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Put good shoes on my feet and I’m not only moving but I’m traveling to unexpected places. I’m in the middle of plotting an opera and people keep asking how did you get this project started much less get this far? Here begins a travelogue pastiche of the work-in-progress opera: Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On. This installment shows the bootstraps—how did this poet, composer, and artistic director get involved in this project?
Whereas the first installment of my opera story moved around the map of the United States, Europe and North Africa, this part of the story of Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On is more a head trip. People keep asking me, “how does one get from poetry to opera libretto?” So without getting into the blood and guts of my quirky creative birthing process, I will provide the basic ingredients that spur or spurred me on within the philosophic framework Gertrude Stein set out for her writing, including her considerable theater work which numbers 80 plays and libretti.
Webster’s New World and American Heritage dictionaries define the word collaboration as either two or more artists or scientists working together on a joint project or a person or people cooperating with the enemy. To fully appreciate The Steiny Road to Operadom, one must keep in view both of these definitions. As I hinted in my last essay, collaboration can be a difficult kind of relationship. To offer perspective about my collaboration with composer William Barfield and artistic director Nancy Rhodes, I will also talk about the collaboration between Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson.
In the last installment of The Steiny Road, my parting words included the admonition, don’t go into the woods alone. In this essay, my travel advisory is about building community and finding out whose woods these are that you wish to penetrate.
In the first Steiny Road column, I discussed how the work-in-progress opera Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On got started, but merely ticking off the sequence of events leading to the commissioning of the project does not tell the whole story. What I will attempt to ignite in this telling is the elusive spark that erupts when people believe in you enough to stop what they are doing and turn their attention to your project. So this column continues the thread about the importance of community that I presented in the last essay while weaving in the performance aspect.
The Mother of Us All, the second and final opera collaboration between Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson, looms large in the creation of the work-in-progress opera Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On. In this essay, I invoke a wider lens and name the spirit guides (ghosts) who also form part of the community that supports the development of my opera collaboration with composer William Banfield and Encompass New Opera Theatre artistic director Nancy Rhodes.
Critics. In this Steiny Road essay, I will provide background on the subject of critics and artistic criticism by outlining the significance of critics in relation to Gertrude Stein and her writing as well as the significance of critics to the work-in-progress opera Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On. Additionally, I will define what I expect an opera review to cover.
Critical to the process of developing an opera, such as Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On, is the workshop. I begin with the word critical because it suggests critic, a player who is integral to the longevity of any artistic work. Even if the critic is not favorably disposed, a published review by a critic demonstrates that the work merits consideration by the public. Since one cannot control what critics will think, opera collaborators need to test their work and hear feedback before going public.
How does a poet on the Steiny Road to Operadom educate herself to develop a successful opera?
Opera as grand essay. What is it? How does it differ from Grand Opera and other forms of opera? Did Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson create a grand essay with their opera collaborations? Does grand essay apply to Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On?
Part of the process of convincing a publisher or theatrical producer to bring a creative work into public view is knowing what else has been done with your subject and what the pitfalls are. In the case of Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On, an opera about the life and work of an American literary radical who remains more a notorious figure from our cultural history than a revered author, this question is an ongoing research project as new works appear in public limelight. Pitfalls involve such things as copyright issues and audience receptivity.
Commissions are a big cause of concern on the Steiny Road to Operadom and for anyone with enough chutzpah or blissful innocence to undertake an opera project.
What is American opera? What characteristics distinguish it from its European roots? How important is it to create American opera? What's the difference between opera and music theater? These are questions the Steiny Road poet has been pondering and has posed to several contemporary American composers, including Mark Adamo, Deborah Drattell, Jonathan Bailey Holland, Elena Ruehr, and Adam Silverman.
Leaving no Stein, uh stone, unturned, the Steiny Road Poet traveled to San Francisco to talk with Renate Stendhal, author of Gertrude Stein In Words And Pictures, about developing an audience within the women’s community for the work-in-progress opera Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On. Making more connections related to Stein, the Poet also met or spoke with Stein aficionados Hans Gallas and Paul Padgette and representatives of the newly developing International Museum of Women.
Recently, the Steiny Road Poet has encountered two organizations that are engaged in building arts centers with theaters. Because the Poet and her collaborators expect not only to premiere Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On in New York City but also to take the work on the road, new theater spaces have that build-it-and-they-will-come appeal.
The Steiny Road Poet tends to find exotic and puzzling connections and correspondences. Take for example her recent discovery that Ann Hoyt, the first soprano in New York City to debut as Gertrude of Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On, nurtures an intimate relationship with Venus, the goddess of love. This discovery excites the Poet because she adored the performance Ms. Hoyt gave as Gertrude and at the same time knew Ms. Hoyt would never premiere as Gertrude Stein in the opera collaboration between the Poet, William Banfield, and Encompass New Opera Theatre artistic director Nancy Rhodes.
In creating the libretto for Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On, the Steiny Road Poet has had to come to terms with this fact: her expertise is poetry and not drama. In this installment of The Steiny Road to Operadom, the Poet will discuss some of the creative partners who contribute to the development of an opera libretto. Specifically she will define the dramaturg, director, and artistic director. However, as the discussion of making Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson’s opera Four Saints in Three Acts stage ready will reveal, the creative partners often defy pigeonholing.
Hubris, vanity, rejection. In an artist’s life, these stations along the road called ambition loom larger than the witches Macbeth met on a Scottish heath. Gertrude Stein excised these words from her vocabulary. She openly named herself genius. She declared herself equal with her male peers that included Ezra Pound and James Joyce.
Putting things in perspective is a constant in a writer’s life – what is happening now versus yesterday and tomorrow’s scheduled events and accidents. Gertrude Stein placed her emphasis on the present moment. Through her insistent repetition and use of the ‘ing’ present participle form of the verb, she delivered and continues to deliver her reader into a visceral connection with this moment, this breath. Breath and the creative act are what the Steiny Road Poet will address in this opera episode.
The Steiny Road Poet has been thinking about how to get follow on productions underway. That is, when she is not assisting with the wording of the publicity for the world premiere of Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On, participating in the search for appropriate and affordable images of Gertrude Stein, or lining up a bookstore to sell the books of noted academics who will speak at the Gertrude Stein Salon that will precede the Stein opera premiere.
The world premiere of Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On by poet Karren LaLonde Alenier and composer William Banfield goes on stage in New York City, thanks to Nancy Rhodes and Encompass New Opera Theatre, June 15-18, 2005. As educational outreach prior to the premiere, Director Rhodes and the Steiny Road Poet have arranged an arts salon free and open to the public at the CUNY Siegel Performing Arts Center June 10 that will feature sample arias sung by Encompass performers and a panel of authors who have written about Stein.
Jitters. As the clock ticks its way closer to the opening night of Encompass New Opera Theatre’s world premiere of Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On by poet Karren LaLonde Alenier and composer William Banfield, the Steiny Road Poet has wedged several bones into the dike of emotions that threatens to flood her usual calm.
Where does a poet go after a New York City world premiere of her opera that not only is delivered by outstanding performers to an intelligent and receptive set of audiences filling the greater majority of house seats, but also is reviewed favorably by the one critic at the Nation's most influential newspaper, the one critic who understands the subject matter — the world of Gertrude Stein?
In this episode of the Steiny Road to Operadom, the Poet will explore the electricity generated by the much anticipated world premiere of John Adam's third opera by providing a report from the community at large and also a short vignette of the 50th anniversary celebration of the first reading of Allen Ginsberg's provocative epic poem Howl, which Gary Snider described as a "poetical bombshell" in a prophetic letter urging Philip Whalen to participate in the Six Gallery reading.
If the opera Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On could be started over from the beginning, what would the Steiny Road Poet have done differently? Hearing this question, the Poet is reminded of a scene that occurred in World War II between avant-garde writer Jean Cocteau and cabaret singer Edith Piaf. Here is the Poet’s account of that incident
For the Steiny Road Poet, every voyage away from home seems to develop its own theme. A recent trip to New York City began with an accommodating man carrying her luggage up subway stairs. Setting the bag down, he asked if the Poet knew about Buddhism. The Poet said that she was going to a play reading about the six realms of Samsara.
The Steiny Road Poet offers this hit-and-run tale about who wrote The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.
While the world premiere of an opera represents the culmination of hard work and leaps of faith, new productions are usually harder to arrange and seem to require an innate sense of timing and the ability to read minds.
