D. portrait at the library (15)

(15th in a series of posts on H.D.)

Finding H.D.: A Community Exploration of the Life and Work of Hilda Doolittle

The next event in this year-long series is a panel discussion on “H.D. and the Natural World,” tomorrow night, Tuesday, April 16, 6:30-8:00pm
at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

Speaking of the library, BAPL is trying to raise $3500 for a portrait of H.D. to hang there.

Only $515 raised so far.

Can you help?

https://www.bapl.org/hd/

001

H. D.: “beauty without strength, chokes out life” (14)

(14th in a series of posts on H.D.)

Finding H.D.: A Community Exploration of the Life and Work of Hilda Doolittle

The next event in this year-long series is a panel discussion on “H.D. and the Natural World,” Tuesday, April 16, 6:30-8:00pm at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

Sheltered Garden

I have had enough.
I gasp for breath.

Every way ends, every road,
every foot-path leads at last
to the hill-crest—
then you retrace your steps,
or find the same slope on the other side,
precipitate.

 I have had enough—
border-pinks, clove-pinks, wax-lilies,
herbs, sweet-cress.

O for some sharp swish of a branch—
there is no scent of resin
in this place,
no taste of bark, of coarse weeds,
aromatic, astringent—
only border on border of scented pinks.

 Have you seen fruit under cover
that wanted light—
pears wadded in cloth,
protected from the frost,
melons, almost ripe,
smothered in straw?

 Why not let the pears cling
to the empty branch?
All your coaxing will only make
a bitter fruit—
let them cling, ripen of themselves,
test their own worth,
nipped, shrivelled by the frost,
to fall at last but fair
with a russet coat.

Or the melon—
let it bleach yellow
in the winter light,
even tart to the taste—
it is better to taste of frost—
the exquisite frost—
than of wadding and of dead grass.

For this beauty,
beauty without strength,
chokes out life.
I want wind to break,
scatter these pink-stalks,
snap off their spiced heads,
fling them about with dead leaves—
spread the paths with twigs,
limbs broken off,
trail great pine branches,
hurled from some far wood
right across the melon-patch,
break pear and quince—
leave half-trees, torn, twisted
but showing the fight was valiant.

O to blot out this garden
to forget, to find a new beauty
in some terrible
wind-tortured place.

A revolt against the traditional image of femininity.” Sirma Soran Gumpert

“H. D.’s polemic against the wadding that, in the name of protecting (particularly) women from life, chokes life out of them.” Adalaide Kirby Morris

“The need for fearlessness. . . . a courage that fears stagnation and suffocation more than failure itself.”  Maria Stadter Fox

“The poem promotes a renewal of the concept of beauty; beauty ‘without
strength’, she writes, ‘chokes out life’.” Elizabeth O’Connor

The next event in this year-long series is a panel discussion on “H.D. and the Natural World,” Tuesday, April 16, 6:30-8:00pm at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

Be there!

Bethlehem’s H.D.: an artistic vision that counters the dismissal of women as spiritual leaders (13)

Take the “Connecting Bethlehem” survey

(13th in a series of posts on H.D.)

We continue to learn about this Bethlehem-born writer (1886-1961), the “Lehigh Valley’s most important literary figure,” as the plaque at the entrance announces to our library patrons.

Finding H.D.: A Community Exploration of the Life and Work of Hilda Doolittle

The next event in this year-long series is a panel discussion on “H.D. and the Natural World,” Tuesday, April 16, 6:30-8:00pm at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

We’ve done three posts on Prof. Mary Foltz’s lecture on “Challenging Limited Understandings of Gender and Sexuality” on March 6, and now we’re ready to look at a fourth slice. Here’s the full audio of this fourth section and below are selected sound bites from Mary’s prepared text.

Listening to Mary undeniably best; you know that Gadfly always says go to the primary source.

Remember that in the previous post, Mary focused on the formative awareness the young H.D. had in Nisky Hill cemetery as described in The Gift: “when the young Hilda seemingly only finds the names of women preserved on gravestones, she is gesturing to the absence of familial, cultural, and national recognition of women’s value.”

Now think along with Mary and the audience after you read the following passages and ask yourself: 1) How is women’s labor described in these two passages? 2) How is the father’s labor described? 3) How do you understand the separate spheres for men and women in the family and larger community?

