Collected Poems, with Notes Towards the Memoirs

Djuna Barnes, Author, Phillip Herring, Editor, Osias Stutman, Editor , edited by Phillip Herring and Osias Stutman. Univ. of Wisconsin $65 (285p) ISBN 978-0-299-21230-8 ISBN 978-0-299-21234-6

Famous for her grim lesbian novel Nightwood (1936) and for her life as a fabulous expatriate in Paris between WWI and WWII, Barnes (1892– 1982) has never enjoyed a reputation as a poet, partly because almost none of her post-Nightwood verse saw print. This diligent and exhaustive edition both restores her hard-to-find magazine verse of the 1910s and 1920s and makes available her dense, sardonic late poems. The early poems are conventional in form, but extreme in emotion. Some focus on same-sex desire; others perform a self-conscious wildness, with disturbing or deadly tableaux—a lady's "profile like a dagger lain/ Between the hair," a "snail that marks the girth of night with slime." The later poetry, as the editors write, "challenges us to savor lines that appear to be English, but... elude us," condensing almost to unintelligibility a gothic-sarcastic sensibility derived from T.S. Eliot, and from the 17th-century dramatists Barnes, like Eliot, admired. She casts herself as a neo-medieval scourge of hypocrisy named Dan Corbeau ("Lord Crow"), attacks authority of all sorts, or invokes "Lucifer, the salmon of the air,/ The kiss killing man," who "Breeds himself by falling from the air." Often the editors print multiple drafts of a single unfinished poem. Of more general interest, perhaps, are the pages from Barnes's unfinished prose memoir of Paris: despite their repetitive, fragmentary state, they contain witty remarks and observations on Joyce, Stein, Jean Cocteau and other luminaries, among them her own mentor T.S. Eliot, whom she admired and resented to the end. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 01/23/2006
Release date: 11/01/2005
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 285 pages - 978-0-299-21234-6
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