The H.D. Book

The H.D. Book

The H.D. Book

The H.D. Book

Synopsis

This magisterial work, long awaited and long the subject of passionate speculation, is an unprecedented exploration of modern poetry and poetics by one of America's most acclaimed and influential postwar poets. What began in 1959 as a simple homage to the modernist poet H.D. developed into an expansive and unique quest to arrive at a poetics that would fuel Duncan's great work in the 1970s. A meditation on both the roots of modernism and its manifestation in the work of H.D., Ezra Pound, D.H. Lawrence, William Carlos Williams, Edith Sitwell, and many others, Duncan's wide-ranging book is especially notable for its illumination of the role women played in creation of literary modernism. Until now, The H.D. Book existed only in mostly out-of-print little magazines in which its chapters first appeared. Now, for the first time published in its entirety, as its author intended, this monumental work--at once an encyclopedia of modernism, a reinterpretation of its key players and texts, and a record of Duncan's quest toward a new poetics--is at last complete and available to a wide audience.

Excerpt

Today I will allow myself whatever projects of what might come of this mining
(You’ve to dig and come to see what I mean / where I, in that poem, almost wanted
to point to that word “come”; because there is something about real thought that
is as autonomous as ejaculation; and has the further mystery of the orgasmic if it
have spirit). —Robert Duncan to Norman Holmes Pearson, July 2, 1960

The H.D. Book is one of the great “lost” texts in the history of American poetry. In 1959, when he began writing the book, Robert Duncan was already an accomplished and well-known poet, connected with the Berkeley renaissance and the San Francisco renaissance, as well as Black Mountain College and the Beat poets. He had published a number of important works—including Heavenly City, Earthly City; Medieval Scenes; Fragments of a Disordered Devotion; Caesar’s Gate; The Venice Poem; and Letters—and was about to appear in Donald Allen’s groundbreaking anthology, The New American Poetry. His mature work, however, had yet to come. The H.D. Book would be the alembic in which that work was gestated.

Composed from 1959 to 1964, various chapters of The H.D. Book appeared in little magazines between 1966 and 1985 (see appendix 2). It was never published as a completed book, however. Perhaps lost overstates the case, since it was never forgotten, but for some forty years, the only access to the text was photocopied assemblages of the various magazine publications, treasured—and sometimes passed from hand to . . .

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