Residency is a two-part journal entry brought to you by one of our favorite artists.
This week, Sarah Versprille of the Portland-based duo Pure Bathing Culture shares some thoughts on the Imagist poet H.D., the heart on Pluto, and why exploration is part of being human.
One of the songs on our new record is called “Palest Pearl,” and it was partially inspired by a poem written by the poet H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) published in 1944 in her book The Walls Do Not Fall. It’s the fourth poem in the series, and I found it to be such a potent and beautiful expression of a feeling that I think on some level we all know well. It’s that feeling of wanting to shut down to the things around us and allow our shell jaws to snap shut completely and shut out the swirling waters of our emotions to prevent them from becoming a factor in how we proceed.
H.D. was born in 1886 and she died in 1961. She was part of a group of poets in England (herself, Richard Aldington, and Ezra Pound) who called themselves Imagists. She lived an intensely full and colorful life and was incredibly progressive in her lifestyle and politics. She was a feminist and became a symbol for the movement after her death. She was an elective patient of Sigmund Freud. She had long and intense romantic relationships with both men and women. She was strong and determined and when I read her work it’s clear to me that she was always searching and asking questions. She was really searching for herself amidst all the things that swirled around her in a time in history when asking those questions was especially hard, especially for women. Her poems are simultaneously reflective and expressive of deep emotion, while at the same time carrying this voice of incredible strength and self possession.
As humans in this internet age—when we can define ourselves simply by our Facebook posts, our selfies, and our comments on other people’s YouTube videos—I sometimes wonder if we’ve lost the desire to search for ourselves in all of it and to ask important questions of others and ourselves. I wonder if we’ve stopped asking what we really want, what really fulfills us, what really makes us feel joy, even if those things are uncomfortable or strange. Even if the people around us think we’re insane or weird. Even if it changes us in ways we never imagined.
Speaking of searching, I was fascinated by the recent close-up photos of Pluto taken by the space craft New Horizons. Pluto has taken some flack over the years, mostly stemming from the argument about whether or not it’s an actual planet. However, it is definitely a part of our solar system, making its strange and erratic, yet complete orbit around the sun every 248 years. Pluto is so remote in our solar system that it took New Horizons 3,462 days to reach it. The cameras on the space craft only had a short time during it’s flight to capture the first ever close up view of this much disputed entity. The close up images published show this:
Pluto has a giant heart on it. Or maybe a massive canyon shaped like a heart… but regardless, it clearly looks like a heart. Even in the most insane outer depths of the freezing cold, methane gas infused, no oxygen retaining solar system, there is a heart on the thing that some people don’t even accept as a real planet.
The inspiration to search can come from anywhere. For H.D. I can only speculate what her motivations were, but she left us a body of work full of musings on the thrill and sometimes horror of self discovery through feeling everything we are meant to feel. The joy and sorrow in the process of experiencing our own emotionality.
The human need to search for the unknown is arguably most evident in the exploration of our solar system. Humans have been observing the stars and planets (even going so far as to prescribe deep symbolism and meaning to many of them) and in modern times were so compelled by their curiosity that they built rocket ships and launched themselves into the stratosphere in the name of discovering infinite possibility, or perhaps the reason we’re all here, or at least a shred of something to hold on to. This drive is programmed into us, it’s a part of who we all are at some base level. We all possess a natural curiosity, a basic need to discover something more, maybe about ourselves, maybe about our partners, maybe about our neighbors, sometimes for good, sometimes for bad. This drive is what makes us human. If we weren’t participating in feeling these things and exploring ideas we’d be dead, and death is the opposite of living life.
Through it all I just try to keep in mind the message of Pluto: even in the deepest depths, there is heart.