(Photo by
Elinor Cohen)
Cynthia Hogue 1999 H.D. Reading Party: the Tenth Anniversary Report

by Cynthia Hogue

This beautiful week on the coast of Cornwall is worth a trip--wonderfully rich discussions during mornings, afternoons hiking along the Cornish cliffs among seabirds and wind, art-filled evenings, communal living almost like a dream. I have tried to reconstruct from my notes (which admittedly got more hieroglyphic, as it were, over the course of our week). We did much close reading and had open-ended discussions which had time to develop thoughtfully (what one so often longs for at academic conferences).


We threaded to


First morning: Diana Collecott, Sapphic Modernism, 1910-1950 (forthcoming Cambridge UP,1999)

H.D. as Sapphic poet: Sapphic Modernism as Collecott applies to H.D.

The concept of the sapphic constitutes a resource for thinking about the intertextuality of her work:

  • notion of sapphic as female precursor within a Greek context, whether erotic or model of single-lyric poet who has potency in an occluded tradition. The difference between Sappho as she is constructed historically (as a classical precursor) and romantically (the Romantic decadism of Baudelaire and Swinburne).

  • Lesbian context ("sapph" a code word for lesbian among H.D. and her friends). Cultural construction of Sappho as lesbian. Sapphic aesthetic of valuing color, descriptive language:"all-color," all hues. We see, for example, in "Eurydice," all colors in the poem (which ends with the "white" of all colors, also a code word for homosexual) to a mystic rainbow.

  • Specific textuality and intertextuality of H.D. Collecott disagrees with those critics (cf. Peter Jay, Agenda) who dismiss Sappho’s relevance to H.D. and contends that, in identifying the Sapphic fragments and what they’re doing in H.D.'s work, we shouldn’t overlook Susan Gubar’s foundational essay, "Sapphistries": Also Kathleen Fraser"s notion: "in fragment lies potency." Akin to Pound"s "luminous detail."

H.D. favors the margins, the borders, the scattered within Western tradition (Lesbos, Cornwall, we said, where women would go for a time to create "space and time" for their creativity, their work, "their culture"). Poetry is the site of transformation (we discussed H.D.'s signifying on Sappho and hermeticism as a kind of Gatesian "signifyin’").

Ailsa Holland then raised the question of whether it’s possible to read H.D. as a political poet. She identified two types of narrative in this regard: narrative of threat and narrative of redemption. She analysed the animal imagery in H.D.'s prose, reflecting the rise of Fascism. Ezra was a daemonic panther, Britain the proverbial lion, and Nazis, for example, were often configured as packs of wolves (doing much disservice to real wolves, one might add). Narratives of redemption bound up with child imagery for H.D. (Moses in the bullrushes was Freud in Tribute to Freud but messianic narratives also found in Hitler’s self-figuration).

Thus, with regard to the politics of her day, H.D. is highly ambivalent, both because she plays with ambivalence and ambiguity (in her use of puns, for example), but she was also so privileged, with a tendency to rationalize Pound"s sympathy for Fascism, that she is an ambivalent figure herself.




Day 2

Eibhlin Evans discussed Frances Gregg, and H.D. with reference to Gregg’s recently published The Mystic Leeway. Gregg writes an amalgomous text--part memoir, part philosophical musing, part sermon. She found the Modernists escapists, and yet herself was terrified of having such a commitment to art as H.D. Gregg argues for an intelligence based on love (agape rather than eros, however) and compassionate giving, asserting that intelligence comes from suffering. We learned many facts about her life with H.D., and after, but for them both, their early relationship was significant and definitive. EE raised interesting questions about the degree of self-mythologizing both in Gregg’s self portrait of tireless altruism and in terms of class issues.

Next Zara Bruzzi discussed Artemis and early bear worship as providing another approach to understanding H.D.’s Her (Artemis as the protectress of an inner space that ought to be inviolable!).

Artemis as: female autonomy

Athena as: wisdom and intelligence

ZB discussed the Apollo and Daphne myth as an illustration of how this early cult is evident in late myths: Daphne is covered in bark which is analogous, ZB speculated, to bear skin: PROTECTION, A GIRL’S AUTONOMY AGAINST INVASION. In "Hymen," for example, the girls are figures in a Diana cult: "bear girls"-- Artemesian fantasy is re-visioning in H.D.

Frances Gregg goes for mother/ child figure of lesbian relationship;

H.D. for girl/ girl, for Artemesian clain (whole yet double).


and frag

ments, blue on blue -- Jul


Day 3

Yoshiko Kita: H.D.’s early poems and nature writing

"not the idea about the thing but the thing itself" doesn’t apply to H.D., whose poems, YK argued, are phenomenological in nature. Poems about perception and heightened consciousness, the world as consciousness.

Early poems about finding shelter, permeable boundaries and borders. Moravian heritage, Eileen Gregory’s point that early poems are hallucinatory, later poems visionary.

(and what is the difference, we pondered). YK mentioned James Hillman’s The Purpose of Walking as offering an interesting approach to nature in H.D. : "You find yourself through walking."


Ia’s in


Next, Julia Ball opened her color workshop by first quoting from Kandinsky: "Out came these strange beings which one called colors, exuberant . . . with submissive suppleness and devotion." . .and from Her (52): "All your life you will retain one or two bits of colors with which all your life will be violently or delicately tinted. . . .Venice was a bright, glass bead. . ."

