From their first meeting in 1960, writer Hettie Jones—then married to LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka)—and painter and sculptor Helene Dorn (1927–2004), wife of poet Ed Dorn, found in each other more than friendship. They were each other's confidant, emotional support, and unflagging partner through difficulties, defeats, and victories, from surviving divorce and struggling as single mothers, to finding artistic success in their own right.
Revealing the intimacy of lifelong friends, these letters tell two stories from the shared point of view of women who refused to go along with society’s expectations. Jones frames her and Helene's story, adding details and explanations while filling in gaps in the narrative. As she writes, "we'd fled the norm for women then, because to live it would have been a kind of death."
Apart from these two personal stories, there are, as well, reports from the battlegrounds of women's rights and tenant's rights, reflections on marriage and motherhood, and contemplation of the past to which these two had remained irrevocably connected. Prominent figures such as Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary appear as well, making Love, H an important addition to literature on the Beats.
Above all, this book is a record of the changing lives of women artists as the twentieth century became the twenty-first, and what it has meant for women considering such a life today. It's worth a try, Jones and Dorn show us, offering their lives as proof that it can be done.
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The Letters of Helene Dorn and Hettie Jones
By Hettie Jones
Duke University PressCopyright © 2016 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
A woman ... must be like water.
Like water, you have to know where you are going before anyone else does. ...
In times of hardship, in times of heat, you have to steam only then will you rise.
— Aaliya Zaveri
Our first fax, a single page sent both ways, has two phone numbers, two scrawled versions of Love, H, and in between —
"it works! we're in business! yeah, babe!"
H and H, two Babes in Boyland:
Roi's play opens 2 wks from tomorrow. Do you think I can make a dress in 2 weeks that's fancy enough to make everyone think I'm the poet's inspiration, and sexy enuf to make them think I don't care?
Ed very flippy and therefore me too — so I come in here; this bedroom is really groovy, 1st time I've had a "heatable" room I could use for my own and he has one too and that's one of the good things about this house — maybe I'll even DO something this year.
You had to learn the trade-offs in Boyland. You had to will yourself part of art's transformative power, while most of its transformations left you the same. You had to be brave and resourceful, a little cunning. And it had to be worse where you'd come from.
What follows are two stories with one shared point of view: we'd fled the norm for women then, because to live it would have been a kind of death.
Three men in my kitchen watching the fight of the week (hoorah) and so I left them to squish around on the floor I just washed, muddy, muddy. A Cecil Taylor 33 is playing at 45 speed, someone's trying to fix it, tho it will now not play at all, the record player that is. That is, it needs a new one. Now the fixer is gone too, into the fighting kitchen, all muddy muddy ...
Boyland offered, at the very least, conflicting possibilities:
POCATELLO, MARCH 18, 1965
Here's another one of those 1000 drawings I never finished — it fell out of my sketchbook and has been sitting here — "view from the porch, Santa Fe" 1960 at least. Whew. Have just finished (it's 1 am) blouse out of old tablecloth — feels lovely though material so old it's disintegrating. Well, ok, I think abt. you alla time & wonder how things are.
The year before, down the hall from the muddy kitchen, LeRoi had begun the Black Arts Movement which would draw him back to Newark, his hometown, and into his subsequent activist life as Amiri Baraka. "One-half makes you whole," he'd warned when our daughters were born, Kellie in 1959 and Lisa in 1961. Whatever this made me had never been defined; but why, after all, should it have been?
Alone and grief-stricken, only to Helene had I confessed: "I am too out of my brains to write. Sometimes I'm afraid to go to bed because I start to think ..."
Shit, Hettie, we're so far away and I can't sit down and write my arms around you.
But I mustn't mail this without telling you that the letter I started, in ink, on April 30, ended so abruptly because as I was sitting here deep in the clutches of trying to say something to you, the doorbell rang a thousand times ... till I went to stop the sound. And there, in the rainy spring morning, stood two little women, thin bones tight skin powdered faces.
They asked how I was, seeing I was rather upset, and I answered fine, but very busy ...
O, but we have only come to have a short talk about the second resurrection ...
I flipped, they were taken aback, obviously embarrassed or confused by the tears — Oh, I'm so sorry! was all I could manage besides shutting the door. I wish I had the power to really tell you what it was like. Anyway, I walked from door to closet, got my coat, went out the back door, and walked around this godforsaken town for 3 hours.
