The Modernist Review

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What we’ve enjoyed this month – April 2017

April is not the cruellest month, no matter what T. S. Eliot might think of things. And to prove it, here’s some of the most exciting modernist news around at the moment:

On which note…

There’s a new T. S. Eliot annotated edition out. Here’s what Prospect had to say about it.

The Lost Modernist

Check out the Guardian‘s review of the new David Jones biography.

Google Doodle

Google recently chose to honour Sergei Diaghilev on his 135th birthday. Read all about him here.

Rock and roll, Rimbaud

Patti Smith has only gone and bought Arthur Rimbaud’s childhood home, in the town of Roche.

And, as always, if you’ve news to share, then please drop us a line at

Sian Norris talks modernism, Paris and the women of the Left Bank

Sian Norris is a writer and journalist, currently working on her first novel, The Red Deeps. As writer-in-residence at Bristol’s Spike Island, she runs a series of literary salons that bring together reflections on the Left Bank of 1920s Paris with cutting-edge literature from across the UK. We caught up with Sian to ask her about modernism, women, and the program she’s putting together.


You’re a writer-in-residence at Spike Island in Bristol. What will you be doing there?

Lots! I designed a really busy residency program and so now I’m very busy trying to fulfil all its criteria.

The main focus of the residency is to edit the latest draft of my novel, which focuses on women’s lives on the 1920s Left Bank. I’ve been working on it for a while now and it’s really at the very exciting stage of talking to agents. It’s the task of honing the text to make it the best it can be, and I’m really looking forward to getting an agent who I can work with to improve the book and send it to publishers.

At the same time, I’ve organised a program of salon events and creative writing workshops with adults and children. The first adult workshop is very much designed to be interactive with the current exhibition at Spike Island by Lubaina Himid. It’s so inspiring to be in this brilliant arts space and work with the exhibition. I’ve also designed a schools’ workshop program, working with Bristol sixth form students.

Then there’s a collaboration with Rife magazine, mentoring a young writer, Kaja Brown, who is absolutely fantastic – a really exciting talent. I’m also running an online reading group recommending specific texts by modernist women, and I published an e-book of essays about women in the Left Bank community.

Finally, I’m also developing some new work which is really thrilling. It’s in the very early stages but I’ve got a good feeling about it. So really, really busy.

What drew you to the women of the Left Bank? What was your first – or most memorable! – encounter with this thread of modernism?

My first encounter with this world was buying a Colette paperback from Barter Books when I was 14. It was The Vagabond, a proper orange and cream old school Penguin. That got me totally hooked on Colette. I was really fascinated by this cool bisexual woman living in Paris, performing on stage, writing novels, writing journalism – she just seemed incredible.

Then, when I was 16, I was at the local library and found Andrea Weiss’ Paris Was a Woman. And suddenly it wasn’t just Colette. It was this whole community of women living and working in Paris in the 1920s – supporting one another, mentoring or publishing one another, and creating boundary-pushing, experimental and avant-garde work. I became an addict, buying US copies of Djuna Barnes’ Ladies Almanack, searching for Janet Flanner articles online.

After Colette I think the next writer that really caught my interest was Barnes. I read Nightwood when I was 18 and wrote my A-level coursework on it. I’m actually re-reading it right now, and every time I am stunned at the dense complexity of her prose, how poetic and evocative she is. I found her a really fascinating writer.

Then when I was at university I started reading Gertrude Stein and Jean Rhys. What I loved about Rhys was her ability to write despair, about the experience of being poor and female and desperate. And what I loved about Stein was how funny she was! There are so many funny moments in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.

I think Stein was the most important encounter. What I find fascinating about her is how she took all the things we expect or accept about literature and turned it on its head. She asked us what writing would be like if we stripped out allusions, if we wrote what we see, what is truly there.

