Unlearning How To Write

Gertrude-Stein
Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)

 

“Ultimately the poems you or anyone will write will be the poems you (or anyone) needs. I always think of this as the blind spot in the totality of verse, a place toward which each of us is driven & where we never quite fully arrive.”

Ron Stillman – University of Iowa Press – 2010.

The House Was Just Twinkling In The Moon Light

by Gertrude Stein

The house was just twinkling in the moon light,
And inside it twinkling with delight,
Is my baby bright.
Twinkling with delight in the house twinkling
with the moonlight,
Bless my baby bless my baby bright,
Bless my baby twinkling with delight,
In the house twinkling in the moon light,
Her hubby dear loves to cheer when he thinks
and he always thinks when he knows and he always
knows that his blessed baby wifey is all here and he
is all hers, and sticks to her like burrs, blessed baby.

 


Gertrude Stein is quoted as saying “Why do something if it can be done, ” implying that taking risks in originality is a far more satisfying.  Stein is an inspiration in creativity; a blazing intellect whose circle of friends were the avant garde in poetry, literature and painting. Her New York Times obituary read in part:

Although Gertrude Stein could and did write intelligibly at times, her distinction rested on her use of words apart from their conventional meaning. Her emphasis on sound rather than sense is illustrated by her oft-quoted “A rose is a rose is a rose.”

Devotees of her cult professed to find her restoring a pristine freshness and rhythm to language. Medical authorities compared her effusions to the rantings of the insane. The Hearst press inquired, “Is Gertrude Stein not Gertrude Stein but somebody else living and talking in the same body?” Sinclair Lewis concluded she was conducting a racket.

I think she would have been pleased to have so bold an accusation in print.  Personally, I don’t think that Stein’s poetry is very intriguing, and yet her passionate willingness to be different and to support other writers in their pursuit of originality was her real legacy in my opinion.

T. S. Elliot received heaps of praise and recognition during his lifetime among critics and readers, but silently many of his contemporaries, like William Carlos Williams, were discouraged that he dragged the poetry world backwards, for a short time, towards a more formal style, just as new voices were starting to emerge.

Why did Elliot’s poetry receive such widespread acclaim?  What about it made such an immediate impression on the public?  Very few poets of the past 100 years have achieved the critical and publishing success that Elliot achieved.  I wonder what would be the response to Elliot today?   Would there be an avenue for him to critical success or would he be lumped into the category of just another privileged Harvard educated pale, stale, male and find a limited audience for his poetry?

There are some poets whose originality and voice are timeless and others whose fame were only possible in the period in which they lived?  Elliot was a bridge from the old to the new. T. S. Elliot success was aided by Ezra Pound’s and Gertrude Stein’s influence and generous support.  I have read several places that Ezra Pound should be listed as a co-writer on nearly everything that Elliot published, so through was his editing and suggestions.  Unlike Whitman, whose brilliance is timeless, Elliot feels to me like a faded newspaper, whose even strongest prose is brittle and yellowing under the modern glare of more polished contemporary writers. But Elliot wrote poems that filled a need at the time and had the good fortune to be recognized generously for that creativity.


Excerpt from The Waste Land

by T. S. Elliot

Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road
The road winding above among the mountains
Which are mountains of rock without water
If there were water we should stop and drink
Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think
Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand
If there were only water amongst the rock
Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit
Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit
There is not even silence in the mountains
But dry sterile thunder without rain
There is not even solitude in the mountains
But red sullen faces sneer and snarl
From doors of mudcracked houses
                                      If there were water

Published by

T. A. Fry

I am a life-long Minnesotan who resides in Minneapolis. I hope you enjoy my curated selection of sonnets, short poems and nerdy ruminations.

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