Monday, August 01, 2011

The Agency of Certain Women

Reading the TLS review of Robert Duncan's The H.D. Book, edited by Michael Broughn and Victor Coleman, I come across Duncan's explanation for his book:

I am searching out, a poetics . . . my initiation of self as poet in the ground of the poet H.D. . . . how I had found my life in poetry through the agency of certain women".

I am not yet a reader of Duncan, nor a serious reader of H.D., but Duncan's words here touch on my writing project, my next book Infinite Variety. I have been writing poems that take off from poems by women poets. Influenced by Michael Schmidt's description of a batch of these poems I submitted to PN Review, I have been thinking of the women's poems as points of departure. That description has been niggling my mind as not quite accurate, because I don't leave these poets behind me. They are with me. Duncan's words give me an alternative formulation. In my poems, I am thinking with these women poets. I think I will drop the rather pretentious sub-title "The Art of the Epigraph" and put up in its place "Thinking with Women Poets."

I received another hint for my book over the weekend. Hermione Lee, in her biography of Virginia Woolf, discussed the novelist's deep-seated concern with biography, or, the term she preferred, life-writing. For her, her father's life work, the Dictionary of National Biography, was the old-fashioned, hypocritical, monumentalizing form that fails to capture the luminous interiors of life. She would work instead in a more fragmentary but revealing mode.

I already had the plan of dividing the book into eleven sections, the central section to be filled by "The Pillow Book." Lee's discussion gave me the idea of grouping the poems according to the forms and formal elements that are most relevant to the women poets I have chosen, and, more importantly, to match the sections like a passage of mirrors, the first and last sections inverting each other, the second and the second to last sections, etc. The book will begin with "Myth" and end with "Mystery." The central section will be titled "Miscellaneous Jottings." In this manner, the structure of the book will mirror the infinity in the title, while the different poets and poems will provide the variety.

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