Saturday, October 29, 2011

Partying with Gertrude Stein

On October 27, 2011, The Steiny Road Poet had the pleasure of attending the opening of Insight & Identity: Contemporary Artists and Gertrude Stein,  an exhibition mounted by The Stanford in Washington Art Gallery at 2655 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, DC.

The show curated by Adrienne Jamieson (MaryLou & George Boone Centennial Director, Stanford in Washington) with Dyana Curreri-Ermatinger (Director of the International Art Museum in San Francisco) and collector-writer Hans Gallas was mounted to coincide with Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories,  curated by Wanda Corn and currently on exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, after its opening at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.

The show brings together work by Stein and inspired by the work of Stein. The exhibition includes first edition books, paintings, and art objects that include dresses, buttons, and wall hangings. One of the paintings in the exhibition comes From Suzanne Bellamy’s series Conversations with Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein,  a series of 12 prints. The S.R. Poet came home and realized she has one of those prints entitled “Ritual and Deep Rhythm.” In the Stanford in Washington exhibition is the second print in the series. Here is what the painter had to say about this one and No. 4, which came to the S. R. Poet as gift.

No.2 COLLISIONS : “Lying Under the Whole of Gertrude Stein.” This print tells the story of their meetings and business transactions. Rejecting the manuscript of The Making of Americans, perhaps not ever reading it, Woolf wrote various letters to friends parodying Stein’s weighty work, body and presence. Here Alice faces the backdrop of their own Parisian life as Gertrude hurtles through the air on her magical manuscript and Woolf deftly avoids being crushed. The subsequent Hogarth printing of Composition As Explanation testifies to a shift in position over the value of Stein’s work and worth.

No.4 RITUAL and DEEP RHYTHM concerns the different ways each writer draws upon forms and myths from the ancient and matriarchal worlds. The work of Gloria Feman Orenstein on Stein’s use of the Seder ritual and Jewish iconography sits here with Woolf’s involvement with the work and ideas of Jane Ellen Harrison. As with all the Conversations, this theme shows how there can be deep points of connection between these two women artists if certain doors are opened.

The invitation to the opening encouraged costumes inspired by the 1920s, particularly Paris in the Twenties. Wanda Corn dressed and spoke as Gertrude Stein. Hans Gallas dressed as Pablo Picasso. Professor Corn’s students came in an array of flapper, Hemingway and Salvador Dali costumes. An honored guest was Gertrude’s nephew Julian Stein.

The S.R. Poet was pleased to meet cartoonist Tom Hachtman who generously presented her with a copy of his book Gertrude’s follies, an irreverent look at the life and times of Gertrude Stein and her faithful companion, Alice B. Toklas. Hachtman’s cartoons were regularly published in the Soho Weekly News starting in 1978. Some of his work also appears in the Seeing Gertrude Stein exhibition.

What a party! Not only was the food delicious (Alice Toklas would have surely approved) but everyone was willing to talk about Gertrude Stein. How rare is that?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Birth of a New Book: On a Bed of Gardenias: Jane & Paul Bowles

The Steiny Road Poet is pleased to announce that Kattywompus Press of Cleveland Heights, Ohio,  will publish On a Bed of Gardenias: Jane & Paul Bowles by Karren LaLonde Alenier. This is a chapbook that is comprised of the poems from which How Many Midnights, her new work-in-progress opera libretto, is drawn. On a Bed of Gardenias is the love story of the two unconventional writers who Beat writers (e.g. Allen Ginsberg) say are their precursors.


Getting a book of any size published by a reputable publishing house is very difficult. So the Poet would like to share her story about how her manuscript was invited by Kattywompus publisher Sammy Greenspan. For full disclosure, Kattywompus, a press that was founded by Greenspan in 2010, took over the Greatest Hits chapbook series from Jennifer Bosveld’s Pudding House Press where Karren LaLonde Alenier Greatest Hits 1973 – 2002 was originally published in 2003. So now, it is possible to find the Poet’s Greatest Hits chapbook at Kattywompus. 