I’m also really interested in Shari Benstock’s theory about the coded lesbian sexuality in her writings; this idea that she’s creating a new register of language that communicates something very centred in woman-ness and lesbianism. I often try and describe my reaction to Stein as a “heart reading” rather than a cerebral one, if that makes sense? In that sometimes I don’t understand what she means but I feel something about what she means, it feels quite bodily and physical. I think it’s something about the repetition and rhythms.

I also really love H.D and, I adore Flanner. If I could go back in time and have a drink with someone it would be her.

What are you reading at the moment?

As I said, I’m re-reading Nightwood, after reading Lauren Elkin’s essay in The Paris Review about women living in 1920s Paris and walking around the Left Bank. It’s a book I revisit a lot and the way I read it, or feel about it, has changed a lot since I was 18. In fact, I need to buy a new copy really because it’s so hard to read it with my 18-year-old self’s notes scribbled in the margins! I love it when books mean different things to you at different stages of your life.

I’m also reading a lot of Martha Gellhorn’s essays and selected journalism. She’s incredible. Her writing on the Spanish Civil War is so evocative and frightening, and her novel The Stricken Field is too. I mention those two aspects of her career in particular because, sadly, a lot of what she writes feels far too familiar with what’s happening today in Syria and in the refugee crisis.

Tell us about your literary salons. It seems to me that, just as Stein promoted so many writers who we know so well, this is a chance to promote some interesting voices – maybe even the sort of voices that are still overlooked in the twentieth-century canon.

One of the things about Stein’s salons is that she created this space where so many of the Big Men of Modernism TM came together and she mentored them and supported them and then BAM! Everyone knows who Hemingway is and Stein is seen as a niche, weird interest. What’s going on there I wonder? Smells of sexism to me. . .

Stein really recognised that she was seen as the Personality rather than the Writer, particularly in the States. So while other writers respected her work – Flanner wrote in the New Yorker that ‘no other writer is so respected by the American modernists than Miss Stein’ – the public was more interested in her as the character.

Anyway! My salons are designed to create a space for established and emerging talent to share their work. With that in mind, I’ve booked a range of speakers who are at different stages in their careers but all have a public profile, be it a book or two, or a performance record. Then there’ll be space for an open mic where local writers can share their work.

And yes, re: promoting interesting or marginalised voices. It was so, so important to me to ensure that the salons reflect the exciting diversity of the UK literary scene – a diversity that is too often not represented! So, for example, I have booked almost 50/50 BAME/white writers to challenge the often all, or mostly, white line-ups at literary events.

I’ve also programmed more women than men, again to challenge those imbalances, and the salon of  March 16 was women-only (in terms of speakers; men could attend as audience members). And again, there’s a mix of speakers regarding career stage – some have a very established publishing track record, are on their fifth, sixth books. . . others have a book coming out this year. Then there’s me, who will hopefully have a book out soon!

Learn more about Sian’s work at Spike Island here, and follow her on Twitter @sianushka.

What we’ve enjoyed this month – March 2017

Here’s a round up of just some of the exciting news in modernist studies right now.

African Modernism

New Yorkers, do make sure to visit this exhibition on African modernist architecture.

Oh, Ezra

Read this review of Daniel Swift’s new book on Ezra Pound. Here’s one at the Guardian too.


Enjoy this obituary of the marvellous Frank Delaney, the creator of a wonderful series of podcasts about Joyce’s Ulysses.

And a reminder…

The Vanessa Bell exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery is now open!


And, as always, if you’ve news to share, then please drop us a line at

Review: Sadakichi Hartmann’s ‘Collected Poems’

In The Cantos, Ezra Pound includes a memorable lament for a “lost legion” of modernist figures, including a particularly pointed concern for the lost work of Sadakichi Hartmann (1867-1944):

as for the vagaries of our friend Mr. Hartmann,

Sadakichi a few more of him,

were that conceivable, would have enriched

the life of Manhattan

or any other town or metropolis

the texts of his early stuff are probably lost

with the loss of the fly-by night periodicals.

