Sunday, April 20, 2008

Poems: Gertrude Stein

(One of the posts I couldn't post at first.) One of the first poets we looked at this quarter is one of my favorites, and her work remains as revolutionary today as it was when she was publishing. You know whom I'm talking about, right?

Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)!

The one and only. I won't recap my lecture, but let it suffice for me to say that the strangeness and difficulty of her work--and its exciting beauty--isn't lost on the students. I'd heard of Stein growing up, but it wasn't until I took a class--conned my way into it, to tell the truth--with Joel Porte that I encounted Tender Buttons, which worked like a charm on me. I couldn't put the book down. Now it's online, so everyone can enjoy it. I'll just say that when I read the first piece aloud to the students, I suggested that they substitute common words they knew for words that sounded like some of the words in the poem, and then see what they came up with. I think that was as useful as my larger discussion about how her work and vision related to and was in conversation with Cubism, how it deployed some of the ideas of William James, her teacher at Radcliffe, how it elevated the objects and elements of the domestic world to the realm of poetry, how she focused on the prosaic with her x-ray like vision, rethought and destabilized the patriarchal language and lyric that was her and every other poet of her era's inheritance, and so on.... But I also stressed the idea that we should luxuriate in the language itself, in the sensuous and delightful play of phonemes, and enjoy meanings and associations the words, the rhythms, the syntax, the concatenation of sounds and images produced.

About 2-3 years ago, a fellow poet asked why anyone would read Stein. I was a little taken aback, but tried to lay out some thoughts about why Stein is still so important. One could trace several different geneologies from her work, not only in poetry, but in prose, drama, nonfiction, performance, and so on, which would stack the decks in any argument for her importance, but I talked specifically about Tender Buttons, which prefigures so much of what was to come later by half a decade....

And so, two selections from Tender Buttons:'s first section, "Objects":


A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement
in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The difference
is spreading.



Out of kindness comes redness and out of rudeness comes rapid
same question, out of an eye comes research, out of selection
comes painful cattle. So then the order is that a white way of being
round is something suggesting a pin and is it disappointing, it is not,
it is so rudimentary to be analysed and see a fine substance strangely,
it is so earnest to have a green point not to red but to point again.

No comments:

Post a Comment