H.D. 7
“Women’s labor in Hilda’s home is child-rearing, creating activities for the children (art projects, etc.), sweeping and other forms of cleaning, and caring for the larger family. Mary 1Working class white women here belong to a house, they are tied in servitude to pleasing affluent white men, women and children. Her father belongs to the world and his work matters to the world as journalists, students, and other researchers value his contributions. The young Hilda here, despite her youthful ambition to be an artist, does not have in The Gift examples of women from her family who have succeeded in the outside world or whose work has been valued beyond their labor to support husbands and children. Of course, Hilda, this young queer child, has ambition in The Gift beyond becoming a wife alone and in particular is invested in becoming an artist.”

But women artists are mocked too, not only in society at large but within her own family. Look at the devastating effect her father’s perhaps unwitting denigration of her mother’s singing has on the mother as well as the young H.D., for whom her mother is model. This incident cuts Gadfly deeply.

Min. 5:25 ff.

H.D. 11

Min. 7:55

“Toward the end of The Gift, H.D. commits herself to offering an artistic vision that counters the dismissal of women as artists and thinkers, but also as spiritual leaders, Mary 2providing insight into how communities might fight against sexism, racism, and violence in the world. The closing of the text allows her to recall a message from her Mamalie when she was a child and Mamalie began to lose her grasp on the present in her old age. Mamalie drifts back to a time when she learned about “papers” or deerskin document that told of rituals on wound island in Monocacy creek, during the time in which women were valued as spiritual leaders, when Christ was seen as feminine and masculine, when the holy spirit is understood as feminine. H.D. gives us these memories of Mamalie’s story and glimpses of what occurred on wound island before the sifting time in fits and starts and it never becomes fully clear to the reader what the exact rituals on Wound Island might be.”

H.D. 9

“What is clear is that the rituals involve women in leadership roles, a sharing of indigenous religious belief and Moravian religious belief, and the understanding of sacred femininity as part of the divine. Here, H.D. reminds readers of the massacre of Mary 3Lenni Lenape indigenous people who share pacifist religious beliefs with Moravian missionaries that they encountered. Nearly 100 Lenape were murdered by a white militia led by Lt. Colonel David Williamson in retaliation for raids in PA, in which the group of Lenni Lenape had not participated. Mamalie and H.D. here contrast this horrendous massacre with the ritual at Wound Island where indigenous and white people honor their religious traditions together, where domination of one group of men over another is not sought, but challenged, where domination of women by men is not seen as natural but challenged by divine spirit. As white masculinity in her childhood community is believed to be superior and is supported by exploiting women’s labor and by the removal and domination of indigenous populations, H.D. takes readers back to a time in Bethlehem when religious ritual actively fought against such forms of domination.”

Min. 14:45

H.D. 10

“Sexism, racism, and homophobia are part of this problem of violence as specific groups of men write their superiority across the sky with powerful bombs, pounding their Mary 4power and strength into the ground, onto the bodies, of those that they see as disposable, as waste. But at Wound Island, where men can let go of a masculinity that erects itself in its divine difference from simple woman, where European immigrant men can let go of their need to dismiss their spiritual insights of groups different from them, where men can contemplate exploring their own femininity, their own vulnerability, their love for other men, H.D. places her hope. In Bethlehem’s past, there was a place on an island where the fantasy of superiority was seen as sin, and the divine feminine and masculine merged, when women were valued as equal as men, when indigenous and European came together to share their beliefs and to delight in the sacred value of each body.”

Now pause for a moment. Tug at the edges of your hat with both hands. Tighten your belt. Hike your socks. Mary ends in a breath-taking rhetorical gallop.

“It will be the work of lesbian, gender non-conforming, and bisexual women at the end of The Gift to reach into the historical archive to show the value of sacred foremothers. It Mary 5will be the work of lesbian, gender non-conforming, bisexual and feminist women to create works of art that provide beehives of words that readers can visit, in which we can live as we build communities in which diverse women can thrive. It will be the work of all of us in all our many genders, sexualities, to engage with the language that devalues others and celebrates the few, structures that benefit the few while exploiting the many. We, too, are asked to create new narratives and structures that might challenge violence in the world, as we attempt to address  sexism, racism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, in our communities.”