Less concerned with his staying power, Gertrude Stein would echo Pound’s praise for Hartmann when she remarked that “Sadakichi is singular, never plural.” Indeed, much of what has been remembered about Hartmann has, like other liminal figures of the age, been formed by a cult of personality perhaps more so than any direct appreciation of literary work. Alongside many publications regarding the work of Hartmann one inevitably finds comments of praise from the likes of Pound (“If one hadn’t been oneself it would have been worthwhile to have been Sadakichi”) and Walt Whitman (“I have more hopes of him, more faith in him than any of the boys”).

In the case of Hartmann, such keen interest in the poet himself is understandable. The son of a German father and a Japanese mother, Hartmann was born in Japan, spent his youth flitting from Germany to the United States and across Europe, striking up friendships with Whitman, Pound, and Stein, Mallarme, Heyse, Brandes and Maeterlinck. He brought symbolist-inflected poetry and drama to the U.S., became a respected art critic publishing in Alfred Stieglitz’s Camera Work and Alfred Kreymborg’s Others, wrote some of the earliest English-language haiku, and even became a Hollywood showman later in life, famously playing the court magician in Douglas Fairbanks’s The Thief of Bagdad, before dying on a trip to Florida, having lived out his later years in relative obscurity.

For a long time, Pound’s worry that Hartmann’s work would be lost to history rang true, with much of his poetry and criticism remaining in archives or hidden under various pseudonyms in the contents of the modernist little journals. Yet Hartmann’s obscurity and the unavailability of much of his work has been at least partially remedied by attempted recoveries since at least 1971, which saw the publication of three of Hartmann’s symbolist dramas, and the 1991 publication of some of Hartmann’s criticism in an indispensable collection put together by Jane Calhoun Weaver titled Sadakichi Hartmann: Critical Modernist. Despite the increasing attention to Hartmann given in various anthologies, not until this collection, beautifully put together by Floyd Cheung in a Little Island Press edition, do Hartmann’s achievements in the lyric come into full view.


The anthology includes four collections that Hartmann himself put together—Naked Ghosts (1903), Drifting Flowers of the Sea and Other Poems (1904), My Rubaiyat (1916), and Japanese Rhythms (1933), with the addition of roughly forty pages or so of miscellaneous poems, a helpful introduction by Cheung, and one of Hartmann’s essays. This last addition, a compelling and informative 1904 essay titled “The Japanese Conception of Poetry,” tips an editorial hand as to the collection’s main conception of Hartmann’s poetic import, though Cheung’s introduction does much to demonstrate Hartmann’s wide-ranging poetic sensibilities, encompassing the symbolist aesthetics of Europe, the democratic and transcendental poetics of Whitman, to the Japanese (and, notably, Modernist) veneration of the precise image.


It is this last element, pictorial suggestiveness, which probably marks Hartmann’s most distinct contribution to the poetic moment. In his introduction to My Rubaiyat¸ Hartmann describes his highly-attuned sense of poetics as one driven by an “overlooked” quality of “pictorial harmony.” As Hartmann himself has it, “My long and persistent association with art makes me not only see but think things in pictures. Pictures abound throughout My Rubaiyat for all who have the mental pictorial vision to see them.”

Indeed, such a pictorial imagination abounds throughout the collection. Even earlier poems like “A Strain in Red” bear the marks of both the pictorial and the symbolist styles which enamored him:

An eager tongue between parted lips, a garnet

glow within argent hips, the blood of roses.

Yet what is most notable in Hartmann’s poetry is the way he weaves the senses, as in the sights and sounds of “Cyanogen Seas Are Surging”:

Cyanogen seas are surging over fierce

cinnabarine strands, where white amazons

are marching in the radiance of the sands.