The BIG PICTURE—in the production of an opera, who among the collaborators has it and what influence is exerted? On the advent of the first anniversary of the world premiere of Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On, the Steiny Road Poet spoke with her collaborating music director John Yaffé and realized how important a wide lens vision is to the success of a new opera
When Eve Gigliotti prepared for her role as Gertrude in Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On by composer William Banfield and Steiny Road Poet Karren LaLonde Alenier, she created a Gertrude shrine. She did this by hanging photos of Stein around her room.
The world of the classical music critic is small and intimate. Tim Page who is senior classical music critic for The Washington Post said in a recent interview that there are only twenty to twenty-five people making the bulk of their incomes in this way. He says he can name most of them.
The Price of New Opera
In this episode of the Steiny Road, the Poet will peer gingerly into the ledger books to give a glimpse of what money is required today to develop and produce a new opera by a small opera company.
Stein versus Disney
On September 3, 2006, the Steiny Road Poet waded into a sea of children, especially adorable little girls dressed in yellow gold princess gowns, to see Beauty and the Beast written by composer Alan Menken, lyricists Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and book writer Linda Woolverton.
On Hearing The Musicians
Although the Steiny Road Poet has always entertained the far-flung notion that she would enjoy being a conductor of a large orchestra, the truth is she knew little about the experience until she interviewed John Yaffé in June 2006 for Scene4 Magazine.
The First Emperor Seen From A Steinian Lens
If Gertrude Stein were alive today to ponder the creative issues behind The First Emperor, a new opera with music by Tan Dun and libretto co-written by Ha Jin and Tan Dun, she might say that the storywriters had identity problems that got bollixed up with human nature and landscape. Perhaps there was also a little taint of money involved.
Happy Anniversary! Four Years On the Steiny Road
March 2007 marks the fourth anniversary of this column originally titled Bumper Cars: The Steiny Road to Operadom. This year the Steiny Road Poet has something to show for those years and to celebrate—a forthcoming book based mostly on the column and feature essays published in Scene4 Magazine. This hard copy
book is called The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas.
The Steiny Road’s ‘Making of American Operas’
Just as the first public presentation of the words to Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On (before it became an opera libretto) occurred on a day challenged by weather—DC: February 3, 1996, two feet of snow on the ground, the first public announcement of the book The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas happened during a miserable storm of rain, sleet, hail and snow—NYC: March 16, 2007.
Meeting Wanda Corn
On March 25, 2007, the Steiny Road Poet had the deep pleasure of meeting and hearing Dr. Wanda Corn, a highly respected and well-published scholar of American art, speak on this topic: The Return of the Native: Gertrude Stein's 1934 American Tour.
100 Years, 100 Roses with Hans Gallas
When Gertrude Stein met Alice B. Toklas defines the essence of 100 Years, 100 Roses, a multi-city celebration of the American literary couple who lived in Paris during their lifelong partnership. For Hans Gallas, the organizer of this ambitious international commemoration anchored in San Francisco and commencing June 2007, this is an opportunity to share his Stein-Toklas collection and to find and develop new audiences for Gertrude Stein.
Let's Play A Play
If the Steiny Road Poet were a child living in Brooklyn, she would throw a tantrum until her parents signed her up for Let Us Play A Play. This theater workshop—presented by Jessica Brater, the artistic director of Polybe + Seats; Katya Schapiro, Polybe company member; and Molly Parker-Myers, a Polybe + Seats featured actor—offers six afternoons in July with a public performance on July 20.
Let’s Play A Play - redux
It’s not often that a columnist presents a story about an upcoming event and then writes a follow up. The last Steiny Road column (q.v.) featured Let Us Play A Play, a theater workshop for children focused on a play by Gertrude Stein and developed by Jessica Brater, the artistic director of Polybe + Seats; Katya Schapiro, a Polybe company member; and Molly Parker-Myers, a Polybe + Seats featured actor.
Stories: On The Nature Of Poetry
While the Steiny Road Poet has gone to New Hampshire to work on a second opera libretto, she offers her dedicated readers this poem in the voice of fiction writer and composer Paul Bowles. Bowles had a good ear for poetry and helped the Steiny Road Poet with her poems about Gertrude Stein. The SRP recommends reading Next to Nothing the poems of Paul Bowles. She thinks his poems are quite powerful.
Merrily We Roll Along
Although Gertrude Stein said to the sculptor Jacques Lipschitz as quoted in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas that she never mind posing, she warned him that she did not like sculpture. She also added that Lipschitz was a wonderful gossip and that she, loving beginnings, middles and ends of stories, found Lipschitz engaging because he supplied missing parts of several stories. Could it be that Stein didn’t like things set in stone, including her own bust that Lipschitz rendered in a true-to-life style?
Ouch! That fire Jane Malcolm’s new book Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice has lit under the Steiny Road Poet is sooo hot.
An Idiot Divine
Gertrude Stein wrote in Everybody’s Autobiography, “It is funny the two things most men are proudest of is the thing that any man can do and doing does in the same way, that is being drunk and being the father of their son.” Just before World War II she was quoted, "There is too much fathering going on just now and there is no doubt about it fathers are depressing.
Happy Birthday, Gertrude Stein
Grab a party hat and a squonky horn, Dear Reader, you are entering the virtual birthday party for Gertrude Stein. February 3, 2008, marks the 134th anniversary of Stein’s birth. At this time of the year, the Steiny Road Poet has often hosted an actual salon in Stein’s honor by inviting poet friends to bring and recite one of their own poems to fete the great modernist writer.
Like a Sufi, the Steiny Road Poet is spinning with ecstatic energy. On February 12, 2008, she attended the opening night of Kaliyuga Arts and John Sowle’s new production of In Circles, Al Carmines’ musical setting of Gertrude Stein’s A Circular Play.
Opera and Poltics
The Steiny Road Poet has been telling her friends and colleagues lately that The Mother of Us All, Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson’s opera that premiered in 1947, seems to inform the race for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States.
Listening to Gertrude
Sound. To better understand and appreciate the work of Gertrude Stein, one must hear aloud the poetic texts of this most under-read Modernist writer.
The Coupling of Couples
Well-known addresses often evoke inhabitants of fame or notoriety. Currently citizens of the United States are focused on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, and who will supercede George W. and Laura Bush. In the world of the Steiny Road Poet, the address of importance is 27 rue de Fleurus, Paris, which also happens to be the title of Ted Sod and Lisa Koch’s musical.
A Libretto Is Written
In the lecture “Pictures” written for her 1934 American lecture tour, Gertrude Stein said “Now most of us live in ourselves that is to say in one thing and we have to have a relief from the intensity of that thing and so we like to look at something.” The Steiny Road Poet knows the intensity of living inside her own imagination and with her own concerns and subject matter.
What’s the cost of a plot? The Steiny Road Poet poses this question ambiguously for these reasons: 1) because of paper she will present at the conference Lifting Belly High: A Conference on Women’s Poetry Since 1900, she has been studying Gertrude Stein more deeply than usual, in which case, the bucking of habitual storyline—plot—came into focus with Stein’s lecture on plays, 2) the Steiny Road Poet made a pilgrimage to the family cemetery on the third anniversary of the death of her dear friend Hilary Tham, and 3) the Poet attended a preview of What’s A Little Death, a musicalized play by playwright-lyricist Juanita Rockwell, composer Chas Marsh, and director Leslie Felbain.
Political slogans, this is what the Steiny Road Poet has been thinking about as she finished writing and delivering a talk based on her paper about whether Gertrude Stein was a medievalist, futurist or both for Lifting Belly High: A Conference on Women’s Poetry Since 1900 held at Duquesne University. The Poet’s paper is based on Stein’s so called children’s story To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays. The Poet used this story in a Scene4 Magazine tribute on the occasion of Stein’s 134th birthday earlier this year.
The Presence of Names
Throughout her massive collection of writings, Gertrude Stein had a lot to say about people’s names. In her lecture on poetry and grammar, she said, “People if you like to believe it can be made by their names. Call any body Paul and they get to be a Paul call anybody Alice and they get to be an Alice perhaps yes perhaps no, there is something in that…” In To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays, she used the structure of a child’s primer to catalogue names and relate anecdotes about the characters she had named.