Trumpet flourish!

Remember: the next event in this year-long series is a panel discussion on “H.D. and the Natural World,” Tuesday, April 16, 6:30-8:00pm at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

Take the “Connecting Bethlehem” survey

 

H.D.: her life’s work begins at Nisky Hill (12)

(12th in a series of posts on H.D.)

We continue to learn about this Bethlehem-born writer (1886-1961), the “Lehigh Valley’s most important literary figure,” as the plaque at the entrance announces to our library patrons.

Finding H.D.: A Community Exploration of the Life and Work of Hilda Doolittle

The next event in this year-long series is a panel discussion on “H.D. and the Natural World,” Tuesday, April 16, 6:30-8:00pm at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

We’ve done two posts on Prof. Mary Foltz’s lecture on “Challenging Limited Understandings of Gender and Sexuality” on March 6, and now we’re ready to look at a third slice as Mary moves into H.D.’s autobiographical narrative The Gift, which “opens with a discussion of H.D.’s childhood in Bethlehem.”

So, “autobiography,” and you’re thinking and expecting (yawn) to see some form of “I was born . . . .” No, The Gift begins in Nisky Hill Cemetery with a childhood incident involving H.D.’s mother, grandmother (Mamalie) and four dead females: Edith (her sister), Martha (her father’s first wife), Alice (daughter of her father with Martha), and Fanny (sister of Martha). Read on and/or listen to an audience member reading this passage on the link above.

H.D. 6

What lines jump out at you? How about H.D.’s questions “But why is it funny? [that Fanny died],” and “Why was it always a girl who had died?”

Hmm, H.D. begins an autobiography with dead girls and women. At graves we can literally easily visit.

And with questions that haunt.

So — and here’s a good example of her own “Wow!” questions — Mary asks, “Why does [H.D.] open an autobiographical text with dead women? What is the significance of this artistic choice?”

The answer is powerful:

  • “The loss of a girl is of no great consequence to the world for she only might matter to the family. In other words, the kind of labor that a girl, the kind of gifts that she might give to the world, is of no consequence as women’s labor is devalued and their ‘gifts’—intellectual, artistic, scientific, etc.—are assumed to be nonexistent.”
  • “Hilda is forced to encounter in the Nisky graveyard the names of women that will not be in the histories of Bethlehem, that few grieve, and that others avoid so as not to confront how institutionalized sexism devalues women.”
  • “The lives of white men will be celebrated as they work at the Steel, as they work at the University, as they contribute to the world with the labor, but the lives of women will be recorded on gravestones.”
  • “In a whimsical way, Hilda is pointing out here through a girl child’s view of the world that the primary place where women are marked in public spaces is in their deaths, on their gravestones.”
  • “She seems to say we celebrate men’s lives and just mark women’s deaths.”
  • “Her gift . . . is to feel sorrow for the lost women and girls, to grieve their deaths, and to grieve for the ways that they are not valued fully in their communities both during the lives and in their resting places.”

Mary reminds us that “H.D. was born into a world where women were understood as naturally inferior.” For the first thirty years of her life women could not vote and rarely held leadership positions. She was also “born into a [Moravian] religious community that despite its history of valuing women in leadership roles and viewing equality among all people succumbed to dominant forms of sexism after the death of Zinzendorf in 1760.”

“Part of the gift that [H.D.] gets from her mother is her ability to grieve for girls.”

“She can mourn for those that others are laughing at.”  H.D. young 1

“She’s connected to the dead; she has a responsibility to the dead.”

“She’s crying inside for a culture that says women are not valuable.”

So, what does beginning with memory of an incident involving a dead girl that was a laughing matter mean to H.D. as she begins to think about the significance of her life?

“Her life’s work is this quest . . . to create narratives that might help us think differently about the sacredness . . . of gender non-conforming people.”

“When the young Hilda seemingly only finds the names of women preserved on gravestones, she is gesturing to the absence of familial, cultural, and national recognition of women’s value.”

There ought to be a Wow! in you somewhere for the young H.D.’s germinating moment in Nisky Hill.

