Showing posts with label Gertrude Stein. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gertrude Stein. Show all posts

Saturday, June 14, 2014

reading @ Counterpath

Denver, April 2014

Thursday, January 06, 2011

The many sides of Gertrude Stein

Sunday, January 10, 2010


One week ago today there was a guerrilla reading of Gertrude Stein’s work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, organized by the inimitable CA Conrad, Philly poetry’s modern day Ben Franklin. I got to it late but did get to read the following passage from A Long Gay Book, a work Stein began writing over 100 years ago:

Beef yet, beef and beef and beef. Beef yet, beef yet.

Water crowd and sugar paint, water and the paint.

Wet weather, wet pen, a black old tiger skin, a shut in shout and a negro coin and the best behind and the sun to shine.

A whole cow and a little piece of cheese, a whole cow openly.

A cousin to a cow, a real cow has wheels, it has turns it has eruptions, it has the place to sit.

A wedding glance is satisfactory. Was the little thing a goat.

A, open, Open.

Leaves of hair which pretty prune makes a plate of care which sees seas leave perfect set. A politeness.

Call me ellis, call me it in a little speech and never say it is all polled, do not say so.

Does it does it weigh. Ten and then. Leave off grass. A little butter closer. Hopes hat.

Listen to say that tooth which narrow and lean makes it so best that dainty is delicate and least mouth is in between, what, sue sense.

Little beef, little beef sticking, hair please, hair please.

No but no but butter.

Coo cow, coo coo coo.

Coo cow leaves of grips nicely.

It is no change. It is ordinary. Not yesterday. Needless, needless to call extra. Coo Coo Coo Cow.

Leave love, leave love let.

No no, not it a line not it tailing, tailing in, not it in.

Hear it, hear it, hear it.

Notes. Notes change hay, change hey day. Notes change a least apt apple, apt hill, all hill, a screen table, sofa, sophia.

Ba but, I promise, I promise that that what what is chased is chased big and cannily and little little is big too big best.

No price list, no price list, a price-list, a price and list and so collected, so collected pipe, all one cooler, a little apple needs a hose a little nose is colored, a little apple and a chest, a pig is in the sneezing, no blotter, raised ahead.

I promise that there is that.

The hour when the seal up shows slobber. Does this mean goat. It does yes.

Be a cool purpose and a less collection and more smell more smell.

Leave smell well.

There was some concern as to whether the museum or, more importantly, its guards might object to a dozen people suddenly appearing in a gallery to read from the works of Ms. Stein, and I understand that negotiating did occur at the moment of the reading’s inception that resulted in the exchange of portions of a chocolate bar to sweeten the deal, the remainder of which was later divided among poets in compensation for our efforts. At the end of the reading – which turned out to be me, laggard that I was – we gathered at the rotunda that joins the modern & European wings of the museum & simultaneously tossed pennies into the fountain.

Friday, January 24, 2003

My blogs on the work of Robert Grenier generated several responses. Allen Bramhall wrote with a first-hand account of Grenier’s cards at Franconia College (ellipsis in the original):

Dear Ron,

mention of Robert Grenier makes me jump up. Robert arrived at Franconia the second of my two years there. he has influenced me greatly, even tho I have not stayed in touch with him since leaving school. his curiosity and openness remain lessons to me as a reader and writer. I remember him hauling out his batch of cards and saying he didn't know what to do with them. sometime after that he filled a hallway, that was normally given over to displays of photographs and prints, to a... well I want to say a performance of his cards. he pinned them in neat rows and columns on the corkboard. I remember seeing him at it, and there was something of a graffiti artist's earnestness about where he was doing this. the hallway was rather dark but with the white cards notably brighter. I did not expect the visceral effect of seeing so many of his pieces on display. there was and is a neat feeling to holding a pile of his poems on your lap or spreading them across a table or the floor, but the hallway display was of a different order. I remember waiting for those poems to appear in some published form, because he had said he wanted to bring them out somehow. his poster Oakland* is one attempt to make a display of his works. the Franconia hallway was much more spacious, of course, and whether or not he was satisfied with how the poster worked, it was different from filling a hallway. I remember sticking a poem on the wall, a quiet homage I think, not to horn in but because it felt right. the display seemed to ask for response, as in an addition of voice or something such. no one else saw fit to chime in, but as I said, the hallway display bore at least a little of the sense of graffiti. anyway, I was quite ignorant about poetry at the time, and the year with Robert threw all sorts of mysteries at me, Olson, Stein, Coolidge, Ashbery, Saroyan. he got Coolidge, Ashbery, and even Larry Eigner to read at Franconia, no small feat considering the school's proximity to nowhere. it pleases me that you speak of him.

yours sincerely,

Allen Bramhall

Barrett Watten notes that This published the selection entitled “30 from Sentences” with (not in) This 5, not no. 4, which places the publication date in the Winter of 1974, rather than the Spring of the previous year, as I’d indicated. I also suggested that the selection was 30 cards, but in fact the cards are printed on both sides – unlike the 200 copy Whale Cloth Press box edition – which, with a card set aside for the title, made it just 16 cards. Watten also reminded me of Sentences from Birds, another selection of the cards that was published by Curtis Faville’s L Press in 1975. I know I had that at one time & I’ve never sold a Grenier item in my life, but like the poster, it seems to have wandered off on its own. According to Faville, only 100 copies were published to “little or no feedback.”