The Ever Best of Virgil Thomson
Promoting American opera is the torch that the Steiny Road Poet carries. Concrete evidence of her support for American opera is embodied in her book The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas which is what led her to pay an impromptu visit in early February 2008 with Dr. Frank Hentschker, Director of Programs at the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center of The Graduate Center, The City University of New York (CUNY). Out of that short meeting came an unexpected big plan: the 75th anniversary celebration of the 1934 Broadway premiere of Gertrude Stein's and Virgil Thomson's seminal opera Four Saints in Three Acts.
Conversation with a Genius
The Steiny Road Poet thinks she has met a genius—director Jay Scheib, who in six months read and digested Gertrude Stein's 900-plus-page novel The Making of Americans. After the Poet gasped, she could hear the director shrugging as they each held a telephone receiver to their respective ears on January 8, 2009.
Enjoying Perfect Harmony
Avoid the riots, reserve now. This is how Encompass New Opera Theatre advertised their March 15, 2009, Manhattan School of Music follow-on performance of Four Saints in Three Acts, the 1934 opera by Virgil Thomson based on an experimental libretto by Gertrude Stein. The Steiny Road Poet says “follow-on” because Encompass, under the direction of Nancy Rhodes, produced at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Elebash Recital Hall February 20, 2009, for the occasion of the opera’s 75th anniversary of its recording-setting 60-performance Broadway premier, Four Saints to an over-capacity audience, some of whom got locked out of the show.
Peter Grimes at the WNO
Peter Grimes, the 1945 darkly themed opera by Benjamin Britten with a libretto by Montagu Slater, had its Washington National Opera company premiere March 21 to April 4, 2009, at the Kennedy Center. The Steiny Road Poet saw it opening night and again on March 26. She would have enjoyed seeing it a third time. Could it be that after a full year of giving all her attention and devotion to the enthusiastic study and appreciation of Gertrude Stein’s and Virgil Thomson’s cutting-edge opera Four Saints in Three Acts that the Steiny Road Poet has fallen in love with another twentieth century opera that seems by contrast to oppose what the Poet loves
about Four Saints?
Living as an artist means work, play, and dailyness (i.e. eating, sleeping, dressing, etc.) are a seamless flow of activities. Among the guiding lights the Steiny Road Poet walks around with are not only Gertrude Stein, but also Virgil Thomson. Thomson was a composer and critic who excelled at writing music and words.
The Geographical History
Upon arriving May 15, 20009, at the KGB Bar in Manhattan's Village, the Steiny Road Poet was given an option to put on her critic's hat for Lindsey Hope Pearlman's and Randi Rivera's adaptation of Gertrude Stein's The Geographical History of America, a show sponsored by "Horse Trade" and "Human Group". The Poet had not planned to pull out her pen, but rather had come to see how Stein would fare in the KGB and something called The Red Room.
The Steiny Road to Fame
Karen Leick’s Gertrude Stein and the Making of an American Celebrity, a book published in May 2009, immediately grabbed the Steiny Road Poet’s full attention as soon as she opened it’s blue cover. While this is a Po-Mo review, several things excited the Poet about this book. It dispels the popular notion that Gertrude Stein became a household name after the publication of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. It puts into context during the early part of the Twentieth Century the critical role that newspapers played in making prominent authors of Modernism (for example: Stein, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Virginia Woolf) known to the general American population. What, you say, Dear Reader, ordinary Americans regularly read about Gertrude Stein and her modernist confrčres at breakfast? And except for a couple of words such as contextualize and binary, Leick has written this book in the English most anyone can understand and certainly Stein herself would have advocated.
A Big Read
Listen up. The Steiny Road Poet took the plunge and read every page of Gertrude Stein’s magnum opus The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family’s Progress. Big deal? Yes. Was it hard to do? Yes and no.
A Miscreant for Today
Who wrote the most misogynistic book every published and how is it possible that Gertrude Stein was influenced by such a miscreant? The Steiny Road Poet having just read Stein’s magnum opus The Making of Americans wanted to know more about Stein’s interest in Otto Weininger. What she also discovered in reading about Weininger (1880-1903) is that gender and race politics of his time have a lot in common with current day events and attitudes by a loud but small segment of the American population.
Gertrude As Buddha
The Steiny Road Poet intends to open some doors here without necessarily closing them when she is finished. In preparation for a trip to China, she read The Man Who Loved China by Simon Winchester. This book published in 2008 is a biography of British scientist Joseph Needham, who became passionately involved with Chinese affairs during World War II.
From China With Love
Chinese people love singing. Perhaps it is because speaking their language with its rising and falling tones (here The Steiny Road Poet is specifically thinking of Mandarin) is like singing. While Gertrude Stein never traveled to China or learned Mandarin, the unparalleled Modernist whose ear was always tuned to language noted miles and miles of Chinese children singing in her so-called children’s book To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays. On a recent trip to China, the Steiny Road Poet, who suddenly took up college-level studies of Mandarin, had the occasion to experience ordinary people singing as well as theater professionals.
The Modernists writers like Ezra Pound loved literature and art from the Far East. Because Gertrude Stein employed a Chinese cook, admired Chinese poetry in translation, mentioned Chinese people and landscape in some of her work, the Steiny Road Poet wonders if this Modernist ever gave a passing glance at learning Chinese, a non-alphabetic language?
Revolution of Forms
When the Steiny Road Poet began her collaboration with William Banfield on Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On, Bill suggested that the Poet listen to Anthony Davis’s X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X. The score has a rich palette of swing, scat, modal jazz, and rap while adhering to traditional operatic formats. On March 24, 2010 at the Duke Ellington School for the Arts in Washington, DC, the Poet had an opportunity to talk with Davis and his first comment to her was a compliment regarding Bill Banfield’s work.
John Adams: Perspectives
For those of you who love contemporary opera, the Steiny Road Poet challenges you to imagine the music of your favorite opera coming out of the pit onto the stage alone without voices and movement of the singers. On May 20, 2010, the Poet had the pleasure of being steeped in a selection of the music of Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes and John Adams’ Doctor Atomic. John Adams conducted the concert as well as selected the music to be played.
The Turn of the Screw
In this episode of The Steiny Road to Operadom, the Steiny Road Poet has gone off the beaten path to Castleton, Virginia, home to maestro Lauren Maazel who invites young artists to his estate where he has full working theaters. On July 3, 2010, as part of the second annual Castleton Festival, the Poet experienced Benjamin Britten’s edge-of-the-seat chamber opera The Turn of the Screw with libretto by Myfanwy Piper.
In a period of less than a year and a half, the Steiny Road Poet has developed an ever-growing taste for the operas of Benjamin Britten. Washington National Opera’s production of Peter Grimes in May 2009 initiated her appetite, followed by the Castleton Festival’s productions of The Beggar’s Opera in the summer of 2009 and The Turn of the Screw in July 2010.
Sarah Ruhl's The Vibrator Play
Sexual politics, a subject right up Gertrude Stein's allée. The Steiny Road Poet prefers to use the French word for that narrow passage that runs between or behind urban architecture and where trash sits for pickup. Ahem, what the Poet intends to address is hysteria in 19th century women. It's a dirty little accusation against women by men as far back as Hippocrates (300 BC).
Paul Bowles and Me
Gertrude Stein was a Modernist of affirmation. Unlike other writers of her time, her work shows no alienation, no social judgment, no anger, no fear. As a writer, Stein never manipulated her reader emotionally. However, she did attempt to manipulate other writers whose themes and style did not meet with her standards. One of these writers was Paul Frederic Bowles, best known for his novel of extreme angst The Sheltering Sky (1949) which Bernardo Bertolucci turned into a film starring Debra Winger and John Malkovich. Bertolucci gave Paul Bowles a walk-on part in the movie.
19th Century American Writers on Writing
While Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) was born in the 19th Century and influenced by prominent writers of that century such as William James (1842-1910), Henry James (1843-1916) and Gustav Flaubert (1821-1880), her work, both by date of publication and by innovative style, puts her solidly in the 20th Century.
A Trinity of Influence
Early on before the Steiny Road Poet found Gertrude Stein, she enjoyed what the average culture vulture liked in poetry—Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven,” Gerard Manley Hopkins “God’s Grandeur,” and Carl Sandburg’s “Fog.” With the help of her favorite college professor Rudd Fleming, she found her first true poetic love, Wallace Stevens. Then she created her own “Anecdote of the Jar” with this poem:
Blood on the Dining Room Floor
Gertrude Stein left Blood on the Dining Room Floor unfinished. A fan of Dashiell Hammett, Stein began her murder mystery in 1933 after her unexpected success with the publication of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. She was in a writing slump and identity crisis brought on by a confluence of circumstances but especially the success of a book she felt forced to produce by her publisher and which only took her six weeks to write. The audacity of getting such public acclaim and monetary recompense for a work Stein did not consider close to her best! What could be better to take a distressed author’s mind off a dreadful success than a murder mystery?