With synesthetic lines like “while silently through / the meadows the sighs of her fragrance swept,” Hartmann’s poetry bears the marks of Japanese forms and styles, yet they often include a heady mix of multi-sensory lines right out of Symbolism. Having been a perfume peddler in his younger days and conducting what he called a “scent concert” which promised a trip to Japan in sixteen minutes, Hartmann’s poetry unsurprisingly takes advantage of the sense of smell, as in his highly syncretic “Parfum Des Fleurs”:

Oh, frail and fragrant visions,

Sweet nomads of the air,

That rise like the mist on the meadows

And cling to my darksome hair,


Are ye the souls of roses,

Of memory’s vagrom lays,

Sent to caress my senses—

Faint murmurs of bygone days?


While much of Hartmann’s poetry insightfully establishes its own idiom, a unique multi-sensory vision for poetry, much of it seems to suffer from Hartmann’s belief, as he insisted in 1919, “not in art for art’s sake or art for humanity’s sake, but art by the few and for the few.” In short, the quality of Hartmann’s poetic vision and practice is uneven. But perhaps this ought to be expected in a collected works, especially given the characteristic excesses of his milieu. Indeed, as with many of his contemporaries, Hartmann’s poetic oeuvre can seem as solid as any other before disappearing into opacity, demonstrating flashes like that of his poem in praise of New York City’s “Flat Iron” building:


All else we see fade fast and disappear,

Only your prow-like form looms gaunt, austere,

As in a sea of fog, now veiled, now clear.



About the author

Andrew Walker currently teaches and writes from his post at Florida State University, where he recently completed a doctoral dissertation on twentieth-century verse drama, including work by W. B. Yeats, Sadakichi Hartmann, and T. S. Eliot, among others. He writes on a host of subjects related to poetry, poetics, and performance. He (re)tweets, occasionally, @Andrew_S_W.

What we’ve enjoyed this month – February 2017

The cold, dry days of January are finally behind us.  Celebrate the arrival of February with some of our recommended reads:

Sussex Modernism

Check out Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion, the new superb looking exhibition by Sussex’s Hope Wolf. Featuring Dali, Woolf, Picasso, and many, many more.

McGahern and Modernism

Was John McGahern really a modernist? Read this review of Richard Robinson’s new book on the author.

Woolf Works

Don’t forget — Wayne McGregor’s wonderful Woolf Works is back at the Royal Opera House. We saw it last time; highly recommended.

“More refined than Brutalism, less picturesque than Postmodernism…”

The eternal question: what exactly is late modernism? This excellent article attempts to find out in its discussion of modernist architecture and listed buildings.

And finally….

Reminder: here at BAMS we have two PGR posts up for grabs in the upcoming elections. Details are here.


What we’ve enjoyed this month – January 2017

Start 2017 with our round-up of modernist news. And, as always, if you’ve something to share, email us at

The Clown Prince of Modernism

Settle into this review of a biography of Jean Cocteau, recommended by the Wall Street Journal.

Jens Risom

Celebrate the life of Jens Risom, the modernist interior designer, who designed some of the earliest mass-produced modernist furniture items.

Degas to Picasso

Take a trip to Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum and see the new spring exhibition, ‘Degas to Picasso: Creating Modernism in France‘.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Centenarian

The Guardian was among publications to mark the centenary of Joyce’s Portrait. Read Colm Tóibín on the novel here.

Bureaucratic modernism

H. G. Wells is now, as of January 1st 2017, out of copyright. Read up on modernism and copyright in this book, and watch out for more authors’ work entering the public domain over the coming years.


What we’ve enjoyed this week, #9

Settle into December with this selection of modernist goings-on:


Modernism in Vienna

The LA Review of Books this week reviewed Marjorie Perloff’s new book, Edge of Irony: Modernism in the Shadow of the Habsburg Empire.


Take me  to the church on time…

A new book discusses St Peter’s Seminary, a modernist cathedral in Cardross, described as ‘both Scotland’s best and worst 20th century building and still continues to captivate’.


