26 August 2013

our lost jungle poetry form challenge: challenge #4 - le stein

Welcome to the fourth challenge of the 2013 OLJ Poetry Form Challenge! This year’s challenge is all about stepping out of comfort zones and learning to play with poetry. It’s about sound more than sense, sneezes more than handkerchiefs and tiny bows, more butter than ice. (For more on what the OLJ Poetry Form Challenge is all about, check out this post.)

The OLJ Poetry Form Challenge #4: Le Stein

challenge 4: le stein

“Wait … more what than what now?” Butter. Butter came from bows (which made me think of bowls, and a sudden mind flicker of bowls and bowls of butter), which came from handkerchiefs tied into bows, which came from sneezes, which originated in the thought of what is the opposite of sense.

Someone out there is thinking it: “I don’t know what she’s talking about, and I don’t think I like where this is going.”

Anybody who’s even taken or taught a poetry workshop knows that the easiest way to make a group of poets hate you is to make them read an essay by Gertrude Stein. Famous for lines like “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose” and “There is no there there,” these examples serve as some of the easier readings of Stein. If you’ve never read an essay or speech by her, take some time today to at least browse. It has been said that rather than trying to understand her work, one should try to “interstand” it: to “figure it in” rather than “figure it out,” and engage with it on a deeper, more active, level than simply trying to make sense of it.

Here’s just a section of one of Stein’s prose poems:


A large box is handily made of what is necessary to replace any substance. Suppose an example is necessary, the plainer it is made the more reason there is for some outward recognition that there is a result.

A box is made sometimes and them to see to see to it neatly and to have the holes stopped up makes it necessary to use paper.

You can read the rest of the poem, from Stein’s collection Tender Buttons, here.

jump in

Today’s task is to write a “le stein” poem: a poem written in the style of Gertrude Stein. What exactly is the style of Gertrude Stein? Here are a few "Steinian" poetic cues:

  1. Highly experimental
  2. Word associations, while avoiding words with “too much association” 
  3. Very much in the present (tense and otherwise)
  4. Repetition as a form of discovery
... and so forth. To get into the “Stein mode,” try looking at some cubist paintings, particularly the work of Cezanne (an artist highly admired by and influential to Stein). Consider this description of Stein’s work, from poet Judy Grahn:
“Stein in her work with words used the entire text as a field in which every element mattered as much as any other.” 

Let your consciousness stream and ooze, let go of sense for a while and just go with where your gut takes and rakes you. Be steined and steamed and stymied and shuddered. Go with it, and let it go with you.


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  1. I've steeped myself in Stein since 5:30 this morning. While I don't understand anything I've read I do have a better appreciation for her experiment with words. I also was fascinated with "the lost generation" articles I read.

    Really and truly, thanks for this prompt Khara!


    1. Ok, the reason mine is not repeating like everyone else's(besides the fact that I didn't have a clue what to do)is that I used Stein's Tender Buttons as my example.

  2. Replies
    1. I think we need to start "le" titling everything a la Pepe Le Piu. "Le woof, le woof, le WHOOOOOO!"

  3. Okay. Here goes

    First Word of a Sentence at 8AM

    This is composed with one thing being now.
    Is composed with the man's possession.
    Is composed with an angular letter.

    The music of this is sisterly. Is silver. Sighs
    and whispers as the necks of sleeping
    geese. Whistles through spaces in
    dentine fences. Defenses.
    A clarinet is this.
    This is an oboe.

    This is here. Right here. See.
    This pokes. This is a bruise.
    This bruise. Ouch!

    This is one.
    If this seems complex, you
    are looking through this to
    those and them. This
    is singular.

    1. That sounds just like her style. Seems like it ought to mean something yet incomprehensible. Great job here!

    2. LOVE this, barbara. Especially:
      "The music of this is sisterly. Is silver. Sighs
      and whispers as the necks of sleeping

    3. I was about to type the same thing as De. I never imagined nonsensical could be as pretty as you were able to capture Stein. Nice. Nice.

    4. First of all, I love the title. I also like the sisterly and silver music and that it "sighs and whispers as the necks of sleeping geese."

      I enjoyed this, Barbara.

  4. Uuuugh! Just shoot me. Because it might me less painless than writing le Stein.

    1. Linda, I got almost this same reaction from at least one student in any class I ever used Stein and/or this exercise for! It's a not-uncommon reaction :)

      I'll share the same exercise I gave one guy who just really, *really* hated reading Stein, and didn't want to write like her: "Write your feelings of Stein." Just freewrite how she/her writing/her style makes you feel. Address it to her, or the world. See what comes of it!

  5. Oh my WORD. That was fantastic exhilarating exhausting fabulous fun. Both the reading, and the writing. Goodness.


    1. De, I'm so glad you enjoyed it! (Honestly it's always a relief to hear that someone *didn't* want to gouge their eyes out after doing this exercise ...) :)

  6. Okay, here we go ... I think I mentioned before I never made a student do an activity I didn't do myself. I made myself le stein today, and here is the result:

    Le Wine

    She bleeds on and on and on leaving nothing
    for the walls but a coat of primer and a skirt
    of shame held up against a dying day of shimmered silver
    by a single train of thought.
    Nothing like the bleating of sheep in the cold
    husks of autumn. Nothing so unlike it either. Lost
    lost lost in the pit of his skull the shadow of a
    balled up fist pressed
    into the embers of the flower blooming
    under her tongue.
    Keep it on and on and no—like this. Leave nothing
    for the trees but primary colors and even those
    dusty and steeped in rust. Something like
    the bleating of lambs to the slaughter like a cup
    half full and full again that spills over and tears
    the hem of her gowns with saffron
    tea and cinnamon regret.

    1. Oh, you've practiced! "held up against a dying day of shimmered silver by a single train of thought", "embers of the flower blooming under her tongue","gowns with saffron
      tea and cinnamon regret"... ah, shoot, I could just list the whole thing - this is too lovely to be "steinish"

    2. Yeah, I have one eyeball gauged out already. And a handful of hair in my fist. Ugh! I'm suffering a cinnamon regret.

    3. Oooooo, I like "cinnamon regret."

  7. Okay writing this poem made me feel a bit like I was writing something from Alice and Wonderland. I combined this with inspiration from Robert Lee Brewer's challenge this week.

    You can find my poem here: http://heatherbutton.com/2013/08/28/dreams-of-empathy-a-poem/

  8. This week's effort:


  9. "Suspendu dix"

    Mother Father Wee One running
    home. Creatures. Pink. Precious. Our precious.
    Nailed. Pigs. Bubbled. Stained. Pigletts.
    Market. Roast Beef. None.

    Long Walk Roman walk
    Step. Clickety clack every brick. Red brick
    Yellow brick hundred thousand
    piglets. Pebbles. Pebbled.
    Name them one-by-one.
    Market. Roast Beef. None.
    Set them free in summer.
    No one is free in summer.
    Your ten. My ten.
    Rest in Pink.

    1. Nice work, JL. I like "Clickety clack every brick."


Thank you so much for your comments! Please feel free to share your thoughts here; I look forward to engaging in conversation with you!

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