Elena Ruehr’s Cantata
This spring the Steiny Road Poet has had the occasion to enjoy the rich sound of large choral groups. This feast of many voices included the Heritage Signature Chorale (Washington, DC) which will be featured in Ysaye Barnwell’s Fortune’s Bones at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Center for the Performing Arts early in 2012 and which previewed their abilities at a University of Maryland gala recently, the Shippensburg Concert Choir (Shippensburg, PA), and DC’s The Washington Chorus.
Taking the Edge Off
Lately the Steiny Road Poet has been escaping the harsh realities of Now—the high prices for gas, food and shelter, the lack of jobs, the uncertainties of quality healthcare—by going to the movies. That’s what American people do in times of Great Depression or Recession though Gertrude Stein never indulged in this pastime and preferred live plays to films.
From Satie to Me
The Steiny Road Poet asks what is a Markov chain and how does this relate to the new work-in-progress opera How Many Midnights, an opera about the love story of American ex-pat writers Jane and Paul Bowles?
Navigating the 'Long Book'
Perhaps, Dear Reader, you have toyed with the idea of reading Gertrude Stein’s monumental tome The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family’s Progress? The Steiny Road Poet, therefore, offers a short tutorial on how to navigate what Stein herself called “the Long Book.” (The book counts 925 pages.)
The Compelling Kronos Quartet
Because the Steiny Road Poet is collaborating with a composer whose music base is electronic, she is making special note of the September 16, 2011, concert she heard by Kronos Quartet at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland.
Should the Steiny Road Poet call 2011
the year of Gertrude Stein?
Stanford University Professor Emeritus Wanda Corn started talking about Seeing Gertrude Stein over ten years ago. By the S. R. Poet’s standards, Dr. Corn is connected directly or indirectly to a good deal of the 2011 Stein activities.
What Was Learned In Teaching Stein
The Steiny Road Poet created and developed an opportunity to teach Gertrude Stein inside the landscape of an art exhibition that focused on this great Modernist. Inspired by Gertrude Stein, a writing workshop, curated tour, and Stein birthday tea party took place at the Stanford in Washington Art Gallery in Washington, DC, on February 4, 2012.
That Silent Pause
Why do poets stand up in public to read or recite their work? Is it for applause? Did their publishers say it’s the only way to sell books? Why did Gertrude Stein set so many rules about her public speaking engagements during her 1934-1935 lecture tour in America?
The Nastiest Smear of Paint
Smart art investment—these are the words with which the Steiny Road Poet left New York City and the Metropolitan Art Museum’s special exhibition The Steins Collect (Feb 21 - Jun 3, 2012). The visitor to The Steins Collect knows upfront that this collection came about because the Steins chose to invest their money in modern art and not bonds.
The Man Who Came To Dinner
“I came to dinner.” Chris the Citizen in The Mother of Us All
Recently Chris the Citizen, one of Gertrude Stein’s characters from The Mother of Us All contacted the Steiny Road Poet. Perhaps, Dear Reader, you might remember that Gertrude Stein’s and Virgil Thomson’s second opera about the life and work of Susan B. Anthony was populated with an anachronistic cast based on historic, imagined, and living people who were friends of the great Modernist. Stein gave Chris the Citizen (also she noted him as “Chris a Citizen” and at least once as “Chris Blake a Citizen”) lines about the difference between rich and poor and strife between white and black people.
Questions and Answers and... Questions
In her quest to understand Gertrude Stein and opera, the Steiny Road Poet has interviewed many people who said up front that they had limited time—people who indicated in some way that they were wary of talking to an out-of-the-mainstream poet-journalist. Notables like tenor and opera director Plácido Domingo, poet and librettist J. D. McClatchy, composer and memoirist Ned Rorem, New York Times music critic and Virgil Thomson biographer Anthony Tommasini, and professor Barbara Will, author of the controversial book Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Fa˙, and the Vichy Dilemma have talked, without suffering negative fallout, to the Steiny Road Poet who called them directly. Therefore, being properly introduced (albeit by a mutual friend who telephoned ahead to pave the way) to a writer who knew Alice B. Toklas, the lifelong partner of Gertrude Stein, and maintained a friendship with this iconic cookbook author from 1947 until Toklas’ death in early 1967 did not seem to indicate a different strategy for talking to this person versus any other notable the Steiny Poet had been eager to interview.
Post World War II In Paris
What was it like post World War II in Paris for Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas? The Steiny Road Poet has been talking in depth to the American writer and G.I. Christopher Blake about the year he spent as a close friend of this celebrated literary couple.
On Stein, the Beach, and Stupidity
The Steiny Road Poet has had little opportunity to get stupid this summer by sitting on the beach. A friend who read Great Books at St. Johns College of Annapolis for her undergraduate degree once told the Poet that the beach makes you stupid. It’s that “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” thing, that light’s on, nobody home state when you get happy because you have nothing on your mind.
"Dear Gertrude Stein..."
While Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris re-opened the door to Gertrude Stein in a popular way, he did so without really nailing her and he, like everyone who truly cares about the legacy of this Modernist, has missed the significance of an American G. I. named Christopher Blake, who, by the Steiny Road Poet’s recent research at Yale University’s Beinecke Library, was clearly Stein’s last protégé.
Brewsie and Willie - The Film
While Gertrude Stein broke bread and discussed theories of drama with Charlie Chaplin when she visited Los Angeles during the tail end of her 1934-35 American lecture tour, the great Modernist missed her chance to work in Hollywood. While she did not profess any great attraction to going to the movies, she had discussed with her close friend Carl Van Vechten, as reported by Diana Souhami in Gertrude and Alice, how she would have liked Hollywood to make The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas into a film with the real characters (i.e. herself and Alice for starters) acting in it. So far, no one has made a film based on this work. In fact, there are no commercial films based on any of Stein’s works.
Online and Thriving
Gertrude Stein, are you listening? Over 35,000 people worldwide are enrolled in a course on modern poetry that pivots on your work.
Stein and Rukeyser
In preparation for the first Poetry in Red Dress, a program featuring poems of Gertrude Stein, Muriel Rukeyser and four contemporary women poets—Karren LaLonde Alenier, Mary Mackey, Evelyn Posamentier, and Margo Taft Stever—the Steiny Road Poet will offer a discussion about the compatibility of Stein and Rukeyser.
Poetry In Red Dress
What happens when four writers, two from the East Coast of the United States (Karren LaLonde Alenier and Margo Taft Stever) and two from the West Coast Mary Mackey and Evelyn Posamentier), agree to unite their poetry with the purpose of showcasing Gertrude Stein and Muriel Rukeyser? Never mind that the East Coast poets had never met in person with the West Coast poets and the West Coast poets while they knew of each other had also never met.
Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas were picky about the women they considered friends. Marie Laurencin (October 31, 1883–June 8, 1956), the only woman painter in Stein’s circle of artist friends, remained a friend throughout her life with Stein (February 3, 1874—July 27, 1946) and Toklas (April 30, 1877 – March 7, 1967).
Every day in April on The Steiny Road to Operadom blog, the Steiny Road Poet celebrated National Poetry Month by selecting and reviewing a poem published Spring 2013 in the Birmingham Poetry Review volume 40. Gertrude Stein would have loved this print journal.
Of Demoiselles and Jeunes Filles
The Steiny Road Poet continues to look deeply into the work and life of the French artist Marie Laurencin, a life-long friend of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. As with most women artists, today notwithstanding, the struggle to gain recognition required a certain gamesmanship.
Off-the-Grid Garden Poetics
After World War II, Gertrude Stein told the American soldiers she met in liberated Paris that once they returned to America, they should go back to the land. She wanted them to embrace the pioneering spirit for which Americans were known. She wanted them to be free of constraints—in particular government and industry restrictions. In listening to American soldiers talk about their fears— especially that there would be no jobs once they got home, she decided to document how they spoke and what they said wrapped into her personal philosophy of pioneering.
Upon exiting Margarethe von Trotta’s film Hannah Arendt playing at an independent Washington, DC movie theater, one of few in the United States now screening this film about a controversial German-American intellectual, the Steiny Road Poet burst into a wellspring of thoughts about what Gertrude Stein said about World War II and Germans.
