Postcard is an edited and continuously up-dated section of brief comment received on work in recent issues of HOW2, as well as excerpts from letters circulating privately among writers/readers and with HOW2 editors/writers. Your postcards and excerpted letter exchanges on literary questions appropriate to this journals focus are welcomed. Please send to Kathleen Fraser <firstname.lastname@example.org>
current issue featuring NEW MEDIA WRITING by Stephanie Strickland
MEDIA POETRY: a conference on Aesthetics, Institutions, and Audiences
Thalia Field's "Deep Ears" is, taken by "line-to-next-line" units, two types of writing, each giving an impression that they may exist in a relation other than proximinal. Rather than many disparate bits (cuts?) given on the page, there are two cuts of writing interacting with each other in more than a visual context. Is writing purely visual (read, if you, like "material")? There is the matter of intent, of the author's thoughts, even if at the instance of composition the author is mainly thinking of something other than her writing. So what then of the words - or, here, in "Deep Ears," the cut phrase as line and line as constantly projecting unit - that exist outside the author's intent (though it could easily be argued that all ready-made words exist outside an individual author's intent)? Do the words in "Deep Ears" arrange their own supra-visual context? They give the impression of meaning in their proximity, it is true, but does the fact that the words themselves have in the past been arranged into more traditionally meaning-freighted sentences, even sentences that have changed lives and altered world history, lend supra-visual import to "Deep Ears"? I would claim that the lines in "Deep Ears" are their own past, and the field they occupy is not one of linguistics per se but of poetry -- something visual more like a pre-manufactured "natural" phenomenon than a work of art. It is poetry's special provenance to be neither art nor nature, nor that which lies between (i.e., nature). Each unit of "Deep Ears" leading into and forming the next is a type of writing discrete from the next such unit. Hence, there are always two types of writing in this poem. It is the act of writing visible AND intellectual. The intent in this poem arises from the thrust of the structure inherent in "Deep Ears."
Perdita Among Us
A poet, a scholar and a biographer remember Perdita Schaffner, daughter of the poet H.D., who died on December 26, 2001.
Barbara Guest, "...about
May / 2002
from Susan Friedman
Memories of Perdita
March 22, 2002
...Your mothers picture hangs on the bulletin board above my computer.... She is standing in a turquoise smock, her gentle eyes wrinkled in shy smiles.... Her kindness shines out of that photograph. Somehow I believed that she would be there forever, bemused and tolerant guardian of all of us many people who poured over her mothers life and work, inspired and curious and moved and forever fascinated.
...I thought Id share my memory of my first meeting with your mother in 1978, around the time of the first screening of Borderline in New York City, an event held in conjunction with the celebration of Paul Robesons life. I met her first at the reception and then later in more relaxed surroundings in the old brownstone. It was not too long after the death of Norman Pearson and her decision to take on the heavy and all so very public responsibilities of being her mothers literary executor. At the reception, she looked somehow ravaged, as if the public assumption of the role of being H.D.s daughter was more than she wanted to bear. She was stiff and quiet and almost speechless standing next to your father and maybe even some of you children....
People milled and streamed about and there she was in the middle of it all, so very publicly the daughter alongside Robesons son.... I was enthralled and even more shy than she to meet her. She kindly told me to come by to see her the next day for an interview. THAT was surely intimidating, though she herself didnt intimidate. She looked too unhappy and uncertain to terrify even a young uncertain scholar like me.
The next day I dutifully appeared on the doorstep, where she set me at ease immediately in a comfy, homey environment, where the somewhat worn furniture and informal signs of family life everywhere told a story of resistance to upper crust displays of status and connection. She eyed me curiously, taking her new responsibility seriously. Suddenly, I realized I was to be evaluated, looked over, sized-upperhaps dumped or denied access to H.D.s shelf at the Beinecke. Would I know enough? Would I say something stupid about H.D. and not pass muster? Would I offend with my questions? Would she want to shape what I wrote? Give me some kind of litmus test before giving permission? Suddenly, she was a very new factor in the just emerging world of H.D. studies. And I was very afraidterrified.
Your mothers first questions were about my children, then 4 and 7 years of age. What are their names? she asked. I said, Ruth and Joanna. She sighed and said, How nice. How ordinary. What nice ordinary names. She told me your namesValentine, Nicholas, Elizabeth, and Timothy. And she said that it was very important that I understand that her mother had never stood at the kitchen counter making peanut butter sandwiches for her daughter. That she, Perdita, never had other companions to play with; that she, Perdita, was forbidden school and schoolmates. She said to never forget that H.D. loved the idea of motherhood more than she could bear the messiness of it all. I could sense her quiet defiance, her determination to create a home for her four children that would be more ordinary, more filled with friends and peanut butter sandwiches and station wagons and stories about school. I imagine now that she would have beenor at least wanted to bethe perfect soccer mom, driving you kids here and there to this lesson and that lesson, this friend and that friend.
