Alice B. Toklas

Paris

Paris

To be clear, I love all books, which must be understood before you read my next sentence:

Over the past few years, my enjoyment of fiction has been overtaken by my greater enthusiasm for non-fiction.  This may be a bold statement, to be sure, but if you ever read, “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas,” written by none other than Gertrude Stein, you may agree that my non-fiction preference has a certain appeal.

I have reached the 10% mark given by the Kindle App, and already I sense that I’ve been transported to the Paris of the early 1900’s.  I am in the home of Gertrude Stein for an evening meal.  The Picassos have not made their entrance, which is unusual given Pablo’s obsession for punctuality.  It is not until we have finished the first course that we hear the sound of a bell.

“Pablo and Fernande as everybody called them at that time walked in. He, small, quick moving but not restless, his eyes having a strange faculty of opening wide and drinking in what he wished to see.  He had the isolation and movement of the head of a bull-fighter and at the head of their procession.  Fernande was a tall beautiful woman with a wonderful big hat and a very evidently new dress, they were both very fussed.” Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

The evening is filled with scintillating discussions and brilliant personalities.  I see it all through Alice’s eyes, experiencing her amazement as the procession of artists come through the door.

“They were always there all sizes and shapes, all degrees of wealth and poverty, some very charming, some simply rough and every now and then a very beautiful young peasant.” Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

On a Paris Bridge

On a Paris Bridge

Gertrude Stein has a way of prompting controversy.  Some would say that this book was merely a venue to highlight her personal “genius,” while others would consider it a charming view of the Parisian bohemian scene.   What I appreciate most is that Gertrude Stein has given me an insight into a community that changed the art world.

“A masterpiece… may be unwelcome but it is never dull.” Gertrude Stein

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

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

Gertrude Stein

“I think the reason I am important is that I know everything.”

Gertrude Stein 

Flower Shop

On The Road Poetry Program 2013 has chosen the book “The Voice of the Poet – Five American Women” as a poetry guide for the first quarter of the year.  Reading poetry speaks to the heart.  Listening to poetry sings to the soul.  “Five American Women” is an extraordinary audio book that highlights the poetry of Gertrude Stein, HD, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Louise Bogan and Muriel Rukeyser.

Tender Buttons [Milk]
by Gertrude Stein

A white egg and a colored pan and a cabbage

   showing settlement, a constant increase.

A cold in a nose, a single cold nose makes an excuse.

   Two are more necessary.

All the goods are stolen, all the blisters are in the cup.

Cooking, cooking is the recognition between sudden

   and nearly sudden very little and all large holes.

A real pint, one that is open and closed and in the

   middle is so bad.

Tender colds, seen eye holders, all work, the best of

   change, the meaning, the dark red, all this and

   bitten, really bitten.

Guessing again and golfing again and the best men,

   the very best men

Note: Tender Buttons is a collection of Gertrude Stein’s poetry that spoke about everyday objects and uncomplicated events such as shopping eating, talking.  She brought together the ordinary experiences with extraordinary new grammar.