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The Modernist Review #33

We had a lovely summer in the UK. This year it was on a Wednesday. We can’t lie though and say we’re not excited for the sinfully early reemergence of the pumpkin spice latte, which we’re pretty sure T. E. Hulme would have included in his poem ‘Autumn’ had he had a cosy cafe down the road. It’s the last few weeks of being able to take a book outdoors, though, and finish off that summer reading we said we’d do (what’s that joke about managing to turn all your hobbies into chores, again?), and we’re determined to make the most of it before the leaves fall and the madness of school and university term hits. 

While the dog days might be over (blink and you missed them), things have been ticking over in the summer months. In conjunction with the MSA student network, BAMS hosted its first online book group (thanks to Jennifer Cameron and Annie Strausa). Natasha Brown’s Assembly (2021) was the first book up for discussion and carried us through many subjects, from Woolf and modernist/modern-day parties through to reckonings with the colonial legacy which infuses the structure and deployment of language. Brown’s impactful novel is circumscribed to a little over 100 pages but the discussion could have lasted for many more hours. Get in touch if you’d like to join us at the next session.

Zoom events like this are probably going to be part of the new normal of the future for all of us, but the modernist calendar is filling up and poised to make life 3D again. MSA Chicago is taking place between 4-7 November this year, and if you’re attending, we’d love to see some of you at the BAMS reciprocal seminar, hosted by our past PG Reps Polly Hember and Cécile Varry. The theme is ‘Modernist Stress: Pressure, Production, and Creation’ (any of those emotions sound familiar this year?), and all the information can be found in the link here. If you’re not headed Stateside this time, though, whip out your diary, because the bi-annual BAMS Conference dates have been announced as 23-25 June 2022. It will be held in Bristol, and we can’t wait to raise some glasses of the famous west country cider and say cheers in person.

We are nevertheless delighted to present this digestible issue of TMR which combines some canonical and some marginal voices across modernism through an article and a handful of book reviews. Edel Hanley’s timely article explores the relationship between women’s war poetry and modernism, challenging the overly-neat distinction between Georgian and modernist tropes. She introduces us to the poems of Winifred Letts who served abroad as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse during WWI, and May Sinclair, one of the first women to witness and record the actualities of war for Belgian soldiers in her poetry. 

In his review of Jennifer Cowe’s Killing the Buddha: Henry Miller’s Long Journey to Satori, John Clegg entertains us with the difficulties any Miller scholar clearly faces and that Cowe attempts to circumvent. He perceives something of Miller himself in Cowe’s circuit approach, bringing an “impressive display of double-mimetism” to the table. In Clegg’s view, Cowe’s adoption of non-mainstream critical stances seems to be a result of Miller’s “immense influence” over her, but it provides plenty of interest for Miller scholars altogether, though “the reader should be prepared for more of a biography than a literary study”.

Any enigma, notoriety or eclecticism not covered by the above review is more than made up for by Aaron Eames’s review of Dafydd W. Jones’ The Fictions of Arthur Cravan: Poetry, Boxing and Revolution. The intrigue (and difficulty) carries through from Clegg’s review in the knowledge that, “at first glance, [he is] a biographer’s dream but, when one considers all the misinformation, mystique, and mythology surrounding (and generated by) this remarkable man, he quickly becomes an impossible subject.” A much-needed study of “Wilde’s extraordinary nephew to complement that of his extraordinary niece Dorothy ‘Dolly’ Wilde”, in Eames’s eyes, redressing the Wilde family’s imbalance of critical interest and weaving together “historical scrutiny” of the life with criticism of Cravan’s works. With “plenty here of interdisciplinary interest”, Eames demonstrates the value of this study of a lesser-known modernist.

For those (and we know there are lots of you) with a taste for interdisciplinarity, our final review will also offer a cornucopia. Cary Wolfe’s Ecological Poetics, or, Wallace Stevens’s Birds, reviewed here by Sean Seeger, puts forward an “original new ecocritical theory drawing on insights from systems theory, American pragmatism, and contemporary biology”. This is less of “an extended study of Stevens himself” than “a wide-ranging interdisciplinary conversation about ecological ideas”. Not quite a manual for those of you who became amateur birdwatchers over lockdown, then.

Within just four pieces, the above scholars cover vast geographical and discursive spaces. We hope you enjoy reading their contributions to carry you into the start of term. For all those of you joining new institutions, and starting new jobs and courses, too, we wish you the best of luck!

Best wishes,

Emily, Jennifer, Bryony, Josh & Gill

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