Call Of The Sirens
In early September 2013, the Steiny Road Poet, along with some of her best friends, had the occasion to walk past the gate of the villa where Norman Douglas in 1908 began drafting his first book Siren Land. It’s no small thing to get to this gate because it is located on a billy goat trail along the Sorrento coast. From this lofty ridge, one can see the rock islands known as Li Galli Islands and also called by the locals The Sirens. According to Greek legend, Gallo Lungo, Rotonda, and Castelletto were the homes of the sirens that tempted Odysseus as he tried to make his way home to his family.
The More You Know
Why would anyone, especially a poet actively working in the field of poetry, sign up for the Coursera MOOC Massive Open Online Course) Modern Poetry again? The Steiny Road Poet will address that question shortly but offers this background first.
Learning About Learning
Since the Steiny Road Poet caught fire over working on close readings of Gertrude Stein’ long poem Tender Buttons and enlisted the students of Al Filreis’ Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) Modern Poetry to help her do this, she has been propelled into a learning environment unlike any she has ever experienced.
Tender Buttons - 100 Years
2014 is the centennial year of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons. Xcitement among Steinians abounds. City Lights of San Francisco will be releasing (April 2014) a corrected centennial edition featuring Stein’s handwritten corrections. However, few readers of poetry know this difficult work, a set of prose poems that is a coded love poem for Stein’s life long partner Alice B. Tokals and much more.
Refusal of Time
Within a few gallery rooms of Pablo Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is William Kentridge’s installation, “The Refusal of Time.” Newly acquired October 2013 by Met Art with the San Francisco Museum of Art, Kentridge’s five-channel video exhibition brings new meaning to being in or achieving the continuous present, a concept dear to Stein’s experimental writing.
When the 25-year-old Christopher Blake learned that Gertrude Stein was dead (July 27, 1946), he was in the French Alps with the writer Kaye Boyle and her family, including his friend her son Sinbad Vail and Boyle’s daughters, at the chalet that she called Les Six Enfants. Her ex-husband Laurence Vail, Blake said, “came out of the snow to tell me that Gertrude Stein had died.” Blake said Laurence jokingly taunted him saying, “Look what you did. Cock Robin is dead.”
Tender Buttons - Corrected
Even in anything-goes Paris of 1910, Gertrude Stein clandestinely celebrated her marriage to Alice B. Toklas. By 1914, Tender Buttons, her coded love poem to the woman who would become her lifelong partner, realized print publication. With the contemporary inroads for same sex marriages, the spring release of Tender Buttons: The Corrected Centennial Edition by Gertrude Stein as edited by Seth Perlow is expected to excite readership beyond the usual academic community.
Gertrude Stein's Q.E.D., A Writer Coming Out
Q.E.D. (Quod Erat Demonstrandum) meaning, "which had to be demonstrated" and often used after mathematical constructs, was Gertrude Stein's first work. This was Stein's novel written in 1903, a very short novel but the genre to which this work is always referred, which she put in a drawer for 29 years.
A Massive Open Online Study Group Under the Microscope
On the eve of ModPo 2014, the third offering of University of Pennsylvania professor Al Filreis’ Coursera massive open online course Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (ModPo), the Steiny Road Poet is positioned to open a new ModPo study group on “Food,” section 2 of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons.
A Cabaret of "Objects"
What could be more ambitious than reading Gertrude Stein’s long enigmatic poem Tender Buttons? The Steiny Road Poet suggests that dramatizing Tender Buttons wins that prize. In October 2014, the New York City-based Van Reipen Collective under the overall direction of Gary Heidt produced “A spectacle in 3 parts.”
The Rave Of The Blurb: A Steinian Xercise
Among the tasks assigned to an author whose book is being published in the small press world is finding appropriate writers to blurb the forthcoming book. This means identifying several people—hopefully with some name recognition—who might be simpatico with the subject matter and/or style of the book and who will agree to write a pithy statement of positive points that will make a buyer want to own and read what is inside the book. And yes, blurbs occupy the back cover of a book or, if it might attain stature as a hardback, the book jacket
As You Like It Seen Through Tender Buttons
The Steiny Road Poet has experienced an epiphany about Gertrude Stein’s interest in William Shakespeare’s As You Like It. While it is no secret that Stein quoted almost a full page of this play as epigraph to her unabashed lesbian novel Q.E.D., the close connection of Tender Buttons, a work most readers say is Stein’s hardest to access, to As You Like It is a revelation.
Gertrude Stein, the Dreyfus Affaire,The Hare with Amber Eyes
At the risk of opening a hornet’s nest about Gertrude Stein’s relationship to Judaism, the Steiny Road Poet will make a few comments about the Dreyfus Affair, which ran from 1894 when Captain Alfred Dreyfus was convicted of treason to 1906 when Dreyfus was declared innocent, in relation to Stein’s hard-to-access long poem Tender Buttons. The comments occur to Steiny based on what Edmund de Waal has written in his exotic family history entitled The Hare with Amber Eyes.
Playwright David Ives is Gertrude Stein’s kind of writer. Language is his playground. Take The Metromaniacs, which he adapted from Alexis Piron’s La Métromanie, a 1738 play considered his masterpiece. In the program notes from the world premier production commissioned by Michael Kahn at Washington, DC’s Shakespeare Theatre, Ives confesses, “I’ve fiddled a good deal with Piron’s masterpiece in bringing it into English.”
Intersection of Man Ray, Rae Armantrout, Gertrude Stein
Since February 19, 2015, the Steiny Road Poet has been weighing similarities between the work of Man Ray, Rae Armantrout, and Gertrude Stein. On that date poet Rae Armantrout was invited to match her work to an unusual art exhibition by Man Ray at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC.
Poetics Theater: A Steinian Wormhole?
At the 2015 Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference and Book fair in Minneapolis, Minnesota, (April 8 through 11), the Steiny Road Poet had two missions: promote contemporary poetry by selling books published by The Word Works, Steiny’s first publisher, and find a satisfying dose of Gertrude Stein among the offerings of 2,000 presenters and 550 readings.
The Genderqueerness of Bruce Jenner & Gertrude Stein
In the wake of April 2015 super athlete/reality show dad Bruce Jenner's interview with Diane Sawyer concerning his gender reassignment from man to woman, the Steiny Road Poet has again been pondering the gender identity of Gertrude Stein. She came to her gender identity much later than Jenner and her approach to it was much more conservation than his, but nonetheless
every bit confusing.
Gertrude Stein’s Nice Story About The Atomic Bomb
With the GOP House and Senate leaders, including some Democrats, set in September to vote against President Obama’s Iran nuclear program deal and with the 70th anniversary (August 6, 1945) of dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima just passed, the Steiny Road Poet thinks it is time to review what Gertrude Stein wrote in 1946 about the atomic bomb.
In the Zone:
Was Gertrude Stein Influenced by Guillaume Apollinaire?
One aspect of Steiny’s study this year will be to look for signs of how the outside world influenced what Gertrude Stein wrote. This includes what affect the poet Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) may have had on her. Apollinaire met Pablo Picasso in 1905 and quickly became part of Picasso’s circle of artist friends. From what Stein wrote about Apollinaire in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, it was apparent Stein greatly cared about and respected the intelligence of this man.
What Heiner Goebbels Subtracted from His Theater
American theatergoers interested in the ultra experimental know about such work as Einstein on the Beach by Robert Wilson and Philip Glass, but probably not the work of German composer-director-professor Heiner Goebbels. Gertrude Stein has significantly influenced both Wilson and Goebbels.
Finding the Rich Tender in Tender Buttons
2015 marks the third year the Steiny Road Poet has been working with international students signed up for the Coursera Modern & Contemporary American Poetry (ModPo) massive open online course (MOOC), on Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons. The study takes place in the ModPo discussion forums. University of Pennsylvania professor Al Filreis, the ModPo developer, says this study group is a MOOC inside a MOOC. The depth and duration of this study is unlike anything that has ever been done before with Tender Buttons.
3D Whaling versus 4D Tender Buttons
To become intimate with the eye of a whale or experience the sight of a three-pronged harpoon flying into your face is what 3D does for you in the film In The Heart of the Sea by director Ron Howard.
