Poetry at Beinecke Library

Gertrude Stein in the News

Posted in Announcements, Beinecke Collections, Poetry at Yale by beineckepoetry on June 25, 2012

Reviews of new editions of several Gertrude Stein volumes, notices of recent scholarship and exhibition catalogs, and discussions of Stein’s life and work have recently appeared in numerous magazines, journals, and blogs (examples are linked below). A detailed description of the Stein and Toklas Archive can be found here: Guide to the Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas Papers: http://hdl.handle.net/10079/fa/beinecke.stein. Materials from the archive, including manuscripts and documents related to the new editions of Stanzas in Meditation and Ida: A Novel, can be viewed online: Stein and Toklas Papers Image Guide: http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digitallibrary/stein.html). An exhibition of materials in the Stein and Toklas Papers, “Descriptions of Literature: Texts and Contexts in the Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas Papers,” will be on view at the Beinecke Library from October 8 to December 14.

The Practice of Everyday Life: Gertrude Stein’s Stanzas by Christopher Schmidt, Boston Review, June 20, 2012

The Alibi of Ambiguity by Christopher Benfey, The New Republic, June 7, 2012

Gertrude Stein’s war years: Setting the record straight, A dossier edited by Charles Bernstein, May 9, 2012

Gertrude Stein’s Posthumous Alphabet Book by Maria Popova, The Atlantic, May 24 2012

Missionaries by Michael Kimmelman, The New York Review of Books, April 26, 2012
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/apr/26/missionaries/; follow up commentary: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/jul/12/gertrude-stein-fascism/

Reconsidering the Genius of Gertrude Stein by Lynne Tillman, New York Times Sunday Book Review, January 27, 2012

About the new Yale UP editions of Gertrude Stein texts: The Many Lives of Gertrude Stein: http://yalebooks.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/the-many-lives-of-gertrude-stein/; To Do, A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays: http://yalepress.yale.edu/book.asp?isbn=9780300170979; Ida, A Novel: http://yalepress.yale.edu/book.asp?isbn=9780300169768; Stanzas in Meditation: http://yalepress.yale.edu/book.asp?isbn=9780300153095.

Image: Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein with Pepe and Basket I, [1932]

Beinecke Fellow Named Poet Laureate

Posted in Announcements, Beinecke Collections, Poetry at Yale by beineckepoetry on June 7, 2012

Congratulations to 2009 James Weldon Johnson Memorial Fellow Natasha Trethewey, the next Poet Laureate of the United States.

New Laureate Looks Deep Into Memory
By CHARLES McGRATH — Published in the New York Times: June 6, 2012

Selected Poems by Natasha Trethewey(June 7, 2012)

Image Credit: John Amis for The New York Times

The Library of Congress is to announce Thursday that the next poet laureate is Natasha Trethewey, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of three collections and a professor of creative writing at Emory University in Atlanta. Ms. Trethewey, 46, was born in Gulfport, Miss., and is the first Southerner to hold the post since Robert Penn Warren, the original laureate, and the first African-American since Rita Dove in 1993.

“I’m still a little in disbelief,” Ms. Trethewey said on Monday.

Unlike the recent laureates W. S. Merwin and her immediate predecessor, Philip Levine, both in their 80s when appointed, Ms. Trethewey, who will officially take up her duties in September, is still in midcareer and not well-known outside poetry circles. Her work combines free verse with more traditional forms like the sonnet and the villanelle to explore memory and the racial legacy of America. Her fourth collection, “Thrall,” is scheduled to appear in the fall. She is also the author of a 2010 nonfiction book, “Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”

“The appointment of Natasha Trethewey is a very welcome event,” said Dana Gioia, a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and an early admirer of her work. “She writes out of the complicated history of the region, and even from her own complicated history.” In a phone interview explaining his choice James Billington, the librarian of Congress, said: “We’re not necessarily on some kick to find a younger poet. The more I read of it, American poetry seems extremely rich in diversity, talent and freedom of expression, and she has a voice that is already original and accomplished. I have an affinity for American individuals who are absolutely unique, and I think that this is one.”

He first became aware of Ms. Trethewey (pronounced TRETH-eh-way) when she gave a reading at the National Book Festival in 2004: “I admired the way she had a certain classical sound but also moved easily from traditional forms to free verse. And then when I began reading her poems for myself, that impression was just confirmed. It seemed very natural, all of a piece.” He added: “I go to a fair number of poetry readings, and I’m not always motivated to go back and read the poems. But in her case I was.”

Ms. Trethewey’s great theme is memory, and in particular the way private recollection and public history sometimes intersect but more often diverge. “The ghost of history lies down beside me,” she writes in one of her poems, “rolls over, pins me beneath a heavy arm.”

She has devoted much of her career to resurrecting or recreating the histories of people who don’t often make it into poetry books. Her first volume, “Domestic Work” (2000), is about just what the title says: black maids, washerwomen, factory workers. One of the poems begins:

“The eyes of eight women

I don’t know

stare out of this photograph

saying remember.”

“Bellocq’s Ophelia” (2002) is a sort of epistolary novella in verse, telling the imagined story of one of the mixed-race prostitutes photographed in the early 20th century by E. J. Bellocq in New Orleans. “Native Guard,” which won the Pulitzer in 2007, devotes its central sequence to the Louisiana Native Guards, a black regiment in the Union Army, composed mostly of former slaves who enlisted, that was assigned to guard Confederate prisoners of war. Ms. Trethewey used to visit a memorial to those prisoners as a child, but according to her poem “Elegy for the Native Guards,” their graves have gone unmarked and unrecorded.

In a phone interview from her home in Decatur, Ga., where she lives with her husband, Brett Gadsden, a history professor at Emory, Ms. Trethewey explained that the Civil War has fascinated her since childhood, and that she eventually came to feel that she embodied some of its contradictions. “My birthday is April 26th, Confederate Memorial Day,” she said. “I was born 100 years to the day after that holiday was invented. I don’t think I could have escaped learning about the Civil War and what it represented.”

Robert Penn Warren, who wrote so eloquently and at times conflictedly about the South and its history, is one of her models, and so is Gwendolyn Brooks, the first black laureate. But just as helpful in the writing of “Native Guard,” Ms. Trethewey said, was the example of Seamus Heaney and especially his 1975 book “North,” in which he responds to the violent political history of Ulster. “I read and reread the book to help understand my own relationship to history,” she said.

As one of her poems explains, Ms. Trethewey is the product of a union that was still a crime in Mississippi when her parents married: her mother was black and her father was white. Years later, after her mother’s death, she came across her own birth certificate and saw that the line for the race of her mother says, “colored,” the race of her father, “Canadian.”

“That’s how language works — how we change and rewrite ourselves,” she said.

When Ms. Trethewey was 19 and in college, her mother was murdered by her second husband, an abusive man she had divorced, and the effort of trying to recover her mother’s memory is one of Ms. Trethewey’s other major themes. “But in dreams you live,” she writes in “Native Guard,” “so I try taking, not to let go. You’ll be dead again tomorrow.”

Recalling her mother’s death, she said, “Strangely enough, that was the moment when I both felt that I would become a poet and then immediately afterward felt that I would not. I turned to poetry to make sense of what had happened and started writing what I knew even then were really bad poems. It took me nearly 20 years to find the right language, to write poems that were successful enough to explain my own feelings to me and that might also be meