Saturday, August 31, 2002

 

During his life Robert Duncan alternately called his booklength critical project both The H.D. Book and The Day Book. Individual chapters appeared in journals such as Caterpillar, but the volume as a whole has never appeared. The copy I’m reading comes from a pirate typesetting that I don’t believe was ever released in hard copy. In this sense, the version I have is not unlike the Frontier Press edition of Spring & All that Harvey Brown produced in order to provoke New Directions into republishing that great lost work of Williams.  

 

People have speculated over the reasons why The H.D. Book is not in print, and conspiracy theories on the topic are not unpopular. But in some sense, the book’s problem lies precisely in its genius – a work of criticism with no argument, no theme, no development, no expository equivalent to a plot. It certainly has nodes around which it turns again and again – Duncan’s autobiography, the poetry of Hilda Doolittle, the poetics of the high modernists in general, the “wars” between various occult practitioners extending outward from Blavatsky, seers that Duncan both cheerfully acknowledges as frauds and insists must be taken at full value. Any given chapter, any given paragraph may turn to one of these topics, or sweep between any two of them (Duncan’s sense of pace seems slow precisely because it is governed by rhythm).

 

So what we as readers must then confront is a text that straddles genres neatly between critical theory and autobiography and proceeds, as Shklovsky would have noticed, as plotless prose, a work whose point is never to get anywhere, but always to bring the reader into the presentness of reading itself. The H.D. Book is hardly the first such critical work in English – there is all of Stein’s lectures and critical prose, and again Spring & All. But in fact none of these have ever had an easy or simple publishing history, as Duncan himself certainly understood. In the 1950s, he had been the only writer of any note to acknowledge Stein’s influence whatsoever.

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Friday, August 30, 2002

 

http://www.factoryschool.org/content/pubs/rhood/duncan/HD_Book.pdf

 

I am the slowest of readers, so much that when I was a student, my high school enrolled me in an Evelyn Woods’ speed reading course to see if it couldn’t increase my pace – but I always imagined words to have sounds & sentences and paragraphs to set off thoughts, requiring me to reread passages over & over whenever I returned from my flights of “fancy.”

 

Today, I am reading perhaps 50 books at once – I have a stack beside this desk that includes The Angel Hair Anthology, Lorine Niedecker’s Collected Works, Bruce Andrews’ Lip Service, Allen Curnow’s Early Days Yet, Tan Lin’s Lotion Bullwhip Giraffe, Conjunction’s special issue on American Poetry: The State of the Art, Serge Gavronsky’s 66 for Starters, Charles Tomlinson’s Selected Poems, James Sherry’s Our Nuclear Heritage, Frank Stanford’s The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You, Barbara Guest’s Selected Poems, and H.D.’s Collected Poems 1912-1944. Some of these are “rereads” (Sherry, Stanford), but others (Lin, Curnow, Tomlinson) are books that I have been reading literally for years.

 

In addition to this stack, I have another that sits by the front door, waiting for those moments when I can relax and sit on the porch and read – these are the books I took with me to Nova Scotia this summer (though the Angel Hair anthology and Niedecker collected were also in that group and have since migrated down to my study). In my bedroom is another clutch of books of poetry that will be integrated with the stack by the door. Plus the novel I’m currently reading, David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten.


The stack by the front door includes Christian Bok’s Eunoia, Pattie McCarthy’s bk of (h)rs, Lyn Hejinian’s A Border Comedy, Heaney’s version of Beowulf, Besmilr Brigham’s Run Through Rock, Jennifer Moxley’s The Sense Record, Geoffrey Hill’s Speech! Speech! (a curiously flaccid text given its reputation), and Edwin Torres’ The All-Union Day of the Shock Worker.

 

In a restroom upstairs is a smaller stack of critical &/or non-fiction texts that I’m working through more slowly. And in the dining room is Stephen Wolfram’s self-published tome, A New Kind of Science, which I’m going through with the idea that there must be some ideas for poems in there that I might use once I begin Universe in earnest (still a year away, I’d guess).

 

But in my pocket, as an e-book, is Robert Duncan’s H.D. Book, which I’ve downloaded to my Palm Pilot using the Adobe Acrobat Reader for Palm tool.

 

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Thursday, August 29, 2002

 
I have never thought of myself as an experimental writer, but this project is clearly a step into un- (or at least under-)charted territory. My idea is to write briefly from time to time mostly about my writing and whatever I might be thinking about poetry at the moment. Other subjects (music, politics, etc.) may enter in, as they do in life.

Blogs have been around for awhile now, but to date I haven't seen a genuinely good one devoted to contemporary poetry, so it may prove that there is no audience for such an endeavor. But this project isn't about audience. The fact that the blog has the potential to carry forward the best elements of a journal and seems inherently prone to digressive, if not absolutely plotless, prose gives me hope that this form might prove amenable to critical thinking.

Ron

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