For some excellent poetry readings, perk up your ears here:
Deborah Poe – http://odeo.com/audio/17981583/view
Megan A. Volpert – http://odeo.com/audio/17981433/view
Laura Mullen – http://odeo.com/audio/17981483/view
Gertrude Stein’s Biographical Body: More Than Remains
The test of a “politics of poetry” is in the entry of poetry in the world in a political way.
–Barret Watten, “The Conduit of Communication in Everyday Life”
As I say all novels are soothing because they make anything happen as they can happen that is by remembering anything. But and I kept wondering as I talked and listened all at once, I wondered is there any way of making what I know come out as I know it, come out as not remembering. I found this very exciting. And I began to make portraits.
–Gertrude Stein, “Portraits and Repetition”
“She has always made her chief study people” (TAAT, 45), and ultimately, transgressed the genre formalization that depicts people within standard biographical terms. Gertrude Stein divined her own methods for presenting her impressions of others. Within an increasingly industrialized culture, she considered the attempted representation of people to be a production of personas that risked a formulaic confinement. Stein’s acute awareness of assembly line manufacturing spurred her to work against the commodification of language – and make language her own, more than ever. That commodification continues to limit the activity of how we identify and label individuals, so that our pre-packaged culture dispenses rigid versions of people or “types,” thus belying the possibilities language can inspire. Beyond the obvious cardboard cut-outs of “right” versus “left”, another result of such characterization practices can be seen through the popular trend in memoirs and biographical works. These books perpetuate the mythos of America: pulling one’s self up by the bootstraps, overcoming odds, etc. as if there were no other noteworthy ways of living to admire.
These “rememberances” at base evidence a historicizing condition. Someone is remembered within the context of certain circumstances, achieving particular goals, etc. Additionally, such recollection assumes the rubric of proper grammar and syntax as a prerequisite for comprehension. The static popular use of words served as “soothing rememberances” for eased consumption. For Stein and others now, it is the equivalent of being spoon-fed prescriptive paths for life. Her own biographical notes illustrate her resistance toward the “easy road.” Stein’s various portraits and biographical pieces ignored grammatical laws and brought language into focus, while bearing no regard for soothing or instructing audiences by example, and thus, her work confounds the commodifying impulse and elevates the “text-as-object” condition. Industrialized production would lay down for writers the dictates that disguise the materialism of language and obliterate the need for people to actively handle words via their imaginations, and thus, their own emotional predilections. Readers seek to know the meaning of the story, rather than working with the text-at-hand, infusing, constructing, and enacting meaning as a collaborative effort, as an action. Consider the old metaphor of selling a house: the realtor finds it easier to sell a house under the mythology of “how many good, familial times will be had” through the obtainment of the product, rather than on the actual design or by speculating on the unglossed potentialities of what may happen once you’ve moved in. Likewise, words were just vehicles, a product meant to deliver an end result, until Stein’s concern with their presence caused unrest among the critics.
Comprehension, as based on common grammar and artifice, Stein felt, makes “all novels soothing” because it simply familiarizes the way language is used. This familiarization produces the desired, prescriptive result. For the conditioned reader, the stories delivered may resemble the meat of life; they can be the tales that reveal life’s lessons, titillate or make us cry. However, that conventional writing style does not identify some essential truth ready for us to learn and live by. Rather, it anticipates a common readerly response and attempts, through rule abeyance and manipulation, to deliver the anticipated story-lesson. Stein undertook the development of a different science, one that did not divide the intellect from the emotion of the individual. Wisdom was not to be limited to the reader’s “correct” understanding of the lesson therein. The molecular structure of the sentence did not belong to a literary science of naturalization but came under the determinations of the individual scientist, philosopher, and person to test their own hypotheses, according to instinct, whim, and whatever other personal calculations might come into play. In Stein’s work, words were not stand-ins for other realities. The lines and phonemes became tangible realities themselves.
[To be continued]
On my way to the next one to give an exam, but thought it fun to note here that my basic writing students informed me this very morning that Condoleezza Rice is a lesbian. She owned a house with Randy Bean! This kind of evidence is akin to that citing weapons in Iraq: proof positive!@! Let’s go to war!