Most folks are familiar with the footraces of modern day sport enthusiasts including the Marine Corps Marathon or those sponsored by cities like Boston and Chicago. The Steiny Road Poet wonders what percent of the American population knows anything about literary marathons. What got Steiny started on this subject was her virtual attendance January 9-10, 2016, of a marathon reading of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
The N-Word: Trump Versus Stein
Lately what concerns the Steiny Road Poet is racism in America.
For Steiny, two streams of thought and action have coalesced around this belief system that posits one race is superior to another and bad behavior in the form of discrimination and prejudice is acceptable. The obvious source of racism in America at this time centers on the political actions and rhetoric of Donald Trump.
Gertrude Stein Once Loved a Man: And So Did The Steiny Road Poet
From 1897 to 1901, Gertrude Stein studied medicine at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. My man Jim Rich—I, the Steiny Road Poet, was married to Jim for 17 years—died April 7, 2016, in the Cardiovascular Surgical ICU at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. This alone would not be remarkable for us as native Marylanders living on the border of Washington, DC, but Jim was also born on the fifth anniversary of Stein’s death—July 27, 1946.
A Stein Acolyte Delivers a Cautionary Tale
The writing of Gertrude Stein has influenced many fine writers including the fiction of Ernest Hemingway. In 2016 as one of The Word Works Hilary Tham Capital Collection selections, the Steiny Road Poet has had the pleasure of helping publish the cross genre work The Land Is a Painted Thing by Carrie Bennett. In the tradition of the prose poetry of Stein’s Tender Buttons, Bennett’s Painted Thing might also be characterized as flash fiction or micro fiction.
Even through passion’s mud puddle:
A new opera on Stein’s first love affair
Word gets around whenever there is a new Gertrude Stein inspired piece. This news thanks to Dr. Wanda Corn: May She/She May, an 18-minute chamber opera, by Peter Dayton premiered April 25, 2016, at the Peabody Conservatory (or Peabody Institute) of Music under the development and direction of Roger Brunyate.
Red Emma: Emma Goldman, Donald Trump & Gertrude Stein
Ever since the Steiny Road Poet had the good fortune to attend the outstanding July 8th, 2016, reading in New York City of Maxine Kern’s Red Emma, a new play about the anarchist Emma Goldman, Steiny has been asking herself why Goldman (1869-1940), a contemporary of Stein’s (1874-1946), was making Steiny think of Trump in the context of Gertrude Stein’s conservative political beliefs.
Opera and Politics - 2008 is 2016
The Steiny Road Poet has been telling her friends and colleagues lately that The Mother of Us All, Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson’s opera that premiered in 1947, seems to inform the race for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. The Poet will say up front that she believes American voters for the first time in history have two worthy choices in Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but quite frankly, the Poet is ready for a bigger change than what Senator Obama can offer — a woman leading, and an experienced leader at that.
Quotes From Gertrude Stein In This Election Season
Politicians cannot survive if they are plain spoken, meaning they are candid, outspoken, honest, truthful, unequivocal, unambiguous. Someone who strives to be president of the United States must be diplomatic, meaning he or she must avoid offending others.We have two candidates for president and the Steiny Road Poet offers that Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate for president, is a consummate politician. She has done the homework. She has served the American public in various ways. Is she always truthful? It is not a question that a politician should be asked. The better question is what good has she done for the communities served?
Reflections On The 2016 U.S. Presidential Election
From Gertrude Stein’s Faust & Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
Whatever the outcome of the 2016 United States presidential election, a majority of the people will not be happy, even those who cast winning ballots. This put the Steiny Road Poet in mind of the column she wrote in 2006 comparing Gertrude Stein’s opera-ballet Dr. Faustus Lights the Lights with Walt Disney’s musical Beauty and the Beast. In case, Dear Reader, you are not familiar with either, Steiny is talking about serious moral dilemmas that go deep into the primordial soul, dilemmas that deal with knowledge versus ignorance, beauty versus ugliness, innocence versus evil, connection versus isolation, generosity versus greed, light versus dark…. Steiny posits the pregnant question is who sold their [let’s be all inclusive on gender] soul to the devil to be in the limelight of world power—was it one of the presidential candidates or us?
So Much Racket, So Much Out Of Kilter
The Steiny Road Poet—with Gertrude Stein’s salon method of Talking and Listening in mind as well as the stunning defeat of the experienced public servant Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election by a white man remarkably unqualified to hold the office as Leader of the Free World—offers a discussion about Truth.
Given Donald Trump’s verbal agility with packing a criticizing wallop in every tweet, the Steiny Road Poet reopens her essay on critics and what critics meant to Gertrude Stein.
Happy Birthday, Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein was born on February 3, 1874. In 2017 for the occasion of Gertrude Stein’s 143rd birthday, the Steiny Road Poet offers “On To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays: Was Gertrude Stein Medievalist, Futurist or Both,” the paper Steiny wrote and presented at “Lifting Belly High: A Conference on Women’s Poetry Since 1900” held at Duquesne University (July 2008).
Resisting Versus Surviving
Now that the United States has a president intent on deconstructing democracy as we have known it, the Steiny Road Poet is learning how to resist and what action to take. First, however, she wants to make note that most people would rather avoid problems that seem too big to address.
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.
Haji as Puppet: An Orientalist Burlesque
Much talk happens in literary circles these days about cross-genre work something that Gertrude Stein did without putting a name on it. The Steiny Road Poet says this is partially why readers of Stein have trouble accessing her work.
Delivering a Successful Poetry Reading
“Any space is not quiet it is so likely to be shiny. Darkness very dark darkness is sectional. There is a way to see in onion and surely very surely rhubarb and a tomato, surely very surely there is that seeding. A little thing in is a little thing.” Tender Buttons, Gertrude Stein.
American Software: Eureka! Experimental Poetry for Everyone
American Software by Henry Crawford is a book of poems. Some of the poems—populated with copious zeros, forward slashes, greater than/less than signs or brackets—look suspiciously like computer documentation. But wait! The human condition weighs heavily in these exceptionally well-crafted poems that explore American history, pop culture, sci-fi, computers, and the author’s personal life. While this is the author’s first book of poetry and he is a computer software engineer, everything about the book—organization, layout, cover, and especially the individual poems—rises to an impressive level of mastery.
Reading the Dashes & Dabs of Sylvia Plath’s Short Life
Who knew that Sylvia Plath had a connection to Gertrude Stein? “One Life: Sylvia Plath,” the intense exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery of Washington, DC running through May 20, 2018 sports a copy of Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas that is annotated with an almost self-portrait of Sylvia Plath.
Ode to the California Typewriter
Gertrude Stein loved her typewriter. Her name was Alice B. Toklas. Toklas, a native of San Francisco, had been trained as a concert pianist so finger skills were her specialty. After writing Three Lives by hand, Stein tried to type her set of three stories on her “wretched little portable,” but, as she continued in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, typing made her nervous. Stein had a typewriter before Alice—Etta Cone who typed Three Lives. For Alice, Stein purchased a Smith Premier typewriter that had a double keyboard, one exclusively for capital letters.
A Window on How Writing Is Written
In Gertrude Stein’s 1935 lecture “How Writing Is Written,” she laid out the tenets of how to write successfully in one’s own timeframe. For her timeframe, this meant no reliance on the past and capturing the movement of the present moment. In the Twentieth Century, she said audience was interested in existence and not events. She also said she was not using repetition in the conventional sense because exact repetition bores everyone. Her approach was cinematic.
Gertrude Stein: Meet Frankenstein
The Steiny Road Poet wants to introduce you to another Stein—Frankenstein. Like the adult Gertrude Stein who was nicknamed Baby Woojams, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein was a big baby. When this creature was created by the young man Victor Frankenstein, he had no language skills and no knowledge of the world. So, hold on to this thought—in today’s political climate, we have two big scary babies as world leaders who have their fingers on nuclear weapons.
Fury and Fire and Fury
Who is remembered for intellectual contribution—Gertrude Stein or her brother Leo? In the quote from Stein’s ground-breaking novel The Making of Americans, she allows that everyone is given some leeway relative to being labeled stupid. The question in our time is does that leeway apply to people like reality show personalities.
A Space Between
When the Steiny Road Poet heard from a Steinian friend that on February 11, 2018 at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center “a space between,” a new work by Andrea Clearfield based on texts by Gertrude Stein would be performed, she hit the internet to confirm.? OK, Steiny’s prejudice is showing (pun intended).
