Marina Camboni, ed. H.D.'s Poetry: "the meanings that words hide." AMS Press, 2003. 208 pp. (hardback).
This 181-page collection of eight essays is a welcome addition to scholarship on Hilda Doolittle´s poetry for three general reasons. First, it has an appeal broader than feminism alone; all the selections discuss the poetic language using a textual, linguistic, or rhetorical analysis in addition to various critical approaches and so the title accurately reflects the content. Secondly, the collection presents essays by scholars who have done much research on H.D. and who attended a colloquium on her poetic language at the University of Macerata in 1988. Thirdly, it is more than a group of separate researches because Camboni relates them by means of her Introduction, Selected Bibliography, Notes on Contributors, Index [of names and topics], and Index of Works by H.D. [cited in the essays].
Although the ten-page Introduction does not offer an original thesis on H.D.´s poetic language, since Camboni writes her own views in an essay in Part I, it instead explains how the essays contribute in different ways toward the common research purpose: the study of H.D.'s poetic language in the lesser known poems throughout her career. Camboni explains her choice of this purpose on the basis of her many publications on H.D. and her translation of H.D.'s Trilogy into Italian. She distributes the eight essays into three parts ordered chronologically from the early lyrics to the late ones and then to conclusions about the legacy. More important than the chronological order is the thematic unity of the essays in each part, and this twofold organization of the critical anthology, both chronological and thematic, shows Camboni's careful planning. Camboni's main titles of the three parts and their subtitles seem reversed if the convention is followed that the more general identifying terms precede the colon and then the more specific, limiting words of the subtitle follow. The reversal causes no problems in understanding, serving only to present a quotation in each part from H.D. to epitomize the thematic unity of it. Camboni's edition has more unity than many anthologies.
In Part I, "intricate songs' lost measure': The Early Lyrics," the four contributors read H.D.'s poems in relation to their predecessors and to the tradition. Diana Collecott divides her essay "'She too is my poet': H.D.'s Sapphic Fragments" into these headings: "A rose is a rose?," "Sapphistry," "Signifyin(g)," "Eurydice," and "Mirroring." Camboni indicates by the words in the header containing the page number, "H.D.'s Sapphic Fragments," that Collecott shows H.D.'s indebtedness to Sappho. In contrast, in "H.D.'s Heterodoxy: the Lyric as a Site of Resistance," Eileen Gregory shows how H.D. uses the lyric with its essential eroticism to resist traditional-especially male-restrictions of it. The third essay, "Between Painting and Writing: Figures of Identity in H.D.'s Early Poetry," continues the theme of H.D.'s poetic language in relation to that of a predecessor. Marina Camboni begins by explaining the basis of H.D.'s figure of Mary Magdala in the Pre-Raphaelite painting "Mary Magdalene" (~1859) by Frederick Sandy. In general terms the essay is concerned with the imagistic and graphic qualities of the poetic language. She continues to show affinities between the poetry and painting until Camboni discusses the way Doolittle creates female figures serving as icons of a new woman. Paola Zaccaria continues the line of thought of Camboni when she concentrates on the palimpsest in "Beyond One and Two: The Palimpsest as Hieroglyph of Multiplicity and Relation." True to the title of the entire collection, H.D.'s verse superimposes images upon images, things upon things as in the two main examples: "The Dancer," in which the predecessors according to Camboni in the Introduction are Freud, Loie Fuller, and Isadora Duncan, and "The Master, in which Freud is the accepted and rejected predecessor to the poem." After reading these four essays, the reader can see how they are closely related in theme and type of approach. Furthermore, they make a significant contribution to the book both qualitatively and quantitatively, constituting 44 percent of the pages allotted to the essays.
In Part II, "'Write, write or die': The Late Poetic Sequences," the contributors concentrate on the writer as creator and as woman. Marina Sbisa writes "Subject and Gender in H.D.'s Trilogy," and the issue for her as a philosopher of language is the kind of subjectivity expressed there. She shows with analytical precision and detail the growth of H.D.'s female autonomy through the Trilogy. The second essay in Part II, "Binding Words and Feelings: Nominal Compounds in the Trilogy" by Patrizia Lendinara, is distinctive among critical essays for its cataloging of the linguistic data for literary purposes. Very different in approach and yet appropriately similar in the theme of female identity is the final essay of Part II, "'and so remembrance brings us to this hour in which I strive to save identity': Figures of Memory in H.D.'s Late Poetry" by Raffaella Baccolini. This essay concentrates on H.D.'s Vale Ave, divided into 74 sections and dedicated to the poet's life partner and patron Bryher. This contribution is valuable for relating the late poetry to the previous work and for interpreting it by comparing it to confessional poetry, since the poems are definitely more autobiographical than the previous work.
In Part III, "'I escaped spider-snare, bird-claw, scavenger bird-beak': The Poet's Legacy," Kathleen Fraser discusses H.D.'s strong influence on contemporary poets. She describes the compelling influence of H.D. as well as her trip to archaeological sites north of Rome, Italy, on her own poem "Etruscan Pages. Fraser describes the importance of H.D. for the modern women poets who in the 1960s needed encouragement to be writers.
In conclusion, this anthology of critical essays has greater unity than one would normally find, thanks to their selection by Camboni according to the textual, linguistic, and rhetorical methods, and her supplementary front and back sections. Nevertheless, it succeeds in having a range of content insofar as poems of different periods are discussed. With its broad appeal to different critical movements, and its tendency to supplement existing scholarship with the interpretation of lesser known works, this collection is a fine addition to scholarship on H.D.'s poetry.
University of Athens, Greece