How do you teach students the variety of logical fallacies in a basic writing course? For one, assume they read your blog. Dear Students, focusing on Ms. Rice’s phantom sexual orientation is a ruse as old as the day is long. It goes something like this, “Any strong woman must be a lesbian.” The Rupert Murdoch ball starts rolling, and you no longer hear the words coming from her mouth. Read here for more insight into this phenomenon.
They also told me that Alan Greenspan is gay! Don’t know about the origins of that one, and frankly, I didn’t imagine they know who he is. Anyway, dear students, you may want to focus on a few words from his recent autobiography instead, “Whatever their publicized angst over Saddam Hussein’s ‘weapons of mass destruction,’ American and British authorities were also concerned about violence in the area that harbors a resource indispensable for the functioning of the world economy. I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”
Henry Kissinger, gay or not, follows up with what should next concern Generation Y, who are our future soldiers and politicians, “An Iran that practices subversion and seeks regional hegemony — which appears to be the current trend — must be faced with lines it will not be permitted to cross. The industrial nations cannot accept radical forces dominating a region on which their economies depend, and the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran is incompatible with international security.”
–Greenspan and Kissinger quotes from CommonDreams.org
I have just finished sending out my chapbook copies for the DUSIE Chapbook Kollectiv.
The title is this post’s title. I have a few copies left over, so if you’re interested in receiving one – freely and imminently – I’ll post it to you before the holidays.
As the day of Independence draws near, I realize it’s high time to look closely at a truly egalitarian relationship that is symbiotic, nurturing, and successful in the face of the great American obstacles regularly and historically hurdled by Ernest & Louie Clay-Crew. The story these two share touches on the traditions this country still battles and thrives on. Regardless of your race, class, orientation, geographic locale, or gender, you’ll find that Ernest and Louie have something to teach us all about dependence and independence.
A few excerpts follow below from their story, though it really ought to be read in entirety, and additionally, Louie maintains an elaborate list of poetry publishers that accepts electronic submissions for all of you poets out there. Thanks Ernest and Louie — “Oh while I live, to be the ruler of life, not a slave, to meet life as a powerful conqueror, and nothing exterior to me will ever take command of me.” — Walt Whitman
And Happy July Fourth to every citizen — “I am as bad as the worst, but, thank God, I am as good as the best.” –Walt Whitman.
“Our marriage [2/2/74], like our courtship, has been conventional. It was love at first sight when we met at the elevator just outside the sixth- floor tearoom of the Atlanta YMCA [9/2/73]. Ernest was a fashion coordinator for a local department store, I a state college professor from 100 miles way, deep in the peach and pecan orchards. One of us black, the other white; both native Southerners. We commuted every weekend for five months. Our friends were not surprised when we decided to marry.
One could be too quick to sentimentalize a few details, such as our bed, a two-hundred-year-old four-poster built by the slave ancestors of one of us for the free ancestors of the other. Perhaps we were fulfilling their dream? Or Dr. King’s dream…? We find day-to- day living too difficult for us to negotiate other people’s dreams: we work at living our own dream, a dream no different from the dream of many other couples, a dream of a home with much love to bridge our separateness.
Our friends here for a long time wondered why we do not at least keep a lower profile by not mentioning our relationship. It is important to Ernest and me that our relationship is public. We are not in merely a sexual union, but in a complex coupling that integrates all our life together. Whether we are entertaining or being entertained, even when we are just shopping at the local Piggly Wiggly, it is important for us to know that we know that they know. We can even sometimes get into enjoying their games with knowing, as when the employees all dash behind the butchers’ one-way mirror to watch us wink at them when we pass. As Ernest puts it, ‘Honey, you may gloat, but we’re the stars!’
One of the lowest points in our marriage was an occasion when I asked Ernest, ‘If you get that job with the cosmetics firm in NYC, can I live off your earnings so I won’t have to stay here in Georgia the rest of this year?’ He did not answer. I waited out the long silence almost half a day, and then he said, ‘Did I ask you could I `live off your earnings’ when I moved here from Atlanta without a job first?’ I had momentarily lapsed from the more pervasive economy that our marriage effects. Were we autonomous, at each trysting we would come at each other unequally. I would be the wealthier, Ernest the younger; I the more experienced, Ernest the more spontaneous…. In marriage everything is given once and for all. For us marriage ended trading and introduced sharing. The money is ours. The youth is ours. The spontaneity is ours. And whatever is exhausted or whatever is incremented is ours.
