For though one took you, hurled you Out of space, With your legs half strangled In your lace, You'd lip the world to madness On your face. We'd see your body in the grass With cool pale eyes. We'd strain to touch those lang'rous Length of thighs, And hear your short sharp modern Babylonic cries. It wouldn't go. We'd feel you Coil in fear Leaning across the fertile Fields to leer As you urged some bitter secret Through the ear.
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Djuna Barnes' reputation as a central figure in American modernist literary circles has risen dramatically in recent years. A special issue of The Review of Contemporary Fiction was devoted to her work in ; Virago has published collections of short stories and interviews the latter memorably titled I Could Never be Lonely Without a Husband : Faber continues to publish Nightwood , her best-known work, famously lauded by T.
Eliot when it was first issued in and now Fyfield has collected together for the first time into one slim volume just about all the poems she wrote and published.
As a writer of fiction and poetry, interviewer, minor artist five of her drawings, crossing Beardsley with Tove Jansson, are included here; her painting of Cordelia Coker Pearson in riding clothes provides the book's cover and major controversial figure she was a child abuse victim and long-term alcoholic, dying in at the absurd age of 90 , Barnes more than holds her own in the literary pantheon, and yet, as critics like Bonnie Kime Scott have argued, her work resists attempts to categorise it easily alongside such modernist luminaries as Hemingway, Woolf or Eliot.
Barnes is much closer to Mina Loy, herself a marginal modernist maverick. One problem the contemporary editor faces is Barnes' own reluctance to republish, or even acknowledge, her own earlier work. She hoped to write a long poem -- perhaps cantos -- but the drafts accumulated, the editing became impossibly complex, and the stacks of partially completed poems rose higher and higher".
He also cites her own description of The Book of Repulsive Women , first published in "My first book of poems is a disgusting little item. Of the poems themselves much can be said. Barnes writes in a curiously anachronistic style, in which content jars against form, as if children's nursery rhymes were refilled with material purged by centuries of prurient censorship, and made vibrant, living things again.
I bleed! Elsewhere her poems are pure Gothic sensibility, a century late:. Barnes is occasionally fond of the fake archaism a poetic device as old as Edmund Spenser, and one of Coleridge's worse habits , so stallions are "ebon" not black , and 'woe' is spelt 'wo'. She dares to rhyme 'rooms', 'tombs' and 'wombs' and, two lines later, write "And those who have their blooms in jars" in 'From Third Avenue On.
Her real force as a poet resides in her excessive literary morbidity, her overwhelming sense of linguistic putrefaction. As titles like 'Suicide,' 'Death,' 'The Last Toast' and 'To the Dead Favourite of Liu Ch'e' might suggest, she's a poet of mortality, finding evidence of its presence in the irreversible making-absent that time works on all things. The opening poem, 'The Dreamer,' concludes with a gasp of horror -- "Faith, what darkness!
Yet one senses, reading these poems together, that Barnes' preoccupation with the lusciously erotic is always a safety valve, a temporary escape from the insistence to which her poems return. In adding to the burgeoning oeuvre of Barnes' writings available to the contemporary reader, this collected edition of Barnes' poems is long overdue. It affords valuable insights into a neglected body of work that troubles conventional literary categories and disturbs as much as it surprises, in poems that are, as the editor puts it, both "repellent and compelling.
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The Book of Repulsive Women and Other Poems by Djuna Barnes
In , Djuna Barnes wrote to Margaret Anderson, who had asked to reprint some early work of hers:. I feel it is a grave disservice to letters to reissue merely because one may have a name for later work or for the unfortunately praised earlier work,— or for the purpose of nostalgia or "history" which might more happily be left interred. Djuna Barnes to Margaret Anderson, As one of the more famous shut-ins of the modernist movement, Barnes sometimes wished a similar fate for her early publications.
The Book of Repulsive Women: 8 Rhythms and 5 Drawings
Originally published in the chap book series by Bruno of Greenwich Village in , this renowned volume of poetry presented portraits of women of the period -a mother, prostitute, cabaret dancer, and others-which were wildly radical in their day dominated as it was by Victorian mores. But there is still in these "rhythms" a seething beat of sexuality and vice, whipped up. But there is still in these "rhythms" a seething beat of sexuality and vice, whipped up into a delicious sense of perversity by Barnes's art. On the evidence of Barnes's numerous other works, most of which included art that was interleaved with her writing, Messerli has restored the drawings-which in the Bruno edition appeared in the back, after the poem's-to the front of the book so that they can create an interplay with the texts. Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
The Book of Repulsive Women