The Stein Way


Portrait of Gertrude Stein, Félix Vallotton, 1907

by Daniel Bosch

Gertrude Stein exploited every freedom in language she knew about and when she reached the end of her list she invented some more.

Gertrude Stein set many of the best passages of her writing into extremely deep and confusing labyrinths such that when I read them I feel found though I am still lost.

Gertrude Stein would seem to be convention’s prodigal but in fact she is convention’s most loyal child man or woman because knows more than anyone about convention because she was constantly standing just this far from it.

Gertrude Stein had her own life and during it she wrote what she called someone else’s Autobiography and this is one definition of novelist.

Gertrude Stein was called by Alice B. Toklas “Mr. Cuddle-Wuddle.”

Gertrude Stein wrote many long and many short sentences that come alive when they are read aloud and she took a Master’s Degree in Paragraphy and she spelled very well and she was unsuccessfully courted by punctuation and she took a faint but playful interest in lines.

Here are two short poems by Gertrude Stein and then a passage from her prose masterpiece Tender Buttons and another passage from her lecture on Punctuation and when you are done with these you should listen to a recording of her reading her short poem “Matisse” which is available at PennSound.

Please read more of Stein’s work thank you.

Two Short Poems and the Finale of Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein


21      excerpted from Before the Flowers of Friendship Faded Faded

I love my love with a v
Because it is like that
I love my love with a b
Because I am beside that
A king.
I love my love with an a
Because she is a queen
I love my love and a a is the best of them
Think well and be a king,
Think more and think again
I love my love with a dress and a hat
I love my love and not with this or with that
I love my love with a y because she is my bride
I love her with a d because she is my love beside
Thank you for being there
Nobody has to care
Thank you for being here
Because you are not there.

And with and without me which is and without she she can be late
and then and how and all around we think and found that it is time to cry she
and I.

From Tender Buttons (the finale):

A light in the moon the only light is on Sunday. What was the sensible decision. The sensible decision was that notwithstanding many declarations and more music, not even notwithstanding the choice and a torch and a collection, notwithstanding the celebrating hat and a vacation and even more noise than cutting, notwithstanding Europe and Asia and being overbearing, not even notwithstanding an elephant and a strict occasion, not even withstanding more cultivation and some seasoning, not even with drowning and with the ocean being encircling, not even with more likeness and any cloud, not even with terrific sacrifice of pedestrianism and a special resolution, not even more likely to be pleasing. The care with which the rain is wrong and the green is wrong and the white is wrong, the care with which there is a chair and plenty of breathing. The care with which there is incredible justice and likeness, all this makes a magnificent asparagus, and also a fountain.

From “On Punctuation”:

There are some punctuations that are interesting and there are some punctuations that are not. Let us begin with the punctuations that are not. Of these the one but the first and the most the completely most uninteresting is the question mark. The question mark is alright when it is all alone when it is used as a brand on cattle or when it could be used in decoration but connected with writing it is completely entirely completely uninteresting. It is evident that is you ask a question you ask a question but anybody who can read at all knows when a question is a question as it is written in writing. Therefore I ask you therefore wherefore should one use the question mark. Beside it does not in its form go with ordinary printing and so it pleases neither the eye nor the ear and it is therefore like a noun, just an unnecessary name of something. A question is a question, anybody can know that a question is a question and so why add to it the question mark when it is already there when the question is already there in the writing. Therefore I never could bring myself to use a question mark, I always found it positively revolting, and now very few do use it. Exclamation marks have the same difficulty and also quotation marks, they are unnecessary, they are ugly, they spoil the line of the writing or the printing and anyway what is the use, if you do not know that a question is a question what is the use of its being a question. The same thing is true of a quotation. When I first began writing I found it simply impossible to use question marks and quotation marks and exclamation points and now anybody sees it that way. Perhaps some day they will see it some other way but not at any rate anybody can and does see it that way.

So there are the uninteresting things in punctuation uninteresting in a way that is perfectly obvious, and so we do not have to go any farther into that. There are besides dashes and dots, and these might be interesting spaces might be interesting. They might if one felt that way about them.

One other little punctuation mark one can have feelings about and that is the apostrophe for possession. Well feel as you like about that, I can see and I do see that for many that for some the possessive case apostrophe has a gentle tender insinuation that makes it very difficult to definitely decide to do without it. One does do without it, I do, I

mostly always do, but I cannot deny that from time to time I feel myself having regrets and from time to time I put it in to make the possessive case. I absolutely do not like it and leaving it out I feel no regret, there it is unnecessary and not ornamental but inside a word and its s well perhaps, perhaps it does appeal by its weakness to your weakness. At least at any rate from time to time I do find myself letting it alone if it has come in and sometimes it has come in. I cannot positively deny but that I do from time to time let it come in.

So now to come to the real question of punctuation, periods, commas, colons, semi-colons and capitals and small letters.

I have had a long and complicated life with all these.

(Gerude Stein, “On Punctuation,” Lectures In America, Beacon Press, Boston, 1985, pages 214-215. Originally published in 1935 by The Modern Library, Inc.)


About the Authors:

Psychologist-in-training, novelist, poet, playwright, salonista, memoirist, and subject portraits Gertrude Stein was born on February 3, 1874 in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, USA, and died July 27, 1946 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.

In 1998, Daniel Bosch was awarded the first Boston Review Poetry Prize for four poems riffing on films starring Tom Hanks. His work has been published in journals such as Poetry, Slate, The TLS, Agni, Berfrois, The New Republic, The Huffington Post, The Fortnightly Review, andThe Paris Review, and a collection of his poems, Crucible, was published by Other Press in 2002. His set of triolets called Octaves is downloadable for free at Daniel has taught writing at Boston University, Harvard University, Tufts University, Merrimack College, Walnut Hill School for the Arts and Emory University.