Relay interview about Hilda Doolittle featured in the 'Jacket2' magazine 2009
Lisa Stewart (Elise), British poet and founding editor of the international journal Decanto, and Mary Ann Sullivan, American poet and founding editor of The Tower Journal, interview one another about Hilda Doolittle’s imagism, how it evolved, and how it relates to contemporary poetry.
SULLIVAN: Ezra Pound “branded” H.D. an imagist when he wrote the word "imagiste" on a revision of one of her early poems. Pound later defined imagism, characterizing it as brief, precise and solidly detailed. H.D.’s poems, particularly her earlier poems provide readers with concrete images of the external world, often fusing them with mythical images derived from ancient Greece. Do you find it odd that lean images reliant both on myth and nature can lead the reader to profound thought and emotion?
STEWART: Poetry is a very personal thing, and one can only interpret a poet’s work and what it means. Having said that, I believe although Hilda draws on the solid detail, images that can be easily accessible to the reader, for example, in the following poem
Rose, harsh rose
marred and with stint of petals,
meagre flower, thin,
sparse of leaf,
than a wet rose
single on a stem-
you are caught in the drift.
that there is a deeper form that goes beyond the structure and solidity, that becomes more fluid and un structured and freed within the depths of emotion, touching the metaphysical depths, and allowing readers to project their own interpretation of what is meant or derived from within. There is an undercurrent of something far deeper than the structure of the poem.
Do you think the term 'Imagist' defines Hilda's poetry?
SULLIVAN: Partially, yes. H.D. craved images, but she also demeaned them. In her autobiographical book HERmione she writes. "She must have an image no matter how fluid, how inchoate...Names are in people, people are in names." But she also identifies the inadequacy of images, "Pictures were conclusive things and Her Gart [H.D.] was not conclusive. . . . . She wanted to climb through walls of no visible dimension. Tree walls were visible, were to be extended to know reach of universe." So there is a dichotomy. Her poetry sometimes began not with an image but with a metaphysical struggle, the end of which was a deposition of an idea into concrete letters and words that ultimately render mental images in the mind of the reader. In HERmione she explains, "she felt psychic claw unsheathe somewhere, she felt herself clutch toward something that had no name yet."
STEWART: Do you think H.D.’s use of imagism evolved?
SULLIVAN: Yes. It expanded beyond sight to the other senses. Her sequence poem, "The Flowering of the Rod,” for example, weaves the smell of myrrh, the feelings of hot and cold, the whisper of a male voice, a mythic image of Mary Magdalene and the mage Kaspar.
In one part of “The Flowering of the Rod,” speaking of the lines and marks on a door she says, "as if each scratch and mark/were hieroglyph." As if the concrete world itself is a sign of something mysterious and wonderful beyond. But also in this poem she extends the “sign” beyond the sense of sight. Take for example these last lines from her poem "The Flowering of the Rod," which evokes the sense of smell.
She said, Sir, it is a most beautiful fragrance,
as of all flowering things together;
but Kaspar knew the seal of the jar was unbroken.
he did not know whether she knew
the fragrance came from the bundle of myrrh
she held in her arms.
She grappled with words and the images created by them. She insisted music was a better medium than words for capturing and expressing ideas and emotions. In her autobiography HERmione she explains, “There was a sort of “composition” of elements that her mind, fused to the breaking point, now apprehended. The catch was that her perception was ahead of her definition. She could put no name to the things she apprehended, felt vaguely that her mother should have insisted on her going on with music.”
Knowing how she longed to express the unnamable in music, do you think H.D.’s expansion of imagism to other senses distinguishes her as a woman poet?
STEWART: It helps her to have the tools to reach deeper and beyond the image, to dig the foundations and build from the resources of the elements of life, of nature, of the structure of humanity and beyond.
Hilda’s work is beautifully proportionate. It almost resonates in a chord of many strings that portrays external images and internal emotions. Her independence as a poet was heightened by her power to play many tunes in both the visible and invisible chords of words.
Although her work shows signs of great resilience, there is, however a sense of vulnerability also,
Yet though the whole wind
slash at your bark,
you are lifted up,
aye-though it hiss
to cover you with froth.
But this vulnerability is resurrected by an inner strength.