Grand Designs

This 1960s modernist home in rural Wiltshire is up for this year’s RIBA House of the Year Award.


Sunshine Modernism

If Wiltshire isn’t to your taste, what about jetting off to Hawaii to experience the work of ‘the undisputed master of Hawaiian modernism‘, Vladimir “Val” Ossipoff.



And finally….

Congratulations are due to Paul Saint-Armour, who won the 2016 Modernist Studies Association Book Prize for his book Tense Future: Modernism, Total War, Encyclopedic Form.



What we’ve enjoyed this week, #8

A round up of some modernist happenings we’ve spotted this week.



If you aren’t there in person, make sure to follow along with #MSA18.


Modernism in Japan…

See this great piece in the Japan Times about the forgotten women of Japanese modernism.


…and in Mexico

Paint the Revolution, 1910-1950′ is a retrospective of Mexican visual artists of the first half of the twentieth century.


Get your glad rags on

Head to the Fashion & Textile museum in Bermondsey and enjoy its JAZZ AGE: Fashion & Photography exhibition.


And finally…

Elton John. Yes, you read that correctly. The Tate Modern is showing a collection of his ‘unrivalled modernist photography‘, including images from Brassai, Imogen Cunningham, André Kertész, Dorothea Lange, Tina Modotti, and Aleksandr Rodchenko.


The British Association for Modernist Studies, Essay Prize 2016

The British Association for Modernist Studies invites submissions for its annual essay prize for PhD and ECR scholars. The winning essay will be published in Modernist Cultures, and the winner will also receive £250 of books.

Essays can be on any subject in modernist studies, including anthropology, art history, cultural studies, ethnography, film studies, history, literature, musicology, philosophy, sociology, urban studies, and visual culture. Please see the editorial statement of Modernist Cultures for further information:

The BAMS Essay Prize is open to any member of the British Association for Modernist Studies who is studying for a doctoral degree, or is within five years of receiving their doctoral award. You can join BAMS by following the link on our membership pages:

The closing date for entries is 31 October 2016. The winner will be announced by 31 January 2017.

Submission Guidelines

  • Essays are to be 7-9,000 words, inclusive of footnotes and references.
  • Entries must be submitted electronically in Word or rtf format to and conform to Chicago style.
  • Entrants should include a title page detailing their name, affiliation, e-mail address, and their doctoral status/ date of award; they should also make clear that the essay is a submission for the BAMS Essay Prize.
  • It is the responsibility of the entrant to secure permission for the reproduction of illustrations and quotation from copyrighted material. Essays must not be under consideration elsewhere.

Enquiries about the prize may be directed to Jeff Wallace, Chair of the British Association for Modernist Studies, at

In the event that, in the judges’ opinion, the material submitted is not of a suitable standard for publication, no prize will be awarded.

What we’ve enjoyed this week, #7

And lo, the August Bank Holiday is upon us again. Here’s a few pieces we’ll be enjoying over the long weekend.


Stanley Spencer

The Hepworth Gallery announced a one day conference dedicated to the British artist. This runs alongside their current exhibition of his work.


Jazzy style

Get your tickets for the Fashion Museum‘s exhibition of 1920s fashion and photographs. Featuring Hollywood, flappers, the Great War, and more.


Good news for Sheffieldians…

The Sheffield Modernist Society is getting a permanent home in the city centre. Meanwhile, the Manchester branch of the society will be hosting a talk in September, entitled Making Post-War Manchester-Vision of an Unbuilt City


Machines for living

See a selection of Julius Shulman‘s images of mid-century America at the Guardian.


New York Modernism

While London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery is currently exhibiting Winifred Knights, and will do the same next year for Vanessa Bell, the Portland Museum of Art in Maine is showing the work of women modernist artists including O’Keeffe, Stettheimer, Torr and Zorach.


And finally…

…. do you know about the Ivan Juritz Prize for Creative Responses to Modernism? It’ll be launching soon. More details here.


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