My own neurotic compulsions with these middleclass perceptions have frequently inhibited my full enjoyment of our marriage. While I enjoy cooking, sewing, and more limitedly, keeping house, more and more my writing and my organizing activities have preempted the major portions of my energy. Ernest is a better cook, a much more efficient housekeeper, and an expert shopper. Once I came home late on a rainy night to find all the washed wet clothes in the refrigerator. ‘What on earth!’ I exclaimed. ‘Lord, chile, you sure be white tonight,’ he laughed; ‘I can tell your mama never took in washing. It’s the way to avert the mildew.’
My learning to enjoy my man’s househusbandliness as much as I enjoy my own is in many ways parallel to our enjoying all parts of each other’s anatomy. The first question most gay friends ask us is, ‘Which of you is the husband? Which the wife?’ We honestly have no way to answer respecting this dichotomy. We are not thus differentiated. We both like gentle perfumes, and we both like poignant funkiness; we both enjoy our gracefulness as well as our toughness.
We are not mirror images, however. Our careers are different and we do not compete. We make no special demands about productivity, but we are both aware that a marriage is dead when either fails to want to contribute. Ernest respects the summers I spend not making a dime but writing away as if I’ll not have another such season. I respect his taking off a year to go to school or his taking off time to do hair of women in the state mental hospital.
At the risk of being still more invidious, I suspect that of the many nongay couples who break up, many break up because society’s alleged supports of heterosexual relationships are falsely advertised and hypocritical. After the honeymoon is over, once the careers pull at each other, once Jan and John realize that their parents might even expect them to divorce, that their priest has divorced, that their friends and neighbors are too busy with their own relationships to care (except possibly for the value of self-congratulation that attends efforts to seem to care), non-gays choose to walk away from each other in bewilderment, or to remain together only by law. Gay relationships may be paradoxically blessed by not having the chance even to expect such support systems.
Ernest and I wrote our divorce contract at the outset: each would take half. We made our wills to structure property guarantees. We both own together all that each makes. We have had to make our own structures, knowing that major efforts would be exerted to deny even those plans. We have instructions about funerals, burials, etc.
We have had some few but very significant resources in our community, namely, in our friends. We are both gregarious and affable, and we are invited to many parties. Often he is the only black person or I the only white present, so segregated are the others in our community. We are avid dancers, and always do courtesies of dancing with our hosts’ spouses. Maybe some index of our integration is the fact that only one couple has ever said that we should feel comfortable to dance together at their parties, and even there the other guests do not have an ambience about them that would make us feel comfortable doing so. Also, our gay friends would be much too vulnerable for us to invite to gay parties any of our nongay friends.
In many ways we did not even anticipate, our coupling is itself our career, so much does it alter our professional expectations, our job security, our work climate, etc. Everyone knows that gay folks are reasonably harmless if we remain at the baths, the bars, the adult movie houses, the tearooms, and other such restricted areas. Ernest could have met a new Louie and I a new Ernest every night at the Atlanta YMCA for decades, and no one much would have bothered. Possibly a Tennessee Williams might have celebrated our waste, or maybe even a Proust. Certainly my priest would not have shouted, as he did recently, that we are ‘making a mockery of Christian marriage and the home.’ Then my bishop would never have written, as he did this week, ‘I am weary of almost constant pressure applied on this office by a movement which I do not fully understand, but which I wish to grow in understanding’–this while virtually telling me, probably his only regular gay correspondent, that I persecute him merely by calling attention to my needs and the needs of my people. Were Ernest and I still just tricking furtively at the YMCA, my students would see me as they used to, as the linguist, the rhetorician, the literary critic, the poet, the jogger–and not, as so often now, merely as ‘that smart sissy.’ It is only when we couple openly that the heterosexist culture marshals its forces against us.”
–From Two Grooms by Louie Crew
–Photos of the Renewal of Vows, 1999.
“The poet judges not as a judge judges but as the sun falling around a helpless thing.” — Walt Whitman
If you are my student, then you now know the weekend assignment will be to write a poem in the Bouts-Rimés form. You will also know that this idea struck me when I was flipping through the aforementioned Court Green donated issues. If you are not my student, you may want to explore the form anyway. Take a peek at the three that made my cut after a cursory read, please. And pay attention to the assigned rhymes, dear scribes; they’ll be yours!
