Gertrude Stein

The fuck-you bow (PoemTalk #90)

Gertrude Stein, 'How She Bowed to Her Brother'

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

Maxe Crandall, Julia Bloch, and Sarah Dowling joined Al Filreis to talk about Gertrude Stein’s “How She Bowed to Her Brother.” It was written in late 1931. The text can be found in A Gertrude Stein Reader, edited by Ulla Dydo (564). On PennSound’s Gertrude Stein page, which has been edited and annotated by Dydo, one can hear a recording of Stein performing the first section of the three-section poem.

The thick and the slow of knowledge

On the poet-scholar

Photo courtesy Giulio Menna.

Fidelity to the shapeliness of poetry, in an academy of prose, because knowledge is inseparable, we insist, from the texture and pace of its approach. Knowledge is not front-loaded, though the presiding timeline of production demands it be so. It’s a dawning: ambient, but nonabsorptive, with myriad ports of exit and entry.

Bright arrogance, gallery B

Transduction, transposition, translation

from the notebooks of Jean-Michel Basquiat

It is a truism for the experimental translator that as Google Translate gets better, it actually gets worse.  Witness the demise of the ability to "Turn Your Google Translate Into a Beatbox."  If you follow the instructions now, you only get a perfunctory recitation of consonants, alas.

Recreate that thing!

Not everything Gertrude Stein wrote is worth calling poetry. Stein says so herself in “Poetry and Grammar,” because “for me the problem of poetry was and it began with Tender Buttons to constantly realize the thing anything so that I could recreate that thing.”[1] This pronouncement on Tender Buttons directly contrasts with her account of The Making of Americans in the same lecture and, we presume, to the present participle-filled portraits consuming Stein’s attention pre-1912 — these she would call prose.

Gertrude Stein's gustatory sonics

In his book on Kafka, Gilles Deleuze writes of the difficulty of both eating and speaking — one must choose, it seems, whether to ingest or express. Gertrude Stein, whose soundplay is so tongue-quickening that it always seems pronounced aloud, makes reading both speaking and eating. The “Food” poems of Tender Buttons are full of glorious, sensual mouthfeel.

'100 years of reading and unreading'

The dominant stylistic trait in Tender Buttons is not fragmentation or perspectivism but looping. Stein writes by looping similar or associative words, phrases, riffs, objects, units of meaning, or sonic hooks. She calls it “exact resemblance.” She also loops sense with nonsense, doing and undoing, continuity and discontinuity, sensual interiors with external surrounds, looping the environs into the work. Actually, any kind of binaries can be entwined, just as two identical terms can be spooled. Here is a sentence from “Rooms”: 

'Tender Buttons' at 100

'Is there. That was a question. There was no certainty.'

Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons begins with “A CARAFE, THAT IS A BLIND GLASS,” and with an insistence on the nonmetaphoricity of either object. This first entry famously closes with the line, “The difference is spreading,” and it does, as Stein’s “is” is at denotative work throughout her text.

“A SHAWL” from the section “Objects” reads:

A SHAWL

A shawl is a hat and hurt and a red balloon and an under coat and a sizer a sizer of talks.

Breed that

Tender Buttons is, famously, a text that deals with looking. As Stein details in her Lectures, the book is the result of her decision to “include what is seen with hearing and listening.”[1] The beautiful new edition accentuates this: it is the result of an act of scholarly scrutiny and its facsimile images, showing Stein’s corrections to the first edition, make it possible for everyone to experience the thrill of seeing Stein at work on her text.

Unlikening 'Tender Buttons'

Tender Buttons has become a go-to book for teaching Stein. In concentrated (i.e., short, teachable, anthologizable) form, it gives us the cubist Stein, the erotic-domestic Stein, Stein the abstractionist, Stein the polysemist.

A moment in teaching 'Tender Buttons'

When I was a grad student in the MFA program at Brown, I also had the pleasure of teaching undergrad creative writing classes there. The students were bright, engaged, motivated — partly because they had to fight for a spot to be in the class in the first place. But I had no idea how to teach — I threw readings at the students without any kind of preparation, not having the slightest clue what that would entail, anyway.

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