Alison Clement

observations from a novelist who sometimes wants to say something small and see it published immediately

why is a feel oyster an egg stir

First of all, I don’t like Gertrude Stein’s writing. Conceptually what she is doing might be interesting, and I appreciate the fact that she was brave and that she wrote what she wanted to write even if she had to publish it herself, but her writing is awful to read. I was sitting in the train station this morning reading Tender Buttons and a young man was pacing up and down, somewhat agitated, muttering to himself or occasionally talking out loud. His conversation sounded like this:  one more time, I’m telling you, cartwheels, yes, last chance, and that’s spelled C-H-A-N-C-E.  I thought he sounded an awful lot like Stein.

I think the purpose of language is to say something. Otherwise why don’t we just grunt and groan and make barking noises?

People say that Stein “reacquaints” us with language.

I can do it too (if I may be so audacious). My version of Gertrude Stein’s poem Orange.

Lemon (a poem that was more satisfying to write than to read)

Why is a smell crab an eyebrow run. Why is a round yellow why is a sad color a round round a broken show and give me back my pieces just give me yellow round tart table round  canter clop in the heat be okay I just want to be okay be okay I just want the yellow sun.

Categories: belief, books, poetry, reading, school, writing

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4 replies

  1. You’ve given me permission to get rid of her children’s book, something about round and rosie. I keep picking it up and thinking if only I could concentrate and stay with it, I’d connect to the strange language. I like your Lemon paragraph better, probably because I like you. Whew.

  2. The difference between your lemon paragraph and Stein’s writing in tender buttons is that the ego is never involved, if you have realized.

    But other than that, I find her writing edifying because it imposes a human consciousness upon everything and nothing. There’s perhaps a difference between a pragmatic language which you claimed to like (language that has something to say), which I like too, and a type of language that paints and experiments, like Stein’s. When I listen to a librivox recording of her writing, it brings me to another level of consciousness, one that is filled with words and thoughts of things and surroundings. Very surreal and dada.

    • Thank you for writing, Mildredbonk. I remember years ago the pleasure of my friend Sue Hyde, young small town Lesbian, when she discovered Stein, and I’m grateful for that, for Stein’s courage and the courage she has given other people. Also, I am responding to her writing now, in a time when we are inundated with obscure language and it is hard, impossible, to read her work as would have been read at the time it was written. That said, the other day I read a review which reminded me of this conversation. It is written by a Matthew Zapruder about the poet, MS Merwin.

      “To give the impression that something important is happening but that the mere reader cannot, without some kind of special, esoteric knowledge, have access to it strikes me as deeply ungenerous, even cruel. Merwin’s poems have always been mysterious, generous, and clear, knowing in their unknowingness.” In this personal essay first presented in American Poet, Matthew Zapruder re-visits and admires W.S. Merwin’s 1995 collection The Vixen.

  3. I can admire Stein for her ambition in wanting to change the way we read while still wanting to read the way I always have.

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