Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 31.2 (H.D.)


The Gift
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Doolittle, Hilda
The Gift


I bought this for a course with Susan Howe at SUNY Buffalo whose syllabus, I notice, has mysteriously disappeared from the EPC.

The course was titled, "Preface: Or Seen Again for The First Time." The reading list centered on the set of prefaces Henry James wrote for his collected works and the reading list fanned out in all directions from there: Poe, Melville, W.C. Williams, Olson, H.D. Robert Smithson. I think Susan's friend, video artist Joan Jonas also visited the class that semester. Or maybe she visited Charles Bernstein's class. Or both.

I remember our first class took place in the Forrest Lawn Cemetery. We wandered around looking at the monuments and talking about literature. After about an hour, we retired to Susan's apartment on Oakland Place. We all gathered in a stark white room in which were displayed her deceased husband's beautiful sculptures. The room had the shared quality of a museum and a mausoleum, as I recall, and at first we were uncertain as to whether it was okay to sit down. Susan quickly made us all comfortable and served up refreshments and we spent the remaining couple of hours sitting among the sculptures and talking about the topic at hand.

I also recall the second class, in which Susan took us to the Poetry collection to see the handwritten manuscript copy of Wallace Steven's "The Man With The Blue Guitar." Stevens wrote his poem on sheets of legal paper in neat, block-like letters. Susan's excitement at being in the presence of the object itself was palpable and contagious. I think I wrote the first poem in my first chapbook using sentences from her lecture that day. Her speech has that quality about it -- you can take notes, then cut the notes into lines to discover that what you have written down looks an awful lot like a poem.

from The Gift

There was a girl who was burnt to death at the seminary, as they called the old school where our grandfather was principal.

For a long time we were under the impression that we had two fathers, Papa and Paplie, but the children across the street said Papalie was our grandfather. "He is not," we said, "he is our Papalie." But Ida, our devoted friend, who did the cooking and read Grimm's tales to us at night before we went to sleep, said yes, Papalie was our grandfather, people had a grandfather, sometimes they had two. The other grandfather was dead, he was Papa's father, she explained. But the girl who was burnt to death, was burnt to death in a crinoline. The Christmas tree was lighted at the end of one of the long halls and the girls ruffles or ribbons caught fire and she was in a great hoop.

1 comment:

s. m. hutton said...

Howe was a gifted and, as you say, contagious instructor. Her speech was indeed often poetic, and I was just as often entranced by her lectures and discussions. Thanks for sharing your experience here.