All She Must Possess
Playwright Susan McCully lives two blocks from the Baltimore Museum of Art where the art collection of Etta and Claribel Cone hangs. McCully said in an interview conducted by the Steiny Road Poet on March 2, 2018, that her discovery that Etta had had an intimate relationship with Gertrude Stein made her want to write the play All She Must Possess.
Candy Porn: Gertrude Stein & the State of the Union
The Steiny Road Poet, a.k.a. Karren Alenier, is shamelessly pleased to announce that she got one of her political poems published. She accomplished this with Gertrude Stein’s help.
Gertrude Stein & Laughter Yoga
Gertrude Stein was known for her deep belly laughs, something a proper lady does not do. Also Stein was playful like a child. Her partner Alice Toklas and their friend Carl Van Vechten nicknamed the great Modernist Baby.
On June 12, 2018, at The Washington Post, the Steiny Road Poet saw a screening of Blindspotting, an independent, low-budget film by actors Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal. Set in Gertrude Stein’s home town of Oakland, California, the film, ten years in the making, is a cross genre work that settles neither as comedy nor tragedy but clearly belongs to the world of poetry, specifically rap.
On the Steiny Road
A Greek Reading Fest
Gertrude Stein was a prolific reader. After she quit Johns Hopkins medical school, she took up a seat at the British Museum and read every novel in their collection. She was learning how to write a novel that would exceed everything that had already been published—The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family’s Progress.
Greek Murder Mysteries
Written by the American Jeffrey Siger
To get through a terribly hot summer where both the climate and the politics in Washington have been abnormally unpleasant, the Steiny Road Poet turned to reading every novel in Jeffrey Siger’s mystery series about Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis, a Greek crime buster. Prior to her summer trip to Athens and the islands of Santorini and Amorgos, Steiny discovered Siger’s work when she looked for books set in Greece.
DC Via a Literary Guide
It’s not often that a literary history comes alive by inviting the reader to walk around and experience where prominent writers wrote. Such is Kim Robert’s A Literary Guide to Washington, DC published in 2018 by the University of Virginia Press. The sub-title of this guide further defines the scope of Robert’s work—Walking in the Footsteps of American Writers from Francis Scott Key to Zora Neale Hurston.
Stein and Whitman
Gertrude Stein had a special place in her literary heart for Walt Whitman. She showed her appreciation in her long poem Tender Buttons, where she obliquely pointed (never alluded) to Whitman’s Abraham Lincoln elegy “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.”
Divas: Maria Callas with a dash of Gertrude Stein
Recently, the Steiny Road Poet had the pleasure of seeing the Tom Volf film Maria by Callas: In Her Own Words.
First, let’s define diva.
What is Conceptual Art?
The question arose for the Steiny Road Poet when friends took her to see Part I of Bruce Nauman’s Disappearing Acts at the MOMA in New York (Oct 21, 2018 - Feb 25, 2019). Part II is in the MOMA PS1 in Queens. It’s a huge retrospective of Nauman’s art but most of it is tucked away in the less visited MOMA Queens location giving weight to the curatorial title Disappearing Acts.
DJ Spooky’s Take on Race in the 21st Century
On February 12, 2019, the Steiny Road Poet, wanting to understand more about the blackface mess involving Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, attended a lecture by Paul D. Miller a.k.a. DJ Spooky. She left with her hair on fire because the DJ thoroughly remixed so much of what she knew into a thunderstorm of new ideas.
A Carafe, That Is a Blind Glass
A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The difference is spreading. ( from Tender Buttons, “Objects” by Gertrude Stein)
Reinventing the Wheel:
The Tradition of Innovation in Poetry
The Steiny Road Poet always tells the people around her that April is her busiest month. April being National Poetry Month in the United States since the Academy of American Poets organized this celebration in 1996. However, the celebration for Steiny usually starts in March when the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) holds its annual conference and book fair.
The Statesmanship of Being Poet Laureate
Since 1937, the United States Librarian of Congress has appointed a poet to tend the fires of poetry for the American people. The national program was started by Archibald MacLeish when he was Librarian of Congress. From 1937 to 1986, the title was Consultant in Poetry. Thirty poets from Joseph Auslander to Gwendolyn Brooks held that title. From 1986 to the present, the title is Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. So far, 22 from Robert Penn Warren to Tracy K. Smith have held that title. However, what most people, including poets, don’t know is that the field of poet laureates is growing. Poet laureates can be representing states, counties, and towns in the US.
Votes for Women
Much has been made of Susan B. Anthony’s role in the fight for women’s suffrage in the United States. Gertrude Stein’s second opera with Virgil Thompson The Mother of Us All followed the history of Anthony’s role in that fight and how she—Anthony (1820-1906)—died before ratification in 1920.
The Pieces I Am
What comes to mind for the Steiny Road Poet after seeing the two-hour documentary film Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am is what a role model Morrison is for any writer, any woman, any African American.
Anyone who cares about the current political situation in the United States of America is thinking about racism and how it affects the self, the groups we are part of, and the country we live in, whether that country is the USA or not. For a small bite of context, the Steiny Road Poet offers a selected list of books published in 2019 on this topic.
What the Constitution Means to Me
What the Constitution Means to Me (seen September 13, 2019 at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater) reminded the Steiny Road Poet of the long-standing fascination with stories about exceptionally smart children who win spelling bees, such as the musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The explosive energy of an idealist and innocent child is what ignites both of these theater pieces. While the differences are many, the take away from What the Constitution Means to Me is huge. Without mentioning the name of the United States 45th president, Heidi Schreck, walking out on stage first as the playwright, established that the content of this play is in reaction to what is going on politically in the US.
Kaminsky, Harjo, Kingfish: Three Giants Of Sound
Within five days in the month of September 2019, the Steiny Road Poet experienced three different artistic giants: September 18 poet Ilya Kaminsky reading from his book Deaf Republic, September 19 poet musician Joy Harjo performing with her band by playing her alto saxophone and recorder flute as well as reciting her poetry, and September 22 Christone “Kingfish” Ingram delivering his original music and words wrapped in the sonic influence of B.B. King and Jimi Hendrix.
The Poetics of Political Diatribe
Back in 2017, the Steiny Road Poet (a.k.a Karren Alenier) vented her distaste about what was happening in the United States government by writing a short series of poems that combined two forms—the acrostic and some other form like sonnet, pantoum, or one she invented. She only half heartedly sent them out—in fact, each of the four poems featured in this essay were sent to only two publishers.
Are Pillars of Salt Coming to the Land of Justice for All
In the summer of 2016 after James Comey announced that he would be investigating Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump said he would welcome help from the Russians in finding Clinton’s emails, the Steiny Road Poet had dinner with two new friends. What we three had in common was an acute sense of loss—we each had lost our spouses within the last year and we were worried that Clinton would lose to one of the most unlikely Republican nominees ever advanced by the GOP. In the dusky light of the quiet restaurant we were enjoying, we three pledged that if Trump won, we would have to leave the United States. Yes, move to another country. Even then, we believed that our democracy would be endangered by this disreputable businessman who had made himself a vindictive tv celebrity.
Love’s Old Sweet Song: The Power of Musical Seduction
One might say, music (and poetry) puts us in touch with our feelings and disengages us from logic. Some people consider music, especially pop music, a bad influence that might cause the listener to break with the dogma of his or her family’s belief system relative to whom one might be sexually attracted.
Addressing Trauma through Genocide and Holocaust in Lithuania
Like Gertrude Stein, Myra Sklarew began her adult life as a scientist and then became deeply entrenched as a poet and writer. Cover-Survivor-crA Survivor Named Trauma: Holocaust Memory in Lithuania is Sklarew’s new book that circles back to her scientific origins without diminishing her career in poetry and literature.
Poetry in the Time of a Novel Virus
The Steiny Road Poet admits her sadness over withdrawing The Word Works, a predominately poetry press, from the AWP Book Fair, which ran in San Antonio, Texas, March 4 through 7, 2020. All that poet-poetry love. Yes—embracing, handshaking and book handling didn’t happen this year.
Poetry on Stage: Good for the Immune System
Years ago when the Steiny Road Poet was working in New York City with Nancy Rhodes and her Encompass New Opera Theatre to mount Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On, someone asked her if she would like to be on stage with the opera singers. NO, she answered as if she had been punched in the gut.
