inside gertrude stein

inside gertrude stein
by Lynn Emanuel

Right now as I am talking to you and as you are being talked
to, without letup, it is becoming clear that gertrude stein has
hijacked me and that this feeling that you are having now as
you read this, that this is what it feels like to be inside
gertrude stein. This is what it feels like to be a huge type–
writer in a dress. Yes, I feel we have gotten inside gertrude
stein, and of course it is dark inside the enormous gertrude, it
is like being locked up in a refrigerator lit only by a smiling
rind of cheese. Being inside gertrude is like being inside a
monument made of a cloud which is always moving across
the sky which is also always moving. Gertrude is a huge gal-
leon of cloud anchored to the ground by one small tether, yes,
I see it down there, do you see that tiny snail glued to the
tackboard of the landscape? That is alice. So, I am inside
gertrude; we belong to each other, she and I, and it is so won-
derful because I have always been a thin woman inside of
whom a big woman is screaming to get out, and she’s out
now and if a river could type this is how it would sound, pure
and complicated and enormous. Now we are lilting across the
countryside, and we are talking, and if the wind could type it
would sound like this, ongoing and repetitious, abstracting
and stylizing everything, like our famous haircut painted by
Picasso. Because when you are inside our haircut you under-
stand that all the flotsam and jetsam of hairdo have been
cleared away (like the forests from the New World) so that the
skull can show through grinning and feasting on the alarm it
has created. I am now, alarmingly, inside gertrude’s head and I
am thinking that I may only be a thought she has had when
she imagined that she and alice were dead and gone and
someone had to carry on the work of being gertrude stein, and
so I am receiving, from beyond the grave, radioactive isotopes
of her genius saying, take up my work, become gertrude stein.

Because someone must be gertrude stein, someone must save
us from the literalists and realists, and narratives of the
beginning and end, someone must be a river that can type.
And why not I? Gertrude is insisting on the fact that while I
am a subgenius, weighing one hundred five pounds, and living
in a small town with an enormous furry male husband who is
always in his Cadillac Eldorado driving off to sell something
to people who do not deserve the bad luck of this mer-
chandise in their lives–that these facts would not be a prob-
lem for gertrude stein. Gertrude and I feel that, for instance, in
Patriarchal Poetry when (like an avalanche that can type) she is
burying the patriarchy, still there persists a sense of con-
descending affection. So, while I’m a thin, heterosexual sub-
genius, nevertheless gertrude has chosen me as her tool, just
as she chose the patriarchy as a tool for ending the patriarchy.
And because I have become her tool, now, in a sense, gertrude
is inside me. It’s tough. Having gertrude inside me is like
having swallowed an ocean liner that can type, and, while I
feel like a very small coat closet with a bear in it, gertrude and
I feel that I must tell you that gertrude does not care. She is
using me to get her message across, to say, I am lost, I am
beset by literalists and narratives of the beginning and middle
and end, help me. And so, yes, I say, yes, I am here, gertrude,
because we feel, gertrude and I, that there is real urgency in
our voice (like a sob that can type) and that things are very
bad for her because she is lost, beset by the literalists and
realists, her own enormousness crushing her and we must
find her and take her into ourselves, even though I am the
least likely of saviors and have been chosen perhaps as a last
resort, yes, definitely, gertrude is saying to me, you are the
least likely of saviors, you are my last choice and my last


Lynn Emanuel was born in Mt. Kisco, New York, in 1949. She is the author of three books of poetry: Then, Suddenly— (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999), which was awarded the Eric Matthieu King Award from The Academy of American Poets; The Dig (1992), which was selected by Gerald Stern for the National Poetry Series; and Hotel Fiesta (1984).

Her work has been featured in the Pushcart Prize Anthology and Best American Poetry numerous times and is included in The Oxford Book of American Poetry. She has been a judge for the National Book Awards and has received two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Emanuel has taught at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, The Warren Wilson Program in Creative Writing, and the Vermont College Creative Writing Program. She is currently a Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh.


for further thinking on poetry and privilege

For the white person who wants to know how to be my friend
by Pat Parker

The first thing you must do is to forget that i’m Black.
Second, you must never forget that i’m Black.

You should be able to dig Aretha,
but don’t play her every time i come over.
And if you decide to play Beethoven–don’t tell me
his life story. They make us take music appreciation too.

Eat soul food if you like it, but don’t expect me
to locate your restaurants
of cook it for you.

And if some Black person insults you,
mugs you, rapes your sister, rapes you,
rips your house up or is just being an ass–
please do not apologize to me
for wanting to do them bodily harm.
It makes me wonder if you’re foolish.

And even if you really believe Blacks are better lovers than
whites–don’t tell me. I start thinking of charging stud fees.

In other words–if you really want to be my friend–don’t
make a labor of it. I’m lazy. Remember.