As we settled into the warm sofa with the fading brown coverI seem to see in my minds eye shades of brown and tan and fading green or bluewith tea in hand, she brought to life for me a childhood filled with melodrama, with talented, driven, somewhat crazy artistes flying in and out of rooms, slamming doors, staring moodily, fiercely private or intrusively bossyall at Kenwin, the villa above the lake, a modern Bauhaus where art was made. Shethe childnever quite sure who would be in her life or out of it at the next moment, didnt know what the storms were all about, just that the storms blew her one way, then the other. The alternative? Stuck at Audley House, stuck in white gloves and rules rules rules. Shuttled from Kenwin to London, opposite lives. And her two mothersthe one, distant, adored, with not enough but very precious moments shared with special intensity and privacy; the other, fierce and domineering, the Steam Roller. She said My Two Mothers. She said They were Platonic lesbians. It took me many years to understand the wisdom of her seemingly casual remarks.
With her talk, Perdita brought a world to life for me, perched me on the windowsill of a world I could scarcely imagine by myself, no matter how much I read in the still uncatalogued papers stored in the bowels of Beinecke, waiting for the meticulous and inspired and tender curation of Louis Silverstein. What a gifther gift! One of her many gifts.
I flew out of that brownstone sensing that Perdita would be behind me, standing in the wings of what I wrote and trying to understand, never a censoring spirit, but a bemused one nonetheless. As time passed, she assumed the public mantle of H.D.s daughter with great dignity and generosity, growing into it, having the wisdom to let a hundred flowers bloom, let anyone have access, let anyone say what they would say or write what they would write. Wrongheaded? So what. Stupid? So what. Off on cloud nine? So what. Incomprehensible? So what. Involved in its own world? So what. But always, she gave permission. So often, she wrote kind notes, patient with the excesses and enthusiasms of others.
Her answers, criticisms, disagreementsall came in the form of the stunning essays. Her gift to bring us all through her words to that time, that place, those people, herself in the center, never lost in the shuffle. Her writing has the detail, the rootedness of Bryher; the grace, rhythm, and insight of H.D.her two mothers braided into a style uniquely her own. We all begged her to write more, and more. Anything. She too is a writer among writers. She hinted she would, she might, she waswriting: then out would come into print another gem, another pearl. Are there, were there, more?
I feel bereft, as you all must, at her passing. I feel inconsolably sad that when Id finally managed to finish the edition of H.D.s and Bryhers letters about psychoanalysis...that she would not see it...and daydream bemusedly and curiously about those lost times and the people today who would read of them....
Susan Friedmans edited volume, Analyzing Freud: Letters of H.D., Bryher, and Their Circle, will be published by New Directions in the fall of 2002. She is currently the Virginia Woolf Professor of English and Womens Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The full text of the above letter first appeared on the HD Society website. To find the HD Society website, go to: http://www.imagists.org/hd/index.html; to send a query to the H.D. listserv, go to HDSOC-L@uconnvm.uconn.
May / 2002
from Edward Butscher
My wife Paula and I first met Perdita and John Schaffner back in 1977 and were immediately charmed and intrigued by them, by Perditas aura of constant British amusement over and bemusement at a terminally insane world and by Johns more serious, somewhat regal sense of self and function. Both were generous hosts in their different ways and gracious dinner guests. At home, amid a pleasant shuffle of tall children grown up and often going or coming, as amiable as their parents, Perdita was the Lady of the Perpetual Meat Loaf, which she claimed to have shaped into a delicious centerpiece from odds and ends found loitering in the fridge or larder, even table scrapings, and John, encased in his loud All-American chefs apron, presided over a metal basin of steaming clam shells and other seashore salvage.
I still treasure the visual impact of Perdita, the Dutch cap of black hair, the quick, wise, almost childlike smile, the sudden wave of a dismissive hand when a disdained name or subject (usually political) came up in conversation, the general impression she gave of a convivial benevolencefused with a deep-rooted shyness, arm frozen at the ready to ward off surprise attacks, however clearly pleased to have people enjoying her cat-patrolled house and grounds. It was easy to see how her tall, self-assured husband must have given her a necessary sense of safetyshe told me on more than one occasion that she liked the big bear aspect of my bulky presence (much bulkier then, than now) when I showed up to take her back to our house for lunch or dinner or when she joined us going to one of the inevitable and endless Hampton lawn parties, poetry readings, gallery openings.
Of course, I had known of Perdita before we met her, having done research in areas of literary history that intersected with the career of her mother, the poet H.D., who had given birth to her while in the throes of double pneumonia. I was aware of the hectic household she grew up in, dubbed the lump in her infancy by its melange of egocentric, variously talented artist types as contemptuous of gender roles as of bourgeois conformity, a household strange enough to make my own dysfunctional nest appear semi-normal. And I marveled at her serene survival and major achievements in subsequent life tasks, mastering three languages, serving at Bletchley during the war, emigrating alone to America afterwards to acquire a new citizenship, a literary agent husband, and four bright, highly individual children. Fascinated from a biographers perch, urging her, like many others, to write an autobiography, I was curious about the flesh and blood specifics of her rich past, which included a cast of extraordinary characters that ranged from D. H. Lawrence (once suspected, like Ezra Pound, of being her father) and Aldous Huxley to the outrageous Sitwell clan.
She did indeed try to preserve her past with the pen throughout the 1980s, taking workshops and turning out prefaces and brief memoirs for reprints of her mothers books. It was in one such, a contribution to Michael Kings 1986 anthology, H.D.: Woman and Poet, that Perdita confirmed the difficulty she faced as an author, recalling that her two mothers (H.D. and her partner, Winifred Bryher) were writers, which indeed I knew all along. . . . Maybe Id become a writer too. No. I couldnt compete. What she did write, however, was inevitably deft and perceptive, if reticent in a shrewd minimalist fashion that painted much more than was on the page, self-deprecatingly honest and capable of a sly wit but forever tolerant of the foibles of her family and other strangers.
In her 1983 introduction to H.D.s novel, Bid Me To Live, Perdita is quite candid about her biological father, the composer Cecil Gray. Noting that she had been legally adopted by the Macphersons in 1927 (Bryher had wed Kenneth Macpherson after divorcing Robert McAlmon), she recounted the sole meeting she had with Gray twenty years later, which passed pleasantly without a single mention of their relationship. Let sleeping dogs lie, was Perdita s prescription for healing peace, here and elsewhere. Dont disturb the profound animal.
Such a prescription, which comes at a high cost, to be sure, had its origins in an ambivalence-shaken childhood, cradled in great wealth but wracked by fierce contrary emotional winds. Perditas Sketch of H.D.: The Egyptian Cat, done in 1980 for the reissue of another H.D. novel, Hedylus, gave the first of several capsule views of her lonely early years: We lived in Switzerland . . . isolated from the world. Visitors came by from time to time; mostly writers, adults only. I never consorted with other children, other families, other mothers. In the same memoir, H.D. is limned as a tall figure of striking beauty ...and frequently overwrought, off in the clouds, or sequestered in a room, not to be disturbed on any account. Later, happily, according to Perditas account, once free of the pressures and conflicts of motherhood, H.D. became a much better mother. . . . We were adults together, and friends.
Yet the dolorous refrain haunting the prefaces and introductions Perdita produced for her mothers reissued books was a dirge of sorts for a childhood denied, as in the 1986 preamble to H.D.s Nights that summons up the imposing Bauhaus on Lake Geneva where she entered her painful teens: We were terribly ingrown, a volatile microcosm in the vastness. I was caught up in it, and trapped, yet an outsider, a gawky adolescent without a clue as to what was going on. I missed a lot, but I will never forget the tensions. Without a father, or too many of them, Perdita s core self split and reforged itself in the crucible of two contending, if not antithetical, female forces: the adored rejecting poet goddess and her earthbound opposite, the plain, blunt, kindly Bryher, rebelling against her own distancing parents, avant-garde in her artistic sympathies but common-sense firm in her nurturing practicality. Perditas Pandoras Box, written in 1981 to provenance her mothers HERmioneHermione was, of course, mother to the charming Perdita in Shakespeares Winters Tale Perdita articulates the anguish and outrage of every artists offspring ever forced to sit outside a closed door while her or his parent is obsessively pursuing the Muse: Hush, Hush, whisper who dares. Your mother is working. In her room, behind a locked door. . . . I wanted to be in that room. I resented being hauled away.
It is here that Perdita dramatizes the pull of the female spirits that would shape her into the human paradox she became: Hippo, hippo, [Bryher] would yell, pursuing me with a hippo hide whip. And I was stood in comers, and deprived of dessert, like any bad Victorian child. Well warranted, I have no doubt. . . . In their different ways, both mothers gave me a lot of affection. . . . I just never knew what was going to happen next. The Perdita whom Paula and I met and came to cherish seemed very much an amalgam of her two mothers, a lover of books and literature, a fond mother and grandmother, a graceful survivor of the natural disasters inflicted by irrational fate, including the death of John in 1983 and her son Nicholas in 1991.
The latter blow sought minor relief in yet another verbal cameo, this one, His Mothers Tribute, appearing in Out of Season (1993), Paulas anthology of pieces by and for people who died before their time, and following several of Nicholass own poems and Timothys adroit elegy for his brother. Again, brevity and the fertile unspoken prevail. Love you, one of us would say, countered by I love you too by the other, is how she begins, going on to isolate his specialness: not the oldest, not the youngest, not the girland to salute his dedication when critically ill at winters start, keeping hard at work with final revisions, proof corrections, captions for his final book. The tribute ends as it begins, circling to the last visit, Love you, I said at the door of his hospital room. Love you too, he replied with that wonderful smile.
In retrospect, one can appreciate the heroic attempt to hang a full portrait on a single peg, and the unbearable sadness of the tears that always sear deepest and endure the longest, the unwept ones. Her consolation in her last years, besides the evident joy in her grandchildren, Timothys sons, Wyatt and John, and Vals two girls, Kaya and Lia (Perdita died before Padas birth but knew he was on the way), was in accepting her beacon-like place in her mothers lengthening public shadow: Late in life, she wrote, Ive come to a new career, or rather, it has come to me: keeper of the flame, a daunting responsibility. It was also a career she patently relished. I remember running across her one winter in Houston, the odd venue for that years annual MLA Convention, and being warmed by the evident delight she took in the session and panel devoted to her mothers work.
One of Perdita s finest literary miniatures is A Day at the St. Regis with Dame Edith, which was published in the American Scholar (1992) and recently reprinted in The Pushcart Book of Essays (2002). It cleverly and with gentle humor depicts the extravagant behavior and dress of Edith Sitwell on one of her rare visits to New York but pauses amid the fun to observe with typical acuity: I realized how intensely vulnerable she was, underneath the flamboyance, beyond her spectacular facâde. Like Perdita herself, no doubt, a vulnerability I witnessed during my last glimpse of her on Main Street in East Hampton, when I met her as she emerged from one of that avenue s notoriously overpriced boutiques. Some doubtless flippant remark of mine elicited that trademark Oh, yes, that Cheshire smile and dismissive wave of a hand as she waited to be helped into a car by the solicitous Catherine, obviously enfeebled but still refusing to accept the brutally unacceptable.
Perhaps the best manner in which to say goodbye to Perdita is to remember the brilliant wood violets that spangle the Schaffner fields each year and share the opening poem of H.D.s 1921 collection, Hymen, which was dedicated to Bryher and Perdita:
Ed Butscher is a poet and a biographer of Sylvia Plath and Conrad Aiken. He lives in Amagansett, New York.
from Tatiana Petrovich Njegosh (U. of Macerata)
Networking Women : Reti di Donne
New bi-lingual ResearchWebsite for Modernist Studies
Networking Women focuses on a number of women writers, intellectuals, artists, and art patrons (among them Dora Marsden, Harriet Shaw Weaver, Bryher, H. D., Edith Craig, Nancy Cunard, Margaret Anderson, Muriel Rukeyser, Susan Glaspell, Katherine Mansfield, Una Marson, Tillie Olsen, Meridel LeSueur, Elody Oblath Stuparich, Carlotta Kaderl Beck, Wanda Wultz, Anita Pittoni) who have, through their different initiatives: a) proposed, built, asserted an autonomous female subjectivity; b) radically redefined male and female sexualities, the social roles of men and women, and the changes in sexual relationships as a starting point for a modern history and a new culture; c) worked for the emergence of a cross-ethnic, international and supranational culture.
Far from being considered as new pawns on the modernist checkerboard or as exceptional personalities waiting to be canonized, they have been studied in their roles as founders of magazines and journals, creators of salons or theater groups, or as social and political activists. From this perspective, they are links connecting and promoting a vast array of human, political, cultural and literary relations. Their first rate intellectual production, moreover, has constantly been related to the sociopolitical movements that characterize the time from the last decade of the nineteenth century to World War II.
The research project has been conceived as an intervention in the ongoing international debate on the culture that produced modernist and avant-garde practices. Through a re-reading of the rich intersections of art, life and history, and of diverse positions and practices, the project intends to re-construct and recover for present investigation the multiple directions that were open in actual history but were either abandoned or reduced and flattened out by subsequent critical and historical narratives and theories. A key thematic and theoretical aspect of the project is the reconstruction of the maps of real and lived spaces as well as of the new maps of experience and cognition generated by interpersonal and intercultural exchanges.
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Reti di donne/Networking Women Subjects
Wo/men are Networking Women women and men. By Places we intend a broad range of spaces where cultural events took place and where contacts were made such as clubs, salons, estates, prisons, pacifistic associations, political parties, theaters, publishing houses, journals, persons, etc.
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The Networking Women web site is maintained by the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures (University of Macerata, Italy). The Networking Women web site, first initiated in October/2000, was last updated March 2002 by Oscar Peli. For any further information contact Tatiana Petrovich Njegosh at firstname.lastname@example.org