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Karren LaLonde Alenier

Reality Dustup

Lately the Steiny Road Poet has been thinking about reality disconnects since United States president 45 seems lost in a spray of knee-jerk tweets that his handlers call alternative facts.


Writers also inhabit such a world. Gertrude Stein had her dustups with people whom she thought weren’t good enough writers.


Steiny offers this poem as an exceptional burst of energy that exceeded reality both in its truth and fantasy. Here the young Paul Bowles learns that his poem has been published along with all the great Modernist writers of that time. 




When the envelope came—

brown, the return reading

Paris France my name

Paul Frederick Bowles

prominently scripted

as addressee a magazine

couched inside—surprise:

my name on the cover

in the company of

Andre Breton,

James Joyce,

Gertrude Stein

just to name a few,

the elite avant-garde,

my poem “Spire Song”

in six parts there in

transition with the best.

My feet left the floor.

I leaped, no law of gravity

could limit my joy. I hollered

and before this space traveler

could settle again on natal ground

I had written a prophecy: P. F. Bowles,

degrees from every American college,

appointed poet laureate in the royal

court of King Edward. Why? Because

I swam the Atlantic under water,

emerged triumphant and wet on British

soil where I recited my poem unfaltering

in a loud and sonorous voice.


by Karren L. Alenier

from The Anima of Paul Bowles


What’s interesting is that Gertrude Stein thought that Paul Bowles poem “Spire Song” had been written by an elderly man and when she met the young Bowles, she was taken aback. She told Bowles whom she nicknamed Freddy (his middle name was Frederick) that he didn’t write great poetry and that he should quit trying to write poems. Bowles listened to her and for years he didn’t write creative words, only music and music criticism. It was only after helping his wife Jane Bowles with her novel Two Serious Ladies that he picked up a pen and started writing fiction.





Paul Bowles Confesses


The sky was not sheltering

in the desert even a rock

could mean a little more life


from the incendiary sun

my mentor should I call him

that once said work when


you are 20 nobody will love

you at 30 nearly 40 when

my art switched hands


from music to words

came the reviews

I traveled from the light


of music to the merciless

shade of stories that would

redeem me but not my characters.


by Karren L. Alenier

from The Anima of Paul Bowles



Now all of this leads to this koan—to arrive at the bigger truth, storytellers lie.





If I Paul Frederick Bowles tell you

Gertrude Stein wrote to my mother

to say Rena’s son Freddy — that’s what the great

Buddha called me — was a self-indulgent savage

who augured the end of civilization

and Mother cheerfully sent “poor old

Sophie and Alice B. Luckless”

family recipes...


If I tell you

the Mama of Dada dressed me

in lederhosen so her great white

poodle Basket, wet from his daily

sulphur bath — the French countryside

vermin otherwise crawling into the dog’s

curls to suck his skin red — could chase

me and scrape his sharp long nails

into my bare legs while his master

shouted from the second story

window, “Faster, Freddy, faster...”


If I tell you

transition — a Paris magazine

that published Ezra Pound — printed

“Spire Song” by Paul Frederick Bowles…

I was only seventeen. When I was twenty,

the iconic Miss Stein said, “Freddy,

you don’t write great poetry.” I believed

her and left the City of Light

for the filth of Tangier.


If I tell you I traded the truth

of poetry for the invention

of prose. If I tell you I lived

loving a wife who filled

my dry pen while hers

spurted blood

like a shotgun wound.

If I tell you my stories,

greater than the lives

of people I knew…

if I tell you my stories,

how many times

would you say I lied?


by Karren L. Alenier

from The Anima of Paul Bowles


So maybe Americans should be relieved that what 45 says is called alternative facts. After all, why mix him up with storytellers?


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Scene4 Magazine — Karren Alenier

Karren LaLonde Alenier's most recent book is The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas.
She is a Senior Writer for Scene4.
Read her Blog.
For her other commentary and articles,
check the Archives.

©2017 Karren LaLonde Alenier
©2017 Publication Scene4 Magazine


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May 2017

Volume 17 Issue 12

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