-from Making Face, Make Soul
edited by Gloria Anzaldua
San Francisco: Aunt Lute Foundation Books, 1990.

Lessons in the Art of Poetry, Drew MFA First Residency Jan 2009

I enjoy seeing naughtiness done in strict iambic pentameter. Alicia Ostriker

Earnest dictates want us to remove the heart and frontal lobe from lyric poetry [but] the need for a lone voice to sing out of the darkness will go on. Joan Larkin

Well, we certainly can’t have the word “love” in a poem. Martin Espada

Art is a series of answers to which there are no questions. C.K. Williams

The poem becomes a vehicle for pinning down moral dilemma.
C.K. Williams

As a poet I’m always concerned about history, and about bearing witness to history. Natasha Terthewey, in an interview on NPR while drafting my residency essay

A poem should surprise truthfully. Martin Espada

Punctuation is your friend. Martin Espada

A phrase in parentheses is a poet’s cry for help, “I don’t know why I’m saying this!” Martin Espada

You can use anything you want – it’s liberty hall.
Jean Valentine

Whenever you have a block, there’s something under the rock.
Alicia Ostriker

Poetry does make something happen, for it changes sensibility.
Robert Hayden

A poem is built on silences as well as on sounds. And it imposes a silence audible as a laugh, a sigh, a groan. Robert Hayden

Dickinson’s poems often have guillotine endings – the poem has its head chopped off.
Anne Marie Macari

The last line of the poem should automatically make the eye bounce back to the beginning to start over. Martin Espada

I like the white hot moment of silence at the end of a poem. Patricia Smith

You must write better than you consciously know – the bulk of your work gets done by your unconscious mind. Alicia Ostriker

Using the language of speech is what distinguishes American poetry from other poetry or Don’t use book words without a reason. spoken in some variation by Alicia Ostriker, Gerald Stern, Anne Marie Macari, and C.K. Williams

new work is up

Too many beers (2, actually, but that seems to be 1 too many), too much busy head after dinner with ex-coworkers, awake in the middle of the night, trying to work on something serious about Cain or Lot’s wife, and this is what I get — Marlena “Doc” Evans Brady Black. Check it out on the right.

a poem for a quiet winter Monday, dreaming of summer and easy love

Susan Windle

heading for the scent
of what i love
i land
on a wetness
that sends me
to the bottom
of your cup

though i slip,
though i stumble,
though i bear heavy,
bewildered wings,
i find in you
a slender door
i narrow myself
your needle’s eye
the walls of your world,
soft and supple,
push me on
to that sliver of light—
where day
breaks over me at last

i am coated
in the fragrance of such love
i go
with good news
on my back

click here for

Oy, such a Friday and Neko Case

So, after ten years, I was laid off today — my agency is hurting financially, and they decided not to do what I do anymore.


Can’t really bear to say much more about that.

In better news, Neko Case has released the first single from her new album, out in March. Download it via this link below. And if you blog, post it so your blog! Every post is a $5.00 donation to the amazing Best Friends Animal Shelter.

The song:

Wednesday morning

My last day here, and I’m finding it hard pondering my return to being an ordinary person, not a full-time poet.

And the mess in Gaza just gets more and more awful.

And my job started laying people over yesterday, in large part because our multi-year well-funded Wachovia project is as dead as Wachovia itself.

But poetry is one kind of magic — marks on a page take us into other times, other minds, other possibilities. So this, from poet Gerald Stern.

Bee Balm

Today I’m sticking a shovel in the ground
and digging up the little green patch
between the hosta and the fringe bleeding heart.
I am going to plant bee balm there
and a few little pansies till the roots take
and the leaves spread out in both directions.

This is so the hummingbird will rage
outside my fireplace window; this is so
I can watch him standing in the sun
and hold him a little above my straining back,
so I can reach my own face up to his
and let him drink the sugar from my lips.

This is so I can lie down on the couch
beside the sea horse and the glass elephant,
so I can touch the cold wall above me
and let the yellow light go through me,
so I can last the rest of the summer on thought,
so I can live by secrecy and sorrow.

Monday evening

So I could have been in an optional workshop now, and I did plan to go, but I needed quiet, needed to check in with the world via some online news, and to just be in my own space.

The world rewarded my sloth with a visit from a herd of deer, first two, then another, then another, then another, then another, right outside my window. I wish had a picture of the deer staring as a group of runners plodded past, but dark was coming on, and using a flash produces what might be art but is definitely not representation.

Now, off to dinner, then a short cello recital by the intern who is helping our program and also happens to be a wonderful musician and composer. Then a poetry reading. Then a reception. Then back to the dorm to study the poems for tomorrow morning’s workshop. And so it goes.2-deera 3rda 4tha 5tha 6th