NIGHTS by H.D. (John Helforth)


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Writing under the pseudonym ""John Helforth,"" H.D. published this slim book in a limited edition during her lifetime. Its republication, together with the recently published novels HERmione and The Gift, provides overwhelming evidence that the highly accomplished imagist poet possessed almost no narrative skill whatsoever. This ""novel"" pretends to be a found manuscript: Helforth provides a lengthy introduction to the literary remains of one Natalia Saunderson, who committed suicide by following ""two straight lines to infinity."" That is, she skated to her death on thin ice in the middle of a vast lake, leaving her muff and a watch by the shore--a gesture supposedly fraught with meaning. Helforth, who works for a publisher of ""semi-popular scientific brochures,"" never took Nat (as she was called) seriously, ""and didn't really like her."" He nevertheless now offers up her surviving work as a bit of automatic writing--12 prose pieces, each written immediately after nights spent with her young lover, David. This illicit affair, prompted by her husband's unfaithfulness with another young male, is also a change from her usual flings with women, including her husband's sister. A virtual merry-go-round of promiscuous sex, these couplings are re-created in the most voluptuous prose--metaphorically overripe and orgasmically incoherent. When it is clear, it reads like pretentious porn (""His rooted-stalk would push down. Those other lips would be penetrated by the slow poison of that beating earth flower. . . He would work into her, fertilize, invoke that flower""). The point of all this feverish rambling seems to be that reality is never as good as our dreams--H.D. was full of her recent experiences with analysis. In her introduction, H.D.'s daughter, Perdita Schaffner, commits a forgivable error: impressed by her mother's overly lush renderings of ""erotic experimentation,"" she assumes that others will be too.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1986
Publisher: New Directions