Bob Grumman posted a dissent to the Poetics List that said, in part:

Ron also opines that Grenier's “Sentences still qualifies as the furthest anyone has pushed poetry & form in the investigation of the world.”  I AM enough of a literary historian to know that this is certainly not true.  It may be possible reasonably to claim that Grenier pushed poetry and form as far as anyone, but further?  It's extremely hard to make comparisons (because of the apples/pears problem, among other things) but it seems to me Ron is overlooking Stein, Pound, Cummings and Aram Saroyan, for a start--and all of visual poetry and later pluraesthetic works.  I would add that in some respects, Sentences is pretty straightforward minimalism that's been around quite a while. 

Grumman is on target in that I did not make myself very intelligible with that statement, since that assertion could be taken to mean almost anything. His alternative suggestions illustrate the point nicely. All four writers Grumman cites were interested in various extensions of poetic form – Stein & Pound making profound contributions in that area, cummings & Saroyan more modest ones. What Grenier did was to focus on what linguists still call parole, the language as she is spoke by them what speak it. Neither Stein, Pound, cummings nor Saroyan focus on that particular dimension, although Stein comes closest & has a sense of grammar & discourse as developed as anyone has ever had. However, like Joyce, she has a 19th century-centric sense of language as infinitely plastic & malleable that language itself does not bear out (hence the failure of Finnegans Wake). Unlike Joyce, Stein seems to have had a stronger sense of self-confidence in her own analytical skills with regards to the language – she never is in thrall to the 19th century concept of language as historic philology, which bedevils both Joyce & Pound (&, I dare say, Kenner). Where Stein & Grenier diverge most strongly is that Stein’s interest lies principally in the compositional possibilities of language, whereas Grenier is most focused on, as the famous “On Speech” flatly states, “

the word way back in the head that is the thought or feeling forming out of the ‘vast’ silence / noise of consciousness experience world all the time, as waking/dreaming, words occurring and these are the words of the poem . . . . (boldface in the original)

This is, it seems to me, as true of the scrawl works of today as it was of Sentences. One might say that Stein & Grenier were on parallel tracks, headed however in opposite directions.

There are of course antecedents for Grenier’s minimalism – really a mode of gigantism, in that he is literally putting elements of language under a microscope: Stein’s Tender Buttons, Creeley’s Pieces, many short poems by Zukofsky & even Aram Saroyan’s brief foray into innovative poetics in the 1960s. & if one examines a book such as Saroyan’s Pages (Random House, 1969), you can find a few pieces that are reminiscent of Sentences:

incomprehensible birds



Or even


But these works merely put the proverbial toe in the water compared with Grenier’s exploration of the whole ocean.** A good part of what make Sentences such a profound experience is its scale – 500 poems with no set order. I find that reading the work over & over – the forthcoming website underscores this aspect of the experience, especially since the cards are shuffled each time one begins again – is when I start to get, literally, “into the work.” A single poem, or even the selections published by Watten, Faville or to found in In the American Tree, don’t begin to approach this project. It is a classic instance of a text that resists excerpting or editing.

Grumman’s other alternatives – “all of visual poetry and later pluraesthetic works” – reinforces the point. Such poetries, which can be both delightful & dazzling (no argument there, I hope), tend to move towards the graphic or whatever other media pluralizes them & thus even further from any focus on parole. They may at times be grammatological, in the sense of invoking the written system of a language, but they’re seldom truly linguistic. Part of what makes Grenier’s recent scrawl writing so fascinating is that he has taken on both the linguistic & grammatological dimensions simultaneously. The scrawl works are virtually the only intermedia writing I can think of that isn’t déjà toujours “poetry &” – as in “poetry & dance,” “poetry & painting,” “poetry & music,” “poetry & anime,” “poetry & programming,” “poetry & laundry.” Those ampersands invariably seem fatal.

* The poster is, in fact, CAMBRIDGE M’ASS. Oakland was a chapbook. Both were published by Tuumba Press, the poster in 1979, the chapbook in 1980.

** There is a good doctoral dissertation to be had in figuring out why Saroyan, for all purposes, abandoned poetry while Grenier, in the face of little early recognition, persisted & took his project so much further. Why & how do artists make such choices?