Encountering Gertrude Stein

“Not all love affairs are carnal; some can rest on the weight of the meditation each person inspires in the other.”

– Norman Mailer, writing about Picasso and Gertrude Stein

When you’re on the art trail, and you hit Paris in the early 20th century, whether you’re after the painters or the poets or the fiction writers, you eventually and inevitably run smack into Gertrude Stein.

Next week in my poetry course , after a week with Williams and other imagists, we’re going right to the heart of the matter. Stein. Her poetry. My first time reading her. After reading so much about her.

(Not entirely true: I tried with The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas but couldn’t make it through; The book is either a joke or one of the most conceited works ever written in the English language. Maybe both?)

It’s fun, having read Mailer’s book on Pablo Picasso’s early life, considering Picasso’s relationship with Stein. Here are two immensely talented and influential individuals. They may not even like each other. But they certainly respect the hell out of each other. And I’ve always been fascinated by that dynamic: When you don’t like someone but you do respect them, there’s a possibility for greatness to emerge.

The opposite, a relationship between people who like but do not respect each other, might as well be the dictionary definition for ‘banal’, don’t you think?

Three Courses, Three Rubrics

I’m enrolled in three courses this fall through Coursera. Coursera is a MOOC system with a twist: The courses offered are by professors from Stanford and Ivy League schools. To me, it’s a big step in education when the highest quality in the world is accessible to anyone, anywhere, free.

For my classes, I chose a business course on Gameification, a mathematics course on Bayesian methods and models, and a survey course of modern poetry.

Each of the classes has its own grading parameters, and it’s interesting coming from a Business and Computer Science background myself (at least as far as formal education goes) to see how the branches of education score their students:

  • In the arts, we are rewarded for having an idea and defending it well.
  • In business school, we are rewarded for having a good idea and presenting it well.
  • In math class, we are rewarded for having the right answer and having arrived at it using the proper methodology.

All three of which seem valid and appropriate to me. So much time is spent arguing about the differences between the arts and the sciences. To me, I just wish I had spent more time in school studying the arts. I think the exposure not only to artistic ideas but also to the artistic rubric should be helpful to anyone learning to write code, manage people, or run a business.

While The Gettin’s Good

“I never benefited much from a move if I did not get in at somewhere near the beginning of the move. And the reason is that I missed the backlog of profit which is very necessary to provide the courage and patience to sit thourgh a move until the end comes – and to stay through any minor reactions or rallies which were bound to occur from time to time before the movement had completed its course.”

203. Free Dirt

William Carlos Williams On Suburban Life


If I when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,–
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
“I am lonely, lonely.
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!”
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
again the yellow drawn shades,–

Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?

poem by William Carlos Williams

Late Summer

“Meditation is not just a rest or retreat from the turmoil of the stream or the impurity of the world. It is a way of being the stream, so that one can be at home in both the white water and the eddies. Meditation may take one out of the world, but it also puts one totally into it. Poems are a bit like this too. The experience of a poem gives both distance and involvement: one is closer and farther at the same time.”
– Gary Snyder

237. Suntember


230. August's Pumpkins


220. Summer