Commentaries - June 2012

Portraits & grammar

Gertrude Stein, a lesson play (part 2)

Picasso's portrait of Gertrude Stein

My last commentary on Gertrude Stein focused on “If I Told Him,” particularly in the context of thinking about how language has “the potential for change and to change.” I also really focused on a particular “lesson” or sequence of writing prompts that ask students to really engage with this text and write themselves into and out of Stein’s grammar. What I am most interested in is the way that Stein’s work really changes the way students approach writing and relate to their own writing. But, what is it about Stein? Why is it that Stein (semester after semester) proves to be an invitation for students to write? And, how does engaging with Stein demystify the moniker of “writer” for students?

In a 1935 interview with John Hyde Preston, Stein states,

you will write…if you will write without thinking of the result in terms of a result, but think of the writing in terms of discovery, which is to say that creation must take place between the pen and the paper, not before in a thought or afterwards in a recasting…It will come if it is there and if you will let it come.

What is striking about this passage, beyond the fact that it is a remarkable insight into Stein’s own creative process, is the way she pinpoints the notion of “writing to discover”—something that will become synonymous with freewriting (which arguably does not enter our pedagogical vocabulary until that late 1960’s with Ken Macrorie’s Writing to Be Read).

State-of-the-Nation poems (5)

Kendrick Smithyman, ‘If I Stepped Outside, in May ’93’ (2002)

Margaret Edgcumbe
Study, typewriter, banana palms - photograph: Margaret Edgcumbe (1996)

My good friend and fellow-poet David Howard writes in to question my use of the epithet “unquestioned Top Bard” for Bill Manhire in my previous post. He also comments that “we weren't 'all' lost in the postmodern forest of the 1980s” …

I did wonder (as I said in my reply to him) if anyone would react to my canonisation of Manhire:

I can't say I think Top Bard an enviable job, but it does seem to me to have passed from Rex Fairburn to Allen Curnow in the 50s, and thence to Bill Manhire in the 2000s -- I'm speaking of influence and cultural dominance, you understand, not necessarily poetic merit ...

And as for those thickets, I guess I was thinking more of Academics than poets (the principal audience for the website). Again, meant to be a bit teasing ...

Outsider poems, a mini-anthology in progress (40): From the Egyptian pyramid texts

[NOTE. This text in our projected anthology follows an image from the paleolithic cave at Trois Frères in France, with accompanying meditation or commentary on thefigures in the dark& the nature of writing/drawing outside/beyond the normal human space. Or as our friend Robert Duncan had known it for himself in his last great work:

                                             in the dark this state

that knows nor sleep nor waking, nor dream

      – an eternal arrest.]


The Dead King Hunts & Eats the Gods


The sky is overcast,
The stars are darkened,
The celestial expanses quiver,
The bones of the earth-gods tremble,
The planets are stilled,
For they have seen the King appearing in power
As a god who lives on his fathers
And feeds on his mothers;
The King is a master of wisdom
Whose mother knows not his name.
The glory of the King is in the sky,
His power is in the horizon
Like his father Atum who begot him.

Bernadette Mayer earlier this week

Matvei Yankelevich and Bernadette Mayer read at St. Mark’s Bookshop on East 3rd Street on June 11, 2012. Lewis Warsh hosted. Our favorite literary photographer, Lawerence Schwartzwald, was there and took this shot of Bernadette during her performance.

(c) Lawrence Schwartzwald.