“April Parade” hit the button because Camlot smartly mentions a film I love. In fact, I own it. It’s old and it’s called “Waiting for the Moon” and is a fictional glimpse into the lives of Stein and Toklas, tastefully and artfully done. Clever too. I love it. Plus, I like this poem, especially the breaks. And the references; yes, those too.
Before I saw the film, Henry & June
(starring Uma Thurman as hot mistress
of Anaïs Nin), Waiting for the Moon
had been the lit-bio-pic I obsess-
ed most about. The ear-whispering, snake-
like sighs of Paris-exiled, bookish, smoot
h-skinned lesbians, well, that took the cake
as far as my understanding of beaut-
y went. But Uma, she was like Garbo
on steroids, or some über-King Kong play-
thing. But real, too: a neighborhood, Hobo-
ken Parade Queen walking home the next day,
still in her gemmed tiara and rhinestone
bustier, but smelling of Fireman’s cologne.
I use the collaboratively-written play and HBO film, “The Laramie Project,” regularly in a basic literature class. Therefore, this next poem stood out well and poignantly.
FOR MATTHEW SHEPARD
Here they are again, the bright bugs of June
flittering the evening away, sun stressed
struts holding up the barbed wire fence, the moon
wandering dangerously, half dark, obsessed,
an abscess spilled into the deep holes snakes
have dug into the spiked hills. What is moot?
The question of love? Figurines on cake
don’t care about gender, stuck on a butte
of icing, Gable y Gable, Garbo
y Garbo, any part an actor can play.
O Shakespeare didn’t care if a hobo
wore a dress, a crown, as long as the day
was long, lovely. Each word a cut rhinestone.
Each touch, kiss, a dab of perfume, cologne.
– Dorianne Laux
Last, but not least, the next poem caught my eye because we analyze and dissect the tropes of Little Women in my Intro to Children’s Literature class. I love the main text for that course, incidentally. For awhile, I was using a traditional one that grew stale quickly. Then I came across this one by Perry Nodelman and Mavis Reimer. It approaches texts through a lit theory lens, boiled down but not dumbed down, that my about-to-graduate students are able to process with just a little help from me. Anyway, I read through this poem and enjoyed the twists. For your eyes only:
Jo in Little Women was not really June
Allyson. She was an actress with the stress
in pretending to be someone else, like the moon
in ovulation that never came out, the egg in obsess
that was your archetypal blank, that nearly killed her. I was a snake
to write my name in the sand near the water, first letter, moot
pont between time and eternity, she grimaced. The yellow cake
uranium was a free forgery, the horse I rode on a beaut.
I want to be alone, I said, like Garbo
but a dull boy’s awfully hard to play
and there you were as certain as a hat upon a hobo
that sublimity’s just one part of the day.
Don’t be sad, then, because we lost the rhinestone-
in-the-teacup; it was Berlin that kicked our legs up, not Cologne.
–Lisa Fishman & Richard Meier
First of all, love is a joint experience between two persons—but the fact that it is a joint experience does not mean that it is a similar experience to the two people involved. There are the lover and the beloved, but these two come from different countries. Often the beloved is only a stimulus for all the stored-up love which has lain quiet within the lover for a long time hitherto. And somehow every lover knows this. He feels in his soul that his love is a solitary thing. He comes to know a new, strange loneliness and it is this knowledge which makes him suffer. So there is only one thing for the lover to do. He must house his love within himself as best he can; he must create for himself a whole new inward world—a world intense and strange, complete in himself. Let it be added here that this lover about whom we speak need not necessarily be a young man saving for a wedding ring—this lover can be a man, woman, child, or indeed any human creature on this earth.
Now, the beloved can also be of any description. The most outlandish people can be a stimulus for love. A man may be a doddering great-grandfather and still love only a strange girl he saw in the streets of Cheehaw one afternoon two decades past. The preacher may love a fallen woman. The beloved may be treacherous, greasy-headed, and given to evil habits. Yes, and the lover may see this as clearly as anyone else—but that does not affect the evolution of his love one whit. A most mediocre person can be the object of love which is wild, extravagant, and beautiful as the poison lilies of the swamp. A good man may be the stimulus for a love both violent and debased, or a jabbering madman may bring about in the soul of someone a tender and simple idyll. Therefore, the value and quality of any love is determined solely by the lover himself.
–excerpt from THE BALLAD OF THE SAD CAFE by Carson McCullers