Two Reviews by H.D.:
Introduction by Michael Boughn

H.D., unlike her contemporaries and companions such as Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams, was not much given to writing about other's art or the theory of her own. Some have seen this a weakness or an expression of her lack of seriousness. My own sense, however, is that her energies were so intensely focussed on her poetry and novels that she had little time to write abstractly about those processes and little interest in doing so. Just as she seemed to realize early on that the so-called literary life--the social world of Paris bars and salons--was an obstruction to her work, and so withdrew to Switzerland where she could get the work done, so she spent little time theorizing about her practice in public.

There were, of course, exceptions. From 1927 to 1929, during her involvement producing movies with Kenneth McPherson and Bryher, she wrote a great deal about film, and was deeply involved in the production of the magazine Close-Up, the first magazine to be dedicated solely to the discussion of film as a serious artistic medium. Later, back in London, she was involved with the group that published Life and Letters Today, many of whom had also been involved with Close-Up. In addition to her great poetry from the war years which was first published in Life and Letters Today, she also wrote several book reviews for the magazine using the nom de plume Sylvania Penn. Two of these--"I Sing Democracy" and "Vincent Van Gogh"--are reproduced here.

The reviews are interesting for a number of reasons. In "I Sing Democracy" H.D. articulates publicly her thoughts on the tradition of American writing she understood herself to be part of. It's a tradition that includes Emerson, Dickinson, a very particular Whitman, and, perhaps most surprisingly, Poe. In her critique of Edgar Lee Masters vision of America as Spoon River, H.D. reveals her own passionate engagement with the thinking of "America" and American civilization, an engagement otherwise rarely seen.

In "Vincent Van Gogh", a review of Irving Stone's "biography in letters", she thinks through rather difficult questions about Van Gogh's so-called mental illness. This was clearly a very personal issue for H.D., who, during the course of her life, experienced several periods of acute psychic instability. It's both touching and revealing to watch her think through her own experiences in terms of Van Gogh's life, and to see her first begin to articulate issues and images that will next appear in her great poem, "The Flowering of the Rod."

"I Sing Democracy" was first published in Life and Letters Today 17.9 (Autumn 1937): 154-59. "Vincent Van Gogh" was first published in Life and Letters Today 17.10 (Winter 1937): 138-41. Both reviews were reprinted in abridged versions in intent.: letter of talk, thinking, & document 1:3 (Fall 1989).

Michael Boughn is the author of H.D., A Bibliography 1905-1990, and two books of poems, A little post-apocalyptic suite for RC with thanks for the rhino, and Iterations of the Diagonal.

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Two Reviews by H.D. : Introduction, Rev. December 27, 2001 ( Please send comments and suggestions to