Remember: the next event in this year-long series is a panel discussion on “H.D. and the Natural World,” Tuesday, April 16, 6:30-8:00pm at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

H.D.: “If she went away [from Pennsylvania] her spirit would break; if she stayed, she would be suffocated” (11)

(11th in a series of posts on H.D.)

Finding H.D.: A Community Exploration of the Life and Work of Hilda Doolittle

The next event in this year-long series is a panel discussion on “H.D. and the Natural World,” Tuesday, April 16, 6:30-8:00pm at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

Gadfly is following this wonderful program on Bethlehem-born world-renown author H.D. (1866-1961), the Lehigh Valley’s most important literary figure – who most of us, Gadfly included, know very little about.

Here again is the full recording of Prof. Mary Foltz’s lecture on “Challenging Limited Understandings of Gender and Sexuality” on March 6.

After the intro by Jennie Gilrain, Mary introduces the overarching questions we should think about during her talk (min. 2:30), introduces H.D.’s The Gift (min. 5:01), discusses and interacts with the audience about two poems by Rosa Lane for context (min. 8:04 and min. 20:54), and concludes this context by showing how the Lane poems set up four themes that characterize H.D.’s work (min. 30:25). Mary turns to The Gift for the main focus of her talk (min. 32.18) and the Q ‘n A follows (min. 1:14:50).

So now let’s think about the second slice of Mary’s lecture.

Gadfly is straight.

How can he know what’s it’s like to be . . . not straight?

How can he know what it feels like to be lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer?

Literature is a way of knowing.

Mary tells us that H.D., the Lehigh Valley’s most important literary figure, is a bisexual feminist poet.

How can Gadfly understand H.D. and her criticism of the damages of sexism and patriarchy?

Mary fosters that understanding of people like me who “will not know the pain of encountering others’ hatred as you express femininity or masculinity because you’ve been assigned a sex at birth that does not match your gender” through a discussion of two short poems by lesbian poet Rosa Lane.

Poetry must be heard.

Gadfly encourages you to read the Lane poems printed below along with listening to them read by members of Mary’s audience — people just like you.

H.D. 3

Read them. And think about them for a couple minutes. Then listen to Mary and her audience talk about them.

Rosa Lane, “Tomboy’s Toggle to Love”

Rosa Lane, “Boats Named Women”

Rosa Lane 2

Mary took the poems individually, got the audience talking about them, and then pulled things together in her words.

Gadfly would love to think you have the time to listen to the segments on each poem – but you must, YOU MUST listen to at least one!

So here are audio clips of the full segments on each poem with some teasers from Mary’s wrap-ups.

1) “Tomboy’s Toggle to Love”

“The child expressing lesbian desire in this poem, the longing to share love for another woman, feels like an alien in her own home. . . . What she is looking for is a community, a tribe, of others that can affirm her desire as beautiful and valuable. She sends a message in a bottle, but hears nothing back from the world, nothing washes ashore, that indicates she is not alone in her difference. . . . the desire for another woman is not something that she feels could be erased, her course is set from childhood to be lost to her community and family because of her difference.”

2) “Boats Named Women”

“This poem addresses how women are the vessels that support men in their journeys through the world in this fishing community. Women’s bodies. . . . are gutted hulls, not subjects in their own right, but bodies devoted to pleasuring men. . . . sexual intimacy here is described as the mother chopping off a part of herself to give to her partner.”

Mary then finishes her introduction to H.D. by setting out four themes that characterize H.D.’s work.

  • institutionalized sexism limits possibilities for white women
  • normative heterosexuality defines women’s sexuality as being objects of desire for men rather than subjects of desire
  • documenting the desire to surpass limited understanding of what women’s bodies are for
  • imagining and enacting alternatives to gender norms for women

H.D. 5H.D., Mary tells us, felt suffocated in Bethlehem and Philadelphia even as she loved her family and community.

“If she went away her spirit would break,” H.D. wrote of herself, “if she stayed, she would be suffocated.”

That tension tears Gadfly up.

Another slice of Mary’s lecture to think about coming in our next post. Moving there into a discussion of H.D.’s work itself.


Remember: the next event in this year-long series is a panel discussion on “H.D. and the Natural World,” Tuesday, April 16, 6:30-8:00pm at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.