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"A QUEER LOT" AND THE LESBIANS OF 1914: Amy Lowell, H.D., and Gertrude Stein Susan McCabe I saysomeone in another time will remember us. — Sappho When this you see remember me. — Stein Amy Lowells poem "TheSisters" searches for a matrilineage, invoking the phantom-like yet sustaining Sappho: I know a single slender thing about her: That, loving, she waslike a burning birch-tree All tall and glittering fire, and that shewrote Like the same fire caught up to Heaven and held there, A frozen blaze before it broke and fell.1 Lowell further calls attention to the female poets eccentric position within a "man-wise" world and aligns herself with the Sapphic "fragment": Taking us by and large, we're a queer lot We women who write poetry.And when you think How few of us thereVe been, its queerer still. I wonder what makes us do it, Singles us out to scribble down,man-wise, The fragments ofourselves. Lowell references her lesbian orientation by regarding herself as part of a "queer" and endangered "lot";2 the poet must be "man-wise," writing like a man, or alternatively,writingwith the knowledge of how gender, as it is culturally formulated,constrictsliterarysuccess.Significantly, whatsurvives ofwriting "A QUEER LOT" AND THE LESBIANS OF 1914 : 63 and the self are "fragments/' a word that signals both preservation and destruction . Sappho is invoked but can never be fully restored. H.D. similarly enacts Sapphic returns throughout her writing, and considers the Greek poet the emblem of the creative union of body, soul, and mind in her Notes on Thought and Vision (1919). But Sappho cannot fully mediate between H.D. and the heterosexist tradition she finds herself pitted against. Likewise, Stein writes in a work partly composed in 1914 while she and Alice Toklas were living in Mallorca : "Lifting belly is a language. It says island. Island a strata. Lifting belly is a repetition/'3 Stein, like Lowell and H.D., cannot reside in a Lesbos that is not tinged by present violence: "Sometimes we look at the boats. When we read about a boat we know it has been sunk" (LB 1-2). In counterpoint to World War I, Stein returns, again and again, to the very female "belly." Lowell, H.D., and Stein each struggle to remember and to assemble a lesbian poetics.4 This essay considers how a lesbian poetics challenges our assumptions about modernism; certainly, modernism looks very different if we think of a "renaissance " period oflesbian poets, including Lowell, H.D., and Stein.5 Such reconsidering allows, at the least, for a new reading of modernism, or of "the lesbians of 1914." Modernism signifies both a period and a style, and as such, it rests on implicit and explicit assumptions about gender and sexual differences. If the modernist canon constitutes itself as a specific configuration of literarystyles, the lesbian poets of the modern period become the silenced specter on which such a configuration depends. A lesbian version of modernism has always existed ; constructions of masculinist modernism include it through their very act of exclusion. Literary history has fixated on Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot as the prime movers of Anglo-American poetic modernism, occluding in the process women as active, desiring, speaking subjects,and even more so, makingwomen the beloved addressee of poetic discourse. In particular, I will adumbrate how the inclusion of Lowell, H.D., and Stein as significant lesbian voices reshapes modernist poetic claims that have been sexed and canonized as masculine. Instead of an impersonal anti-Romantic aesthetic, these poets foreground desire and embodiment. Their work, infused with homoerotic energies, enacts a collaborative relation with the "beloved" as muse that breaks down divisionsbetween subject and object. Operating not as some essential or wholly coherent identity but as "the lesbian-as-sign,"6 these poets disrupt heterosexist paradigms of desire. Lesbian sexualityinflects their work through the simultaneous silencing and affirmation of lesbian desire, and becomes integral to experimentations in voice, language and lyric style.7 By confining myself to the years 1912-1919, a period in which interest in poetry was renewed, I locate these three poets as pivotal agents in the shaping of 64 : SUSAN MCCABE modernism.8 They clearly possess many differentiated aims, with Stein seemingly at the far end of the spectrum of what is considered "experimental" and Lowell at the other end.9 Stein revolutionizes language, exulting in the fragments that many of her heterosexual peers wish to shore up and recohere...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780820343532
Related ISBN
9780820343532
MARC Record
OCLC
794306972
Pages
320
Launched on MUSE
2012-11-02
Language
English
Open Access
No
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