Thursday, March 18, 2004

A moment of silence for Gertrude Stein  

Today in the intro creative writing class I teach, we read the smart and tight prose poems of Anne Carson, which she calls "Short Talks" from her book Plainwater.

Here is the shortest piece we read:


How curious. I had no idea! Today has ended.

The discussion of the poem was good: we discussed issues related to Time: how it feels; its duration; how in one moment you may be in time, which is out of time, and then enter back into Time as we know it. The great questions (if you have all day--the time) leading to more questions, such as what is "time as we know it?" The observation that to be in time, which is out of time is to be in a wonderful place, at least in connection to the mood of the poem here. All in all, a productive discussion on everything from the title being nearly as long as the poem itself (an apt observation), to whether the poem suggests old age and being absent minded (most likely not what Carson is getting at here).

At any rate, about the time I thought we were wrapping up and moving onto another poem (this poem was not even on my own list to discuss of the group of Carson's poems) a student paused for a brief moment and said, "I like the poem, but I'm confused about the title. Who is Gertrude Stein?" For everything we had said we did not discuss Stein directly. Somewhere I thought Stein (at least in part, even an image of her) had been informing our talk. In a moment, I realized that no one in the class could identify anything about GS. So we discussed Stein, and that was good. (I didn't lay a trip on the class, like so many of my own teachers, who often didn't really teach, and then were indignant about what we didn't know, our blind spots etc.) People are in school to learn, so we teach, we learn. For me, it was just one of those quick (no student-teacher eye contact moments), "I had no idea!" moments on all of our parts.

--Tom Devaney

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