* * *
Helene Helmers Buck Dorn, born in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1927, a time when lucky girls married well and early. At twenty she dropped out of college to marry David Buck, a banker's son. They had a son, Fred, and a daughter, Chansonette (Chan), then moved to Seattle, where, at a party, Helene met Ed Dorn. After her divorce and remarriage in 1954, she moved with her two children, Ed, and their baby son, Paul, to Black Mountain College, and from there to the West and Southwest.
She told me once that in leaving David she'd been running from a marriage she couldn't sustain. Yet, knowing the risks in any marriage, she'd married again. "But I was so in love," she protested. Clear to us both was that being there — where we were — was worth the trip. The alternative for women then was unthinkable. These are only the facts, though, which are never the whole story.
POCATELLO, MARCH 18, 1965
Radio just tells me we done made another raid on Ve et Nom, Los Alamos very visible by the way to the left of this so-called drawing. Will England be any better — new for us, yes, but ...
Well ok, am collecting run-over beer cans from parking lot at Buddy's — have some great ones — on this plaster wall now but am going to mount them on black velvet.
The beer cans never made it to the velvet. Shortly afterward, the Dorns left for England, where Ed had a Fulbright appointment to the University of Essex.
COLCHESTER, ENGLAND 10/19/65
Imagine buying a nice head of cauliflower & turning the corner to find yrself standing in front of the remains of a 12th cent. priory! Finally getting settled & learning the language, which takes learning. A paper cutter, my dear, is a guillotine!
Dinner's ready & I gotta go to a "wives" meeting tonight. Just to let you know — we made it. Please write, I'm suddenly lonely!
NEW YORK, THURS. 4TH NOV. 1965
Was so glad to get yr card & have been trying to write ever since but tied up with proofreading, colds, school parent meets, etc.
But I now have my very own room — no curtains as yet so I'm available to all of 3rd Ave.! Still it's very pleasant to have a place to be that's not the kitchen.
Went to a party at Bob Thompson's two weeks ago and got propositioned four times. A newly available woman, you dig ... I got bugged, and decided to screw someone — and it was all very swell but the minute my mind started working again, like about 1 minute later —
Roi's poem: "I got nothing against you baby but I got to get back home."
Great news dept: I HAVE A DOG. Named Ho Chi Minh! Marion had promised the kids a dog for Xmas but got this puppy from some girl in a bar on Avenue B — part shepherd and the rest plain mongrel, incredibly smart, everybody's darling, but really my baby —
NEW YORK, WEDS. NOV. 17TH
Please forgive me — so many days and troubles since I started this. It's hard to write such lousy longhand and I can't keep up with my thoughts. Still no typewriter ... I am terribly terribly lonely and can't figure out what to do with myself. Like I should go out when there's nothing to do here in the evening, but can't afford it ...
I will, of course, live. As you know.
28TH NOVEMBER, 1965
and it has been cole! Hello sweet Het ...
It was so great to get that long long letter, but I wish so much you were happier, and I don't even damn well know what to say. Except that you've gotta stop walking from room to room sighing. Somehow or other you've really got to. And you also gotta stop hopping into bed as some sort of out —
This is one of those stupid letters, it's now 1 Dec. and I've about five pgs to type for Ed plus a bunch of quotes to look up and copy. oh yassss ... It's tenish, the kids have hit the sack, Ed across the table from me working, Coltrane w/ Red Garland on the box. Cars whizzing by outside on their way to London. Or Marks Tey. Or Cambridge, or Tilbury Ferry ... It's a really groovy foggy foggy night, I've invested in a couple of heavy wool knit dresses, heavy cotton sox, a bottle of scotch and I don't care how cold it gets. England is beautiful. The people I can't stand one day and really dig the next ...
Kids had their first French tutoring session this aft. at five. Just like inda movies! Mrs. Barrett came and they sat in front of the fire in the living room — tea and soft French sounds ...
I've got to quit and get to work for Ed.
Look, sweetie, we love you. Which is damn little help, god knows; but I feel so helpless. Especially with now the ocean between us, I can't even phone. Please know I think about you. Please, too, hold on, somehow ...
NEW YORK, 11/28/65
Hold on to yr hats — I'm going to be editor of Kulchur for a year, maybe more if it works out. Lita Hornick asked me. Gil and A.B. the only people I've told so far — all excited. First thing to do that anthology that Roi began collecting but left here along with other things he no longer wanted ... Also, whatever ban she had put on political things is off, so if you would like to write about England & politics & Rhodesia & S. Africa ...
Aside from this I am not fine but it will help and give me something to care about. I think the first cover after the anthology should be Kulchur 21WATCH OUT because I don't see the sense in doing anything unless it stirs up turmoils. Do you? I hope I can do it!
