Last summer I read Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife.* The story of Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway’s first spouse, the book achingly depicts the couple’s struggle to maintain their marriage in Paris during the Jazz Age, surrounded by a new morality–or lack of it–and socializing with the likes of Ezra Pound, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein.
While The Great Gatsby was on my required reading lists, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas was not. In fact, I was woefully ignorant of Gertrude Stein’s work.
So I found it timely when recently one of her poems appeared in my Inbox. Here it is:
Tender Buttons (Suppose An Eyes)
Suppose it is within a gate which open is open at the hour of closing summer that is to say it is so.
All the seats are needing blackening. A white dress is in sign. A soldier a real soldier has a worn lace a worn lace of different sizes that is to say if he can read, if he can read he is a size to show shutting up twenty-four.
Go red go red, laugh white.
Suppose a collapse in rubbed purr, in rubbed purr get.
Little sales ladies little sales ladies little saddles of mutton.
Little sales of leather and such beautiful beautiful, beautiful beautiful.
I read it once. Twice. Yes, a third time. I’m going to just spit it out: I didn’t get it.
What was wrong with me? Why didn’t I perceive this Lost Generation legend as the literary giant she is? I held a minority opinion about an icon. What retaliation from the scholarly elite might result if my lone voice cried out in dissent?
Then I remembered. I had Google at my disposal. Perhaps I would find a kindred spirit, equally unenlightened and, dare I say it, equally disdainful.
I did, in Guy Bergstrom’s 2011 post on his blog, The Red Pen of Doom, titled “Gertrude Stein is a literary TRAIN WRECK.”
A quick quote, because I can’t resist: “The worst rapper on the planet is better than this. At least I know what he’s talking about, it rhymes and you can dance to it.”
You can read the piece in its entirety here: http://redpenofdoom.com/2011/12/11/gertrude-stein-is-a-literary-train-wreck/.
Comments from both camps welcome. Especially if you are a Stein supporter, do write and explain yourself. Please.
*Published February 27, 2011 by Ballantine Books.