That is part of the appeal of Hilda’s work, to convey and enlighten both in image and beyond. To lay bare the image in its most delicate state, but to ensue with determination, even until the end: to engage with the senses at the very natural level of spontaneous reaction. That is how her work expands beyond the imagist label. Her work is very powerful as it contains all of the elements, evokes the senses and touches the deepest emotions.
Is there a connection between this kind of imagism and digital poetry?
SULLIVAN: Yes. H.D.’s imagism combined multiple images, fusing images of humans with natural and mythical figures, joining that with sounds like the buzzing of a bee and the whisper of a voice. Digital poetry has the potential to do that very thing, but in a sharper way, incorporating actual sounds with animated images and hieroglyphics. Digital poets who read H.D.’s work find inspiration. H.D. cherished Greek poetry and its orphic, bardic traditions, intermingling subconscious images with natural ones, using the vibration in the timbre of the voice, the sound of words. Digital space makes it possible for us to hear and watch poets recite their poems. It’s peculiar, really. The more digital poetry evolves the more it discovers ancient Greek roots. Why do YOU think H.D. poetry is relevant today?
STEWART: Although the imagist movement was short lived, there has remained a strong influence which has continued throughout poetry, witnessed clearly in the work of the Objectivist who came to prominence in the 1930s under the auspices of Pound and Williams. The Objectivists worked mainly in free verse, clearly linking Objectivism's principles with Imagism's.
“Branded” From H.D.’s “The Flowering of the Rod” section 8
I am branded with a word,
I am burnt with wood
Lisa Stewart (Elise) was born and lives in West Sussex, England, and is the founder and editor of Decanto poetry magazine. Decanto is an international magazine currently in its 7th year. Her work has been included in various magazines and anthologies, having received highly commended, and winning 3rd place in “Rubies in the Darkness” poetry competition in 2007. Her previous poetry collections include “Another Sentiment,” “Last Lament,” and “For All Eternity.” “Paradise,” her new collection will be widely reviewed later in the year.
Mary Ann Sullivan, the editor of The Tower Journal, teaches “Politics and Poetics” for the Doctor of Arts Program at Franklin Pierce University where she is the Founding Director of the Digital Poetry Center. The British Broadcast Corporation (BBC) has published online her digital poem, “Shaking the Spiders Out.” The New York TimesChild of War, an earnest first novel and that book was named a Notable Book in Social Studies by the National Council of Social Studies. She earned an MFA in Writing, and a Doctor of Arts Degree with a content concentration in Digital Poetry. called her first novel,
Decanto poetry magazinehttp://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/masquepublishing/decanto.html
The Tower Journal
The 'Jacket' magazine
An essay on Elise's poetry by Roland Bastien
Elise Stewart Poet -
An essay by
Copyright by Roland Bastien 2010
Poet Elise, brings us soulful Romantic poetry books that go beyond the limits in literature from the late 60’s to the early 90’s (1). She forces us to re think the Romantic poetry in its pure form. Her art emerges over a certain decadent literature brought by the virtual form of life, the way beings recently experimented them. In West Sussex England, she shapes the poetry magazine Decanto and Masque Publishing aesthetic for both established and upcoming poets. Like a “radiant child“ (her facebook portraits) with an old mind, she brings freshness into that field so often corrupted by corrosive language.
Her poetry jogs our memory to what we all obviously forget: “love is divine” and emotions are illusions. Her book “For All Eternity” published in 2005 by Masque Publishing, captures a glance of heaven we often find in Giotto and Fra Angelico images. From the sublime to the uncanny, Elise allows us to read her naked spirit, like the reality David Ellison states on, in his book “Ethics and Aesthetics in European Modernist literature (2).
Elise, a fallen angel who has no fear to abandon herself for an uncanny idyll:
I am the fallen,
To your beguiling ways
That rush over me
Wave on wave.
I saw draped ascetic fleshes with words; rambled in beguiling ways, over the radiant light from a sacred realm. A few poem titles will tell us the story of divine matters she shaped: The Secret Dream, Timeless Dance, Forgotten World, Nectar Of The Gods are poems of ecstasy (3a).
One who reads the book will remember “The Secret Dream” verses:
Let me wander ‘neath the soft bough of
Silent trees, and laugh and jest with life
Or from “Timeless Dance"
Where I shall lift these eyes to mine
And there alone we shall drift
Through the empty solace moon
Silver in its wanton power.