Grooooovvy!!!! Bless lil'ole Lita's heart ... Of course you can do it — and how great to get that magazine back where it says something. Ed will write you later, am just sending this quickly to let you know how glad we are!
Did I send a card the day Paul and I went to the Tower of London? I can't remember — he wore me out racing up and down those crazy stone circular stairs ... I felt like I was in a Vincent Price flick!
Kulchur's funder, Lita Hornick, took over this avant-garde literary magazine from its originator, Marc Schleifer, who had begun it as an annual in 1961. Hornick had been publishing it since then as a quarterly, with the guidance of an editorial board consisting mainly of poets, among them LeRoi and Frank O'Hara; issues had been guest-edited by board members Gilbert Sorrentino and Joel Oppenheimer. By the time she contacted me, Hornick, a Barnard graduate who had done graduate work in modern literature at Columbia, was editing the magazine herself and clearly rethinking the whole idea of its direction. Poems Now, the anthology that I eventually did edit after some indecision on her part (see below), was the first in a series of books that replaced the magazine format, most featuring the work of poets from the New York School such as Ted Berrigan and Gerard Malanga.
NEW YORK, 12/19/65
Lita Hornick rescinded her offer 3 days after she tendered it, but I am still to do a poetry anthology though not until spring. Wot a drag, eh — for a few days I felt like everything I get is always taken away 3 days later, or 8 years ... I am ok, cynical but ok.
COLCHESTER, 2 FEB NINETEEN HUNDRED AND SEEXTIE-SEX!!!
Hello dear Het —
I'm so sleepy I can hardly keep my eyes open, but I've got to say hello at least and let you know I'm thinking about you.
Hokay ... The clock in my room just chimed 10 and the sun came out at the same time. The birds are singing fools and I feel much like they sound. We haven't seen the sun for days and days and days. The gardener is working in "Grandma Palmer's" garden below us — he goes with the house, the contract says. And thinks I want to play Lady Chatterley w/him because I'm all the time looking out the windows (it's a lovely landscape — beautiful trees, red brick walls, tiled cottage roofs, even a greenhouse. And thousands of birds). And I'm sure he thinks it's him I'm digging.
Yup! He just came in. I was looking out the window over the kitchen sink when blam — into my view comes his gray hair. Now he's on the other side, raking or something. No, by god, he has one of those magnificent witch brooms (huge) and he's sweeping the grass w/it! How about that — they sweep the grass in East Anglia.
But enough of my affair — you'd think that very funny could you see him!
I wish I could write all kinds of soothing things — you are a Greek tragedy and it is all so miserably real and it's horrible knowing there's nothing I can say, really. For god's sake write as often as you please, at least it's something I can do, hold it too.
NEW YORK, FRIDAY MARCH 4 66
Hurrah the typewriter is fixed! (Because I took a typing job one day when there was nothing else available, wouldn't you know it wd have to be a crisis.)
Anyway, with help by chance from Joel I've just landed a job as an editor for University Books, unfortunately an hour and a half from here by subway and bus. I go there four days and spend Fri at home reading. Spent this week working on copy for The Encyclopedia of Psychic Science — from which you can gather that they publish for what Joyce calls "the nut market" but also the Psychedelic Review of Tim Leary and works by Gurdjieff. So it will be good. That is, I am going to make it good. I am tired of wailing and depending on other people for anything.
Kellie has been in the hospital to have a wart removed, Lisa is okay but they are both about to get the mumps because it is all over, Accra the small downstairs Shepp has it now. The washing machine died and needs $75 to come back to life. Have had to stop taking Enovid birth control because of dreadful fatness and exhaustion. It's good to be normal — and if I stand on my head every time I want to fuck, instead of fucking, I'll be all right.
Best news: Lita Hornick doesn't after all want me to do the anthology and sent me $100 for services rendered. I can only tell you that after the work I've put into the damn thing I am going to complete it and sell it elsewhere. I can't let all these people down again!
I must get back to the life and times of séances and spiritualism. Did you ever see a verified photo of a medium with ectoplasm extruding from her nose, with pictures of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the ecto?
My love to you all, to Jeremy for the nice little squiggle on yr postcard arrived this morning, and to the English ghosts for their being worthy of the literature that's going to keep us in the green!
[On the back of the envelope containing this letter]: Monday, cdn't mail, no stamp. Boss going to lend me $ for car big as a house, drove it tonight. Lita H. is doing antho again. Tell Ed send poems immediately. Crazy world, no?
