Saturday, October 05, 2013

ModPo 2013 #25: Astonishing Wounds: On Steins' "Water Raining." and "Malachite."

Gertrude Stein. From Tender Buttons.

Meadow in Giverny by Monet from

Water astonishing and difficult altogether makes a meadow and a stroke. 

Image of malachite from
The sudden spoon is the same in no size. The sudden spoon is the wound in the decision.


"Water Raining" was more enjoyable for me. "Astonishing" associated with water was really powerful. I liked the video discussion which brought about the association of the poem with painting, impressionist painting in particular. Language is astonishing, beautiful and can be, at the same time, difficult. It composes both the meadow and the strokes, each element of the meadow. The word "stroke" here could mean both the brush stroke and the stroke of a pen. I love how that all go together in just one line. "Water raining" implies that water is not static, water is in motion in the poem and each drop composes the stream that arises from the raining. In an impressionist painting, the painter leaves the brush stroke recognizable (ordinary, a dot or a smudge) but when taken in context of the whole, the painting astonishes. Very similar to what Stein has done: leaving the ordinary word, "water" on the page, making the reader see it in astonishment as something new due to the associations she imbues it with. 

Malachite was a little bit more difficult. After seeing pictures of how malachite actually looks, it's not difficult to associate it with the rounded spoon. In the video discussion, it helped that "sudden" was associated with a certain kind of seeing. When you see something suddenly, it is just an impression, it can become unfamiliar. The spoon, here, is ordinary but sudden, and therefore seen in a new light. I would never have associated "the wound" and the "decision" to choices one makes in language...rendering something as particular is creating a wound in the general, the universal. So, I'm glad I that I got that benefit from the video discussion. 

Taken together, I see Tender Buttons as astonishing wounds. It takes ordinary objects and puts them together in unfamiliar, astonishing ways. And each defamiliariziation is a wound to me, as a reader. Not necessarily in a bad light. It forces me away from what I am used to doing. It forces me to confront language, to find references and associations that challenge me (and alienates me, sometimes). These "wounds" need to be tended to so that I, as a reader, can find think poem whole again. 

Was it worth the effort? These were only two lines but it took tremendous effort. I am, of course, the richer. I take back with me water, astonishment, meadows broken down into strokes and reassembled as a meadow, green stone in the shape of stacked spoons and the wound between the two. I collaborative discussion really helps in taking up Stein's poems because they are rooted in breaking down language. Language is a communal property, it takes many points of view and many associations to really thresh out all the nuances. What would be interesting is to take multicultural perspectives as well. How would these poems stand in Africa, Asia where water and spoons have different contexts? That would be exciting. 

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