After H.D last time, it makes sense to talk Bryher this week – her long-term partner. She’s really fascinating but very little known. If you have a chance to read her memoir The Heart to Artemis then I’d really recommend it. A great piece of travel writing, as well as a good history of the first few decades of the 20th century and exploration of Freud and psychoanalysis.
I found this poem in a Transition anthology in Shakespeare & Company when I went to Paris in 2014 and I absolutely love it.
If I am a needle on a disk,
got to play the record out,
got to go on,
whatever voices break across me
or what shadows,
knees or shoulders,
silverpoint the blackness;
got to play the record out
til I break or am lifted,
I don’t choose the sound I make,
you don’t choose the groove.
No good saying,
take a knife and cut me from the past.
If I am a needle on a disk,
I’m not the new record
nor the old silence.
There is nowhere that we join together
And it’s not your job to lift me at the finish.
Isn’t it lush?
Have a think about the use of the body, new technology, and who the poetic voice is addressing.
This fortnight we’ll be looking at H.D or Hilda Doolittle.
H.D was one of the original ‘imagist’ poems, as well as the author of the extraordinary novel Hermione. She called her daughter Perdita, fittingly.
Her memoir of Freud, A Tribute to Freud, is also well worth your time.
But today we’re looking at her poems, a selection of which are available online. I’d encourage you to browse around although would add that Apollo at Delphi is a favourite of mine.
Things to think about? H.D is an imagiste. That means trying to eschew techniques like metaphor or simile, to write the image of the thing. How does this affect the poetry? What do you think of it? Does she succeed?
You can read about the modernist women of Paris in my new book, available for Kindle.
As part of Sian’s Spike Island residency, she has published an eBook of biographical essays about the women of 1920s Paris.
It’s called …and Paris is my hometown
which is a Gertrude Stein quote.
The majority of the essays were published by The Heroine Collective throughout 2016 and Sian is very grateful to their lovely editor Kate Kerrow for contributing the Foreword to the collection. There are some extra exciting tidbits in the anthology though so it’s worth your time!
…and Paris is my hometown includes essays celebrating the life and work of Gertrude Stein, Colette, Sylvia Beach, Josephine Baker, Kiki de Montparnasse and many, many more.
Please purchase the book today.
The second installment of our online reading group is from one of my favourite writers, Jean Rhys.
It’s the story Till September Petronella and, hurrah, I’ve found an online version for you to read in the London Magazine.
But if you can I recommend you buy or borrow a copy from the library because all her short stories are such a delight.
Here are a few things to think about when reading Jean Rhys…
How does she explore being an outsider?
How does she portray power relations between men and women?
What importance do clothes have in the story?
What themes do you find interesting in the story?
Think about Rhys’s style – how does she use language?
Read the story now
We’ll have an online discussion on Twitter and Facebook at midday on 2nd February using the tags #modernistwomen and #petronella – see you then!
How is everyone getting on with reading Ada?
Fancy making this online reading group a bit more dynamic?
We’ll host a live Twitter chat at 12pm on Thursday 19 January. 12pm GMT.
The hashtag will be #modernistwomen #ada
And it’ll kick off on Sian’s Twitter handle, @sianushka
All you need to do to join in is use the tag or @ sian in with your thoughts and reflections on Ada.
We want to know what you liked – or didn’t like – about it. Whether this is your first experience reading Stein or if you’re an old fan. What you think of her use of repetition. What you think about its subject. What you think Stein is trying to say. And why she’s trying to say it.
Don’t have Twitter? Don’t panic!
We’ll create a post on the BWLF Facebook page that you can leave your comments on. And if you don’t have Facebook, then just comment on this blogpost at 12pm on Thursday.
As soon as the discussion is done, we’ll post another text to read, and re-convene for another chat a fortnight later.
Sian was invited onto the John Darvall show on BBC Radio Bristol to talk about being Spike Island’s newest writer-in-residence and to generally bang on about how much she loves 1920s Paris.
She was interviewed by the very lovely Jonathan Ray.
You can listen to the interview on iPlayer for the next 29 days.
It starts 2 hours and 11 minutes in (after Van Morrison Moon Dance) and then there’s a song (Rock the Boat) and then finishes 2 hours 32 minutes in.
Have a listen
As part of my residency, I’ll be sharing one text by a modernist woman every fortnight for us to read, share and discuss.
Why? Because the novel I’m working on throughout the residency is set in 1920s Paris, where women writers, artists and creators gathered together to live independent lives – professionally, creatively and sexually. These extraordinary women were pushing literary boundaries as well as personal ones. Their modernist work was just as exciting and innovative as anything being made by the Big Men of Modernism. And yet, all too often, their work is sidelined or ignored or marginalised. My novel aims to reinvigorate an interest in these women. And through this reading group, I can share with you why I love them and what makes their work so fascinating and experimental.
We’re going to get started with Gertrude Stein who was perhaps the most influential woman working in Paris at the time – if not the most influential writer.
Ada is Gertrude Stein’s word-portrait of her ‘wife’ Alice B Toklas. It is absolutely one of my favourite things. It’s a story of love and finding love – of escaping into the life you want to live. It uses all of Stein’s trademark repetition and is just marvellous.
Unfortunately I couldn’t find a way of sharing the text with you on the internet! But have found a reading on YouTube.
Here’s an extract, published in this great article on Brainpickings
She came to be happier than anybody else who was living then. It is easy to believe this thing. She was telling some one, who was loving every story that was charming. Some one who was living was almost always listening. Some one who was loving was almost always listening. That one who was loving was almost always listening. That one who was loving was telling about being one then listening. That one being loving was then telling stories having a beginning and a middle and an ending. That one was then one always completely listening. Ada was then one and all her living then one completely telling stories that were charming, completely listening to stories having a beginning and a middle and an ending. Trembling was all living, living was all loving, some one was then the other one. Certainly this one was loving this Ada then. And certainly Ada all her living then was happier in living than any one else who ever could, who was, who is, who ever will be living.
Enjoy reading Ada and do share your thoughts in the comments section.
Questions to think about are:
- Why does Stein call this a word-portrait?
- What is the significance of the repetition?
- How does Stein express love (and sexuality) in the piece?