Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

4: comments on Dismorr’s poetry

Jessie Dismorr by Wyndham Lewis, 1922

Jessie Dismorr by Wyndham Lewis, 1922

Comments on Jessie Dismorr’s poetry

A Y Winters, “Concerning Jessie Dismorr” [TLR 6.6 Oct 1919]

John Rodker, “In the October Number” [TLR 6.8. Dec 1919]

[For the background to these comments, see page 1: introduction.]

Concerning Jessie Dismorr 

by A. Y. Winters

I have of late seen and heard a few persons give vent to what seems to be a faint semblance of admiration for Miss Dismorr’s work, so perhaps I may be pardoned for writing a few words. I have before me a poem called Matinee (Little Review, March, 1918) and the group in the August number.

Williams demands “thought”, but thought need not degenerate into philosophies or fragments thereof: “ideas”. “Ideas” have been damned sufficiently by better intellects than mine, so I shall not stop to do that now. “Don’t be ‘viewy’,” says Pound, “leave that to the writers of pretty little philosophic essays.” Perhaps he would object to my application of his statement, but I don’t think so. “Matinee” is apparently a philosophy of existence. It is written in very carefully chosen words (its outstanding quality) and is, roughly speaking, Whitman inverted with a few embroideries. It as a manifesto pure and simple: the author tells what she does, but does nothing. “I thrill to the miscroscopic.” But how does she thrill to it? One must turn to the later group, where one sees “Spring”. Is “Spring” a thrill? Perhaps. But such an one as the anaemic shiver running down the bare spindle shanks of the candy-fed child of a millionaire. But granting that different people are thrilled in different ways, and that “Spring” contains an emotion, we pass on to the rest of the group … We see the poet pen in hand, paper on knee … I must write a poem – what about – eyes wander vaguely describing arc around ceiling of room – radius of arc strokes back of infinity – infinity: eternity – eternity vs. events – and the result is “Islands”, an uninteresting fiddling with abstractions, totally devoid of emotional value, and so far as “thought” is concerned, a knicknack drawing only a momentary curiosity. The same can be said to perhaps a less extent of “Twilight” (first two lines have considerable beauty), “Landscape,” and “Promenade.” “S- D-” is better but is the sort of thing that has been done as successfully or more so by Pound. For “The Enemy”, I have “faint tremblance of enthusiasm”. Very faint, however. One sees very slight “ideas” dissected in great detail, which is bound to be tiresome. The care with which she selects her words is thrust upon one before everything else, and there are too often too many words. One hears the newly rich lady saying “Between you and I …” Her style is too often a meticulous verbosity.

In the October Number

MR. Winter’s note is a very excellent example of an average flabbiness of mind and I was surprised to find no sharp rebuke from “jh” at its conclusion: but perhaps Miss Dismorr is now considered fair game.

There is of course very little to be said to a correspondent who says about Miss Dismorr that her work consists “of carefully chosen words”; and that it is also “roughly speaking, Whitman inverted with a few embroideries.” Should she by this mean that a hatchet then becomes a lancet, the trope becomes a trifle complicated. Such insipid generalisations on the part of your correspondent can only mean that the whole point of Miss Dismorr’s extremely close and pungent analyses has been missed, and that evidently it is not a palate for choice wines.

As far as I am concerned, Miss Dismorr is one of the most important contributors to the Little Review today and four lines of her work outweigh the effusions of most others of your staff. As for “Islands”, to which the writer takes exception, it is an exquisite fragment in a distinguished and responsive prose.

The article in question is particularly “verbose” and I should have preferred it meticulous; I cannot imagine why your correspondent should have rushed into print and made for herself? such a complete give away; if not that certain of Miss Dismorr’s very acute psychological analyses have touched her? on the raw.

John Rodker.

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