COLCHESTER, 11TH MARCH 1966
Dearest Het —
So very good to get your letter — the job sounds crazy: come to me my Psychedelic Bayyaayaabee!!! Looks like we'll be here next year ...
NEW YORK 3/11/66
I'm cooking a chicken for Marion to take to Buffalo — also, at the same time, finding you on the map. Jesus, those names ... Wivenhoe, Shoeburyness, Clacton, Burnham on Crouch, Foulness Island — Foulness Island! Cardigan, Hereford, Gloucester ... Everything from sweaters to cows to Shakespeare, what a language ...
Editing now a book written by a priest who ran away from his order because of his balls. I like my new job v. much.
Marion has been and gone, with his chicken. Said to tell you he's working the shit circuit (NY, Buffalo, Toronto).
I'm buying a station wagon (Ford '59) from the handsome garage man next door. If boss doesn't come through I'll have to borrow from either Ted Wilentz or Lita. Anyway with the help of god and influence I'll be able to drive to work next week. Do you hear how hard I am? Can you believe me? I am out to take the most of what's available, and screw anyone in the way.
You cannot imagine the kind of attitude that seems to grow up inside one when the only available opportunities for any kind of life have to come from oneself, entirely. I don't mean just money, but all kinds of things. Like I have to anticipate who to come on to in what kind of way, for what kind of advantage. Men, women — if you talk to the typewriter repairman in a nice way, even though he hasn't fixed your typewriter after two days of promises and keeps you waiting 20 minutes with your dog while your children are alone in the house — but if you keep your temper and be pleasant and interested in his work, he will carry the typewriter up the stairs for you so it won't break again when you bump it up in a shopping cart. If you are pleasant to the schoolmarm and tell her your troubles and display your earnestness she will assure you your children will get a scholarship. If you are sweet to the TV repairman who is leching after you, he will fix your TV set three times, and if you look tearfully at the cop and tell him you are honestly trying to keep your dog from shitting on the curb instead of in the gutter, he won't give you a summons ...
Excerpted from Love, H by Hettie Jones. Copyright © 2016 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of ContentsIntroduction 1
Chapter 1. 6
Chapter 2. 34
Chapter 3. 51
Chapter 4. 77
Chapter 5. 100
Chapter 6. 122
Chapter 7. 140
Chapter 8. 163
Chapter 9. 184
Chapter 10. 203
Chapter 11. 220
Chapter 12. 238
Chapter 13. 253
Chapter 14. 279
Chapter 15. 297
Chapter 16. 313
Chapter 17. 333
Doing 70 351
What People are Saying About This
"Love, H, a lucid compendium of epistles, postcards, and e-mails, depicts an intimate account of the lives and minds of two artists. The straightforward acumen of Beat poet Hettie Jones (New York City) and sculptor Helene Dorn (Gloucester) cumulate into a poignant dialogue that critiques and probes a unique body of shared feelings during the post-Beat movement and its legacy. Love, H is life on the page. The day to day, with gaps and silences, portrays a psychological and spiritual map of these two speakers who aptly refer to the post-Beat landscape as Boyland. These pages of joy and pain add up to more than two full hearts and minds caught at a turning point in America. Two friends sort out the fray. Their playful certainty embodies wisdom. Lively, and at times even taciturn, the two give us a shared truth as witnesses. This correspondence of more than forty years is personal and political, and without trying creates a collage of experience that grows into an American portrait."
"Love, H is a very tender correspondence, augmented by Jones’s running commentary between two deeply loyal 'no nonsense' friends, both strong women, artists, mothers. This delicate weave runs adjacent to the lives and dynamics of the New American Poetry and its inspired players. The affinities create a jazz track of quotidian life, literary and visual art talk, heartbreak, survival, politics, social justice, and illuminating details from place: traveling from Colchester (UK) and Gloucester to the Lower East Side. This is a wonderful addition to Hettie Jones’s memoir How I Became Hettie Jones. This is one for the Archive."
"Love, H reveals the struggles and contradictions of being an aspiring female artist, a wife, and a mother during the tumultuous sixties. Here are two cool 'chicks'—in this case writer Hettie Jones and painter Helene Dorn—running in the highly competitive, male-dominated, bohemian circles of New York/San Francisco/& Beyond. It’s a gritty and seductive world, referred to by Jones as 'Boyland,' where smart, creative women are expected to be seen but not heard. These candid letters—framed by Hettie Jones’s own eloquent and insightful recollections—are a deeply moving ode to friendship, as well as a window to an incredible time of conflict, social change, and artistic flourishing in America."