We’re delving into Gertrude Stein this week. I’m rather psyched for several years ago I listened to a PoemTalk (I think, it’s been years) that had me quite intrigued by Stein’s ability to reinvent language. Fresh with fever, I found Tender Button on Project Gutenberg and read the whole thing on my phone. I shall raise the white flag – it made me puzzle, it made me smile, it made me wonder what …. what?!
Interesting, though, it completely influenced my creative writing. A stopgap that may have been in place was lifted. I embraced my affinity for repetition, for word play. Granted, I now realize Stein was actually ‘cubing the word’ as I like to call it, whereas my was more surreal, a gab of the pave, to steal from Walt.
Back to Stein, this weekend I bought a book that had caught my eye for weeks at the used book shop. It’s a slim volume called Two Lives: Gertrude & Alice. Janet Malcolm takes on a quick ride, an exploration of Stein’s life with Toklas. It’s fast and dirty, not a lot of detail, but there were a couple of parts that made me grab a pen and jot.
One jot actually made it to the ModPo boards, but I accidentally erased it in an edit so never reposted. I’ll post it here since there is some relevancy to understanding Stein and her use of language. Ironically, I’d not listened to, nor read ahead, so I had no idea that the scholar Malcolm interviews, Ulla Dydo, is quite revered for her close reads/research of Stein per Al Filreis intro. I’ve added her book, in which this quote derives, to my reading list.
By lifting words from the lockstep of standard usage, [Stein] stops us from unthinking association with things, ideas, and formulations. This process also does away with all the hierarchical trappings of grammer and with the distinction between important and unimportant words. Words cease to be signifiers and become objects themselves. (from The Language That Rises, Dydo)
“[words] become objects themselves” helps to understand where I’ve misunderstood Stein. Of course, when I listened to UPenn’s recording years ago, I’d just heard of avant-garde and the head was swimming. It wasn’t until this course that I’ve a better grasp on how much influence Picasso’s Cubism had on a faction of artists.
Is Stein a purist, though, did she really practice straight cubism? When I read TB, there is such a feel of the surreal, yet she rejected that movement from what I understand. I’m half done with Two Lives, perhaps there is a bit more to glean. If not, I’m certain that we shall discuss more this week re: her style.
Sidebar: read an interesting bit of scuttle on “Stanzas in Meditation”….consider this a teaser for I shall reveal in the next post.
For those who don’t know the online journal Motevidayo, here is an interesting article regarding a contemporary Latin American poet and Stein’s TB “Milk”. It may shed a bit more light on how Stein used words.