Obviously, it’s been admired and acclaimed, but I do feel the general reception of it has underplayed its artfulness. The focus has been on its vignettes of everyday micro-aggressions, not its more extended argument. It’s also a book which needs to be read out loud. by. Stein was taught by William James. When we define a poem now, we usually mean ‘lyric’—that form of intense emotional expression associated with song, but obviously, in written poetry, increasingly detached from a musical setting. It's not quite poetry, yet not quite prose: the prose poem is “the defining poetic invention of modernity,” argues Jeremy Noel-Tod, editor of The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem. She says this elsewhere about ‘classic’ art—that there’s a period when most classic works are not recognized as classics, and to most people they’re actually more irritating than beautiful. But, in a way, they were more interesting when they were irritating. With Tender Buttons, somehow Stein has managed to write a book that has become a classic, and yet still has that quality of niggling at you. What do you think of this genealogy, which begins in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries but concentrates the bulk of its material in the last 100 years or so? It irritates the rational part of the mind which expects to be able to explain things. by Gertrude Stein But over the course of the book, it’s full of devices, in that artful sense. It was a small press publication, but it got picked up by the American newspapers, who began to quote it, parody it, and generally mock it as nonsense. It’s a book that asks you to enjoy the fact that prose doesn’t have to really make any kind of sense that you were expecting, while at the same time reminding you of all kinds of other prose that you read, every day. If these poems are still lives, they are not seen from one point of view—she wanted to find a way, she said, of “mixing the inside with the outside.”. But he’s so attuned or sensitive to the dangers of closing down a definition that he develops this style where what he’s saying is always open to a further refinement. to create the music of the narrative of the devastation altogether’. “It’s been suggested that Stein might have been stoned when she wrote Tender Buttons”. There is certainly a shadow history to do with the rise of prose in general here. One of the really important passages in the book is where she talks about Robert Lowell. Some (like the very first, “Rain”) read to me as if the unit of prose (like a paragraph) acts as an enlargement or saturation of a verse line, swelling the space and time the poet takes with each image. But certainly, she, like Rimbaud, had an idea of trying to unhook her rational mind when it came to writing these poems, and letting it follow its own intuitive course. In the last paragraph of the introduction, Ashbery calls the “a disordered collection of magic lantern slides”, and remarks, “If we are absolutely modern—and we are—it’s because Rimbaud commanded us to be.” This is in many ways a manifesto for modernism, isn’t it? “Poetry [is] really loving the name of anything and that is not prose”, as she says. But what would have happened to a black woman who had tried to do that in 1959? In the introduction, he writes: “I tried to base my genre designations on a sense of how much “air” was in a text—I was more likely to call denser pieces prose poems than short-short stories.” How can a reader measure how much “air” is in a text? How far back do you go? Here he chooses five of the best prose poems … Just respecting the fact that some works have an integrity that you can’t easily sample. by Claudia Rankine In the history of the prose poem, there’s a case for saying that that Ponge brings it to a kind of perfection. . Can we consider Tender Buttons alongside Wittgenstein and the philosophy of language more generally? There’s a great review of Citizen by the poet Vahni Capildeo, where she compares it to a “crystalline aggregation”, a “lump of geological fact”. Your second choice is a classic text in experimental modernism, Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein (1914). And yet, at the same time, I think one of its satisfactions is that it’s a really sensory book. Unfinished Ode to Mud Rankine was interviewed on the Guardian podcast when the anthology came out and she summed up her reason for using prose with a strikingly Steinian phrase—she said it was ‘the perfect form . What is it? Three important studies that come to mind, for example, are by women: Marguerite S. Murphy, Nikki Santilli and, most recently, Jane Monson. To really attend to how it splashes differently in different places—and how prose might be a way of catching every single perception. In others (like the second poem “The End of Autumn”), each section of several sentences is comparable to others in size. It’s exactly what Baudelaire said in the prefatory note to Paris Spleen: his desire to write a poetic prose arose from the experience of living in large cities. From childhood, he was fascinated by reading the dictionary. And then there’s something like Auden’s “Caliban to the Audience”, which is his extraordinary reimagining of Shakespeare’s character in the prose of late Henry James—and so, necessarily, takes a long time to say anything. So, yes, I think there is still work to do in re-writing the history of modern poetry to bring those voices back in. She knows that there is something about her writing that fascinates people, and it fascinates them partially because it irritates them. You write around the solid impression that it makes in your mind. I don’t think prose has yet exhausted the potential to disturb people’s sense of categories, if it presents itself as poetry. . Read 213 reviews from the world's largest community for readers. The Best Prose Poetry recommended by Jeremy Noel-Tod It's not quite poetry, yet not quite prose: the prose poem is “the defining poetic invention of modernity,” argues Jeremy Noel-Tod, editor of The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem. It’s not, for whatever reason, comfortable with framing itself as a recognizable poem; it wants to use prose because there is something elusive or fugitive or simply alternative about what it’s trying to do with language. The titles in Tender Buttons are things you might find in any well-to-do domestic interior, like Stein’s apartment in Paris. “I don’t think prose has yet exhausted the potential to disturb people’s sense of categories, if it presents itself as poetry”. Her lyricism wants to establish an interiority. By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, Walt Whitman's Diary: A Summer in Canada, 1880, Pointed Roofs, Backwater, Honeycomb (Pilgrimage, Volume 1), A Spy in the House of Love (Cities of the Interior #4), "Exterminate All the Brutes": One Man's Odyssey into the Heart of Darkness and the Origins of European Genocide, Murder in the Dark: Short Fictions and Prose Poems, 32 Short, New Books to Help You CRUSH Your Reading Challenge. He was a union representative who went on strike and later joined the Communist Party—and then during the war, the Resistance. First, set the scene: how do we move from the late nineteenth-century French iterations of the prose poem to Stein and the classic modernists? Prose Poetry is the first book of its kind—an engaging and authoritative introduction to the history, development, and features of English-language prose poetry, an increasingly important and popular literary form that is still too little understood and appreciated. Read That inexplicability is part of its greatness. And then, of course, Anglophone poetry is not just written in the UK and the US, but also in Australia, New Zealand, India, the Caribbean, Africa. Read. It gets to the essence of Rimbaud’s subject matter, which is late nineteenth-century Europe, the great cities, and this sense of living in the midst of an enormous, dangerous mass of life that never stops, never rests—Illuminations is written, as it were, in the lyric plural. Tender Buttons in particular was the book that made her notorious. I wonder if you could say a bit more about Cubism and the influence of the art of the period. It has this effect on you that nobody has ever quite managed to put into words. But I’ve never read a critical account of Tender Buttons which really satisfactorily explains it. I just became fascinated with how, if we do just allow ‘verse’ to be a synonym for ‘poetry’—say, The Oxford Book of English Verse—then there is this whole body of writing, especially contemporary writing, that falls between the labels that we’re using. We ask experts to recommend the five best books in their subject and explain their selection in an interview. Short is a mammoth anthology—tell us about why you picked it. I also admire him because when confronted with this question—where does the prose poem begin, and how do you define it?—he actually opens it up more and says, ‘No, what I’m interested in is this perhaps even more elusive mode which is the short prose piece.’ So, as well as prose poems, he has short-short stories, brief essays, aphorisms, and other forms.