Dead Shark On The N Train
According to articles in major American newspapers and findings in psychological studies, women, more than men, love murder mysteries. The gathered wisdom is that, like the attraction to fairy tales, reading murder mysteries provides a way for women to work out their fears about death and violence, often at the hands of men. As the Steiny Road Poet has said before, Gertrude Stein loved reading murder mysteries and wrote Blood on the Dining Room floor in 1933 when she was confronting her fears about writer’s block. For writers, writing is what keeps them alive.
A Little Called Pauline
In 1934, Margaret Wise Brown (author of Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny) asked Gertrude Stein if she would write children’s books for Young Scott Books. Brown came up with the idea to ask famous writers if they would do this and was turned down by Hemingway and Steinbeck. Stein said she would do it and, in fact, she had a manuscript that was almost ready for consideration—The World Is Round. This book was a success and it was illustrated by Clement Hurd, who had done the artwork for Brown’s two well received books.
Discovery—Poetry from a Brain Expert
If Gertrude Stein were studying medicine in the 21st century, the Steiny Road Poet believes she might have deeply appreciated the accomplishments of Don Krieger, a biomedical researcher who served 18 years as a clinical neurophysiologist for high-risk surgical procedures (Steiny said, “oh, so you were an advocate for the brain and spine” and he smiled broadly and nodded yes in a Zoom meeting July 9, 2020). In July 2020, he published for the first time a full-length book of poetry.
When a loved one dies before his or her time, the loss is deeper, and the grief is longer lasting. Leslie McGrath, author of five poetry collections including Feminists Are Passing from Our Lives (Washington, DC: The Word Works, 2018), was unafraid of discussing death.
pennydreadful of a great nation
onceuponatime a businessman who believed he had big hands and a bigger head came to power in a great nation his campaign slogan proclaimed make [that nation] win again he promised to build a southernwall against invading rapistsofcolor he promised to pulltheplug on the political cesspool.
Learning to Speak Cow
Just about now, we need as much love and close contact as we can get. But wait! We are still in the middle of a pandemic and for safety there is no touching. But here to the rescue is a new type of animal therapy—cow hugging. Well, not so new. The Dutch who call it koe knufflelen have been doing it for more than 14 years.
By Broad Potomac's Shore
Poetry and its history in Washington, DC are bringing attention to the hard truth that the Nation’s Capital is nothing more than a territory with no voting rights, that Black lives matter, and that women’s voices have always been consequential though not necessarily heard. How so, asks the Steiny Road Poet?
News of the Living
Perspective on why Black lives matter, why human lives matter, why coronavirus has changed how we receive the energy called life is what Mervyn Taylor delivers in his 29 poems called News of the Living: Corona Poems from Broadstone Books. Remarkably, the Steiny Road Poet says initially scratching her head, Taylor dives in deep without shouting or setting fires. While there is the occasional parade from his Trinidadian culture, his approach is understated, sober, practical.
Defining Trumpian Theater
The Steiny Road Poet has been wracking her brain to process the last four years under Donald Trump and why Trump’s desperate measures to overturn Joe Biden’s presidential win made her think of Richard Wagner’s opera Götterdämmerung. The word Götterdämmerung means a collapse (as of a society or regime) marked by catastrophic violence and disorder. It can also be understood as a downfall of the gods. Since Trump has happily accepted the mantle of Messiah from his conspiracy-theory-loving followers, downfall of the gods seems to be the right pigeon hole at this time.
Oath of Office in Concert with a Life
Defining Trumpian Theater
I, Karren LaLonde Alenier, do solemnly swear
I Karren newly named Alenier, having married
my high school prom date
that I will support
our plan was I would support
my spouse while he got his MBA
that I would defend this plan which also allowed me
time and money to get a graduate degree
the Constitution of the United States
Collaboration: Trust and a Shared Vision
We have thankfully arrived in a time where we know we must pull together to overcome the life and death edge of health and wellbeing. All of us in the performing arts world are waking up with new energy, that our theater arts can again flourish.
What should a poet reading his or her work aloud sound like?
The Steiny Road Poet belongs to a discussion group that reads poetry and which Steiny calls the Poetry Think Tank. It's an independent offshoot of Al Filreis' ModPo MOOC (Modern & Contemporary American Poetry massive open online course sponsored by Coursera). The klatch, if Steiny dares call the group that, usually meets every Saturday morning and since Covid, it has been on Zoom. We number around ten people and most of the group are not poets, just ardent readers of poetry with interesting life experiences and thought-provoking comments.
The Mystery of How Stein Avoided the Spanish Flu
The Steiny Road Poet notes that Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) made it through World War I without injury even though she was driving medical supplies in France to soldiers. However, she also did not contract the 1918 Spanish Flu which killed up to 50 million people worldwide and infected about 500 million (one-third of world population).
The Making of Jewish Modernism
Most people who know of Gertrude Stein know she came from a Jewish background. Few understand that her work is infused with Jewish belief and practice.
Through the Lens of Childhood
When does the emotional storm of feeling begin? At birth as the child emerges from the warm hatchery of the womb? Through books she has been reading this summer, the Steiny Road Poet has been thinking about how one’s childhood connects to feeling.
September 12, A Love Story
In September 2001, Andrea Carter Brown lived a block from the twin towers of the World Trade Center. She could see them out her apartment window. The morning of the attack, she was reading the newspaper when the phone rang. Her sister Deborah in North Carolina asked if she was OK.
Welcome to the Hotel Montparnasse
Hotel Montparnasse: Letters to César Vallejo by John Bradley is bewildering in the way George Saunders Lincoln in the Bardo is with its cast of dead people interacting and discussing historic details. The Steiny Road Poet asks: is Hotel Montparnasse a book of poetry masquerading as correspondence written on hotel stationery? Given its extensive anachronistic list of “Residents of Hotel Montparnasse (During the Period Vallejo Was a Guest)”, maybe Steiny should ask if this is a play. Or, since the letters are presented in Chapters 1 through 7, should Steiny be asking if this is a novel?
Appreciating Tender Buttons
How does one appreciate Tender Buttons, Gertrude Stein’s most mysterious work? Is appreciation the same thing as understanding? The Steiny Road Poet (a.k.a. Karren Alenier) and her publisher The Word Works has announced a trio of books forthcoming in 2022 through 2024 that will help readers curious about Tender Buttons gain access to what seems to be Stein’s most impenetrable work.
West Side Story
The big questions about the film remake of West Side Story are: how does it compare to the original 1961 film and what makes the new version worthy of two hours and thirty-six minutes of your time? The Steiny Road Poet saw the remake shortly after it opened in theaters in the US and then several days later watched the 1961 film.
The Difference Is Spreading!
Since 2012, University of Pennsylvania professor Al Filreis has been making a difference in teaching and leading notably the uninitiated as well as the experienced poet into the world of poetry and, more specifically, modern and contemporary poetry. His massive open online course (MOOC) from Coursera officially known as Modern & Contemporary American Poetry is affectionally called ModPo.
The Little Box Theater
The Steiny Road Poet asks, What do you do with secrets and other topics you can’t talk about? Poets solve that problem by using coded language. Henry Crawford rachets up coded language several notches by putting his words and phrases into brackets, which he calls little boxes.
The Stories We Tell About Slavery & Racism
For many years, the Steiny Road Poet taught a poetry workshop in the Arlington, Virginia elementary schools that she called “Virginia History as Subject for Poetry.” In that workshop, Steiny discussed Thomas Jefferson and Langston Hughes’ poem “Freedom’s Plow.” The course which reached many fourth and fifth graders was very popular because the students knew a lot about Jefferson and many of the students had visited Jefferson’s home Monticello.
The End Of Horses, The End Of Our Planet…And Us
In the title poem of her new book, The End of Horses, Margo Stever begins “I write to you from the end/ of the time zone.” This led the Steiny Road Poet to ask her in a Zoom interview conducted April 1, 2022, if she would call this poem an ars poetica, a poem that meditates on the art of writing poetry.
The Skinny at the KGB Bar
On April 25th, 2022, the Steiny Road Poet read in the renown Monday Night Poetry Series at the KGB Bar of the East Village in New York City. This was a reading for five Broadstone Books authors—Susana Case, Myra Malkin, Margo Stever, Mervyn Taylor, and Steiny
(a.k.a. Karren Alenier).
Beyond the Nobel: Nelly Sachs and Her Soaring Modernism
In Flight and Metamorphosis by Nobel Prize winning poet Nelly Sachs, a stunning German to English translation by Joshua Weiner with Linda Parshall, the reader enters a universe of displacement, disruption, and disorientation.
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