I convinced the Poetry Foundation to send me a poem every day–okay, fine, I’m not special, they’ll do it for anyone who goes to their website and signs up. Sometimes the poems they send are really dreary and sometimes they’re breath-catchingly amazing, because that’s how poetry works. They’re all different from each other because that’s how poetry works too. Some of them skip along rhyming and some of them wouldn’t be caught dead rhyming and some of them are about momentous matters of profound philosophy and some of them are about dogs digging up bones, or something. So far so good.
Then there’s Gertrude Stein. Tell me where she came from. I don’t think she paid a single ounce of attention to anything anyone else had ever said or done about poetry, ever, in the history of the world. She just amused herself tossing the language in the air like flashing juggling clubs and keeping it up more or less indefinitely. She just took out her language-knitting apparatus every morning and knitted up something that fitted her perfectly and would have caused riots if she’d worn it on the streets of Paris. She just got out all the pots and pans and rummaged through the pantry and started throwing together foodstuffs that sounded to her like a great combination but which no one else, I’m saying no one else, would have considered eating together or cooking in the same pot. It’s a metaphor. Go with it.
Did Gertrude Stein care about your opinion of her poetry? It is to laugh. Gertrude Stein was a genius. Gertrude Stein was a three-year-old child. Go read “Susie Asado,” then come right back here and tell me you don’t think Gertrude Stein was a very good poet and I’ll punch you right in the nose and then I’ll go make mud pies with Gertrude Stein.
Gertrude Stein is who I always think about when people start whining that a poem isn’t any good because they don’t understand it, it doesn’t make sense, what does it MEAN? Excuse me? Go read your vacuum cleaner manual if it’s so important to you to comprehend with perfect clarity the literal meaning of a text. Seriously. Being perfectly comprehensible at first glance is about the forty-ninth most important thing you can do with poetry. Being comprehensible at all is not at all a hindrance to a poem’s being great and good. Poetry is music. What does music mean? Does it have to mean anything? Don’t get me started. You really don’t want to get me started on a cold night in February. Not when I’ve been losing at poker to Gertrude Stein.
he saddles the escarpment, scraping
free of the subtle slabs of nowhere, neat,
knocking up the nightlark’s notions,
reads the wrenched rhythm into never
an umbrella abomination
an umbrella (mushroom,
really, but who cares at midnight) —
underneath it my heart
sauteed until tender, limp
with excess surface area,
surfaces with dolphins
when they surface, lies with lions
when they lie, doesn’t tell
a soul when it starts hurting,
doesn’t hand over the lost keys
to the doomed driver.
Whatever you dream the opposite.