Julia discussed the gloire from Notes on Thought and Vision-- potential beyond the visible which is nevertheless perceptible through the visible.



Re: H.D.’s "Portals": "Color is a medium. It has no narrative, no image. It lies between the word and the image. It is a journey, lying between one thing and another. It’s why beaches are so inspiring for me. They are places between. . ."


of langu



meaning-through w



Day 4

Harriet Tarlo spoke on genre in H.D., posing the question, Why does it matter? Because we think in classification, observed Harriet. She disagrees with people who say that generic structures don't matter. She mentioned Bakhtinian generic "contracts," and noted that generic theorists no longer view genre as a pre-existing slot. Gender theorists also no longer view gender as stable (for example, Judith Butler). When H.D. refers to her own work, she does not describe it as generically located. H.T. had a handout on this, but to give a brief example, she quoted H.D., who called Helen in Egypt not her epic or her long poem but "the Helen sequence," i.e. substituting "sequence" for "epic" or "long poem."

H.T. argues that H.D. was generically very multiple, that she blurs genres. In her work, genres cut across each other, whether in the early lyrics, middle prose, or late epics. Rachel Blau DuPlessis, for example, tried to describe Paint It Today as follows: "Hawthorne-influenced lesbian novel-essay"; Susan Stanford Friedman described H.D.'s Madrigal cycle and Tribute to Freud as "case histories."


ords, scraps (I



Next, Kathy Hopewell spoke on narration and focalisation in Kora and Ka, with particular reference to H.D.’s involvement in film and contemporary theories of "the gaze."

Kora is a redemptive figure. Ka is from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. It is the spirit that comes out from the dead (Ba being the body). In H.D.’s text, Ka is associated with a fixed viewpoint, aggressive and possibly ambivalently gendered. The Ka prevents Helforth from distinguishing between himself and others. He did not go to war, but lost his brothers in WWI. The Kora (within him?) resists the Ka. Helforth’s neurosis may be because he has not proved himself in war. He dissociates, and breaks down.


fl could stir


Kathy argued that H.D.’s Closeup reviews investigate the relationship of women to film (see, for instance, Dreyer’s Jeanne D’Arc, see also H.D. on Garbo’s Joy Street. See also Louise Brooks in Pandora’s Box. KH mentioned that Pabst destabilized the gaze of Hollywood films. Inserted/ asserted a "female gaze"? Rich material here, interesting work.

Kora and Ka:

Helforth: male divided; refusing integration

Kora: female principle

Hathor: Egyptian cow goddess


I could break





Day 5

The last morning, Kathryn Simpson discussed the performance of gender in Bid Me to Live, following Joan Riviere and Judith Butler. She noted that theatrical imagery runs throughout the novel.

BMTL sets up Julia and Bella in contrast (virgin/whore), which it deconstructs. J resists compulsory heterosexuality, although she's distanced from her marriage and the hetero constructs of maternal reproduction. Julia wants to enter the public realm as a speaking and writing subject, because she sees women’s biology as a trap (motherhood, old maid, prostitute) and art as an escape from this trap. She wants to challenge conventional notions of women.

Then Sharon Morris spoke about "metaphors of becoming" in Trilogy. She usefully reviewed Freud and Lacan, then raised the question of H.D.’s identification process and altruism. Was she narcissistic, SM asked? Can we reclaim the ego (social) ideal from its pejorative (male-dominated) context? SM talked about the relationship between visual and verbal self-portraiture and the shifting eyes/I’s in H.D. She posed the issue of how we represent ourselves and referred to Charles Sanders Peirce’s semeiotics: signs as mode of representation (icon/index/symbol).

SM suggested that H.D.’s work casts light on the emergence of the ego, and reader-writer identification. Her playful poetics emulates primary processes; her pluralistic poetics of wordplay unravels the conformable pastiche of the ego. The poetic unravelling takes us with her through the changes of self. This process of self transformation takes us back through mystical Moravian roots to its own roots in pre-Christian Goddess worship.

H.D.’s drive for greater knowledge: What is it to be a woman (writer)? What is sexual identity?

Sharon was particularly interested in metaphor: the difference between figurative and literal language. Ah, the connection with hysteria: for Freud, hysterical identification based on similitude (Aristotle: metaphor based on similitude); for Lacan, identification between two very different things leads to metaphor.

Last evening, we had the party. A feast of fresh fish (tuna prepared by chef Sharon and sous-chef Cynthia), champagne, and the piece de resistance: Zara’s "pudding" which was lots of port wine in jello with cherries (Z’s own wicked recipe. Eat it with lots of clotted cream!). We watched a gorgeous full sunset that evening: the sun kind of squashed, a squashed orange ball between clouds, flattening out a bit as it dipped and then sank into a luminous, blue sea. We stood in a long row, spellbound, bound by a spell, rapt and wrapped-up in watching, all with half-smiles, a line of Mona Lisas along the sea’s edge. Maybe we stood in small clusters--it didn’t matter. Just the watching mattered.


(Write or die)





Cynthia Hogue
July 1999


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BIO: Cynthia Hogue has published three collections of poetry, most recently her forthcoming The Never Wife (Mammoth Press, 1999). She is working on a fourth collection entitled The Incognito Body. She currently lives in Pennsylvania, where she directs the Stadler Center for Poetry and teaches English at Bucknell University.

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