The Poet met Greenspan and her associate editor Bonné de Blas at the Associated Writing Programs bookfair in Washington, DC, January 2011. In casual conversation at The Word Works AWP book booth, de Blas told the Poet about Kattywompus, including the fact that this publishing house now retained all rights to the Greatest Hits publications. Surprised, the Poet went to check out the Kattywompus display where the Greatest Hits chapbooks were standing in a vintage suitcase.


In another old suitcase were the brand new books from Kattywompus and included among those chapbooks was Ode to Oil by Philip Metres, a poet the S. R. Poet had encountered through Word Works Washington Prize-winning author Fred Marchant at the 2010 Split This Rock festival. However, the first thought of the Poet in looking at Metres’ book was how interesting, poetry about crude oil—in another life, the Poet had worked on the audits of the major petroleum producers for the newly formed U.S. Department of Energy back in the 1980s.

Then Greenspan located Alenier Greatest Hits and the Poet offered to recite “Leo on Seesaw,” her number one greatest hit poem, which she has recited to good effect in places as far flung as a classroom in Xian, China, and this poem is the center piece of her first opera Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On. After the recitation, the Poet told Greenspan and de Blas that she had a work-in-progress poetry manuscript about Jane and Paul Bowles. So this is how the invitation came about and Greenspan waited patiently while the Poet tried to decide what portion of the full-length Bowles manuscript she would send Kattywompus and part of that decision had to do with some problematic found poems.


Most writers want to know the behind-the-scenes story of any press who publishes them. Kattywompus writes a blog that, by all standards, seems to tell the naked truth about how they conduct business. For over-the-transom submissions versus invited manuscripts, Kattywompus charges a reading fee and this practice prevents the outstanding writerly resource Duotrope from listing  Kattywompus. Duotrope’s policy does not allow a member press to charge a reading fee to prospective authors. The fact is many reputable literary publishing houses are not listed at Duotrope, but have other credentials like being a member of Council of Literary Magazines and Presses. CLMP’s policy states that its members “do not charge authors a fee to publish their works.” All of this discussion hinges on the definition of vanity publishing, that is, authors who pay to get their work published. Vanity publishing usually means the work being published has not been vetted by the publisher and that it is a service-for-hire that anyone can buy.

The Steiny Road Poet is proud that Kattywompus editors, who are meticulous in their editorial process, stand behind On a Bed of Gardenias: Jane & Paul Bowles. Toward the end of 2011, the Poet expects that the Kattywompus website will make On a Bed of Gardenias available for purchase at $12 per copy plus postage. While there is no requirement from Kattywompus for their authors to sell their books, the Poet, for a limited period, will be happy to reserve, for anyone who emails her,  a discounted copy at $10 plus postage. Most likely the book will be available in January 2012.

Here is the poem, from which the title of the chapbook is drawn. It was originally published in The Innisfree Poetry Journal.


Because the hotel manager floated
scores of our favorite flower on the surface
of the swimming pool, Jane and I decided
to visit the Taxco market and buy enough
gardenias to cover our bed.
…......……......………………….At siesta careful
not to arouse staff sleepyheads, we carried two
baskets of blossoms in several trips
into the hotel and up the stairs. When the bed
became a sea of creamy white, we undressed,
lay down, drowned our senses.

How much is too much?

In the blue fluid of the pool Jane Bowles poked
her head, short curly hair winking red,
through the fragrant corollas—a swoon
of flower boats.
……………………Could a husband and wife, sheath
and knife, be joined in everlasting memory
on a perfumed spread of gardenias? She
with her women; me, Paul Bowles,
with my men.

Could I recreate those hours we lay

In New York I furnished everything in white:
sofa, chaise longue, Ottoman, coffee table,
lamps, a polar bear rug. Then I sprayed
the drapes, and every pillow, every throw
with ambergris mixed with crushed
petals of gardenia.
…………......…....….Come back
from Taxco, I wrote to her. 

What price paradise?

Copyright © 2007 Karren LaLonde Alenier