Gertrude Stein – A Bold Experimenter

“Writing and reading is to me synonymous with existing.”

Gertrude Stein

Paris

If I was ever asked who I would like to spend an afternoon with, I would choose Gertrude Stein.   After all, she lived in Paris surrounded by all that she loved best – art, music, poetry, food and wine.   Her residence at the salon, 27 rue de Fleurus on the Left Bank, was a gathering place for the “new moderns,” the talented young artists who would help define the idea of modernism in literature and art.  Imagine what it would be like to experience the conversations of Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Claribel & Etta Cone,  James Joyce, Thornton Wilder, in the formative stages of the modernist movement.   Her salon was indeed “A Moveable Feast” just as Ernest Hemingway described.

Gertrude Stein had very little use for the narrative, linear and time-orientated conventions of 19th century literature.   A self-proclaimed genius, she preferred to experiment in her writing.   Her poetry is not easy to read or understand, but there is drama, wit and boldness in her choice of words.  Many believe that she was creating portraits with words, much like Picasso was with paints.

To celebrate National Poetry Month, I chose Christian Bérard which is focused on food and eating.  I confess, it is easy to stumble over the words, but I found the more I read this poem aloud, the more I appreciated the nuances.  Since I have not included the full poem, I would encourage you to explore it at Poetry Foundation, an excellent resource for poetry.

Christian Bérard

By Gertrude Stein

Eating is her subject.

       While eating is her subject.

       Where eating is her subject. Continue reading

A Day for Shakespeare – April 23, 2014

 

“Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” 
William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

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Today is National Shakespeare Day.  There is a great deal being said about his brilliance, his writing style and theatrical beginnings.  Some include a timeline from birth to his death, which incidentally occurred on the same day –  April 23rd – fifty-two years apart.    It has been 450 years since his birth and still we talk about him.  Why?

Because he was a storyteller!

Shakespeare gave us stories that resonate within the human heart, advising that “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.”   His words bridge the centuries with verse that draws on a range of human emotions, reminding us that each of us has a part to play.

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

William Shakespeare, As You Like It

Shakespeare may be a household word, but most of us remember him from school days, when we were required to read one of his plays, knowing that we would be asked to regurgitate someone’s idea of what the play was all about.  For many, this was a painful process, especially since a grade was attached to these assignments.   I wonder what Shakespeare would think of this practice?

Several years ago, I went back to Shakespeare when I read Peter Ackroyd’s “Shakespeare: The Biography” which was published in 2006.   I chose this book specifically because Peter Ackroyd is a self-proclaimed enthusiast instead of an expert on Shakespeare.  I was more interested in William Shakespeare as a flesh and blood person, rather than a distant, inaccessible genius.  I was not disappointed.   Peter Ackroyd transported me to the time of Elizabeth I, where drama, intrigue and schemes flourished.  William Shakespeare’s years were filled with humour, joy, tragedy and love.  A life well lived.

“All’s well if all ends well.” 

 William Shakespeare

The Month for Poetry

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote

The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote

And bathed every veyne in swich licour….

Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,

 Geoffrey Chaucer, Prologue to the Canterbury Tales

Ferries

It all started in 1995 when the Academy of American Poets brought together a group of publishers, booksellers, librarians, literary organizations, poets and teachers.  This was no ordinary conference!  The participants had one objective, to organize a month-long commemoration of poetry.   They designated April 1996 as the inaugural celebration of National Poetry Month.     Geoffrey Chaucer would be proud!  After all, April is the time for pilgrimages.  In my experience, this embodies the essence of poetry.  Poems thrust us into a remarkable journey that demands are complete involvement.

Last year, OTR Poetry Reading Program 2013 selected, “The Voice of the Poet – Five American Women” which brings together the brilliant voices of Gertrude Stein, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Louise Bogan and Muriel Rukeyser.   To celebrate this month of poetry, I want to highlight these five American Women who used poetry to define their lives and challenged us to do the same.

Edna St. Vincent Millay was a free spirit known for her bohemian lifestyle.  Her background in theatre added a dramatic flare to her poetry readings.  Recuerdo, which in Spanish means memory, is a testament to living generously, without reservation, without regret.

Reading poetry speaks to the heart.  Listening to poetry sings to the soul.

Recuerdo

Edna St. Vincent Millay

We were very tired, we were very merry—

We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.

It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable—

But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,

We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;

And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon. Continue reading