Through the shaded empty gloom -
And dance and dance each timeless
Around the turrets ag-ed rooms.
Her poem collection “For All Eternity” opens doors to mysticism (3) into a post Romantic set up, (not only in its nostalgic genre, but including the William Blake vision too). As well as a formal experience in poetry- her metrical patterns link her to poets we might meet in slams open microphone soirées. In that world, words are not limited to semiotic effects that often castrated them, but to so called “Zap images” structures. Fragmented words travel into our visual cortex at the numeric speed and reveal their semantic patterns rooted on “spoken words” (‘the beginning was the verb’ said John the evangelist) as well as visual drafts. Like I wrote in my unpublished essay “beyond the post-modernity”, words can reveal their true nature through a Photoshop manipulation process more than Metz or Roland Barthes approach can do.
Another Sentiment” published in 2003 captures, with an impressionist technique, the savour of a moment. She snaps vivid impressions “en vol” and scares our visual cortex with fragmented pixels, perhaps Turner paintings’ reminiscence, and lets us into a vague mist and powerless fire.
And all is vague, as vague as faded Winters
Or Summer’s passing days, uprising the hours
...the heart beats strong and fast, like racing drum
As if it will never calm again...
We ensue and empower ourselves to cross that timeless litany of passing moments without browsing into the sorrow they carry. Elise has, like all the Romantic poets of all ages, that sorrowful mind. When it is time to look at objectivism, she fades out her vision and remembers only the absence of fact, a sort of ‘no-man land’ where she curves her soul into a cocoon. She reveals the mechanism that drives her sorrowful mind to an endless torment. In her poem Time we read:
And eyes cast still
Eyes of she - of I
Eyes of I – of he
And all and all
Of endless time.
Space and Time in Elise’s poetic art
Like in a dream, we no longer differentiate between past and present, and not even feel we are incarnate creatures, when we read Elise’s poems. Sometimes we have a glance of a post medieval abbeys surrounded by Giotto paintings and Gregorian chants. Philippe Sollers‘ book in French ”Vers le Paradis” profoundly illustrates the Elise universe (4). Other times, we simply float over timeless gas and star dust; there, we contemplate the power of the ascetic matters we become, and let tumble all our desires and attachments.
Time is forgotten
In the radiant depths...
Uncertainty leads her mind. Submissively, she let the yore manage her sullied thought; even she feels uncomfortable with its cruel rules. Like it was a faith, she endures the reality until, by magic, her power rises- erected by her late desire.
But your silent tongue
lingers like words unsung.
And am I lost to your world
to the words of your
from the throes
of my nocturnal
She searches for a power that can spurt the magic dew into her ears and let the strong orgasmic ‘feeling vibes’ into her flesh, from year to yore.
their silenced hymns
to your yearning
all sanctum of my
In her recent videos, Elise explores poetry through slow motion sounds and images and she creates ecstatic parameters that let the words-waves sigh deeply and slowly set down, like Brian Eno’s 80’s video installations can do. We are intoxicated by divine mists and float over a sleepwalking feeling. Such reality sheers our vision and we become a character of her imagination, a sort of angel draped with words until they become elsewhere words. (5)
We can say, without any doubt, the Gothic moments she creates are very British and cannot be find elsewhere, with that vivid kind of depth. Castles, palaces, magic dews are Wales’ memory heritage and she used it in an accurate manner like a J. K. Rowling character.
Elise will be remembered for her devotion to the Romantic materials from the past, she brought again to the surface, without breaking the recent formalist values poetry gains. Words are still the matter for her.
1 – “Art of the post-modern Era” from the late 60’s to the early 90’s by Irving Sandler; Icon Editions 1996. 636 pgs.
2 – “Ethics and Aesthetics in European modernist literature:” By David Ellison - Cambridge University Press, 2001. 290 pages-
3 – Mysticism: A study in the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness – book by Evelyn Underhill – Publisher Dutton, 1912 – 600 pgs
4- Vers le Paradis by Philippe Sollers: ISBN 978-2-220-06204-4
Roland Bastien's blog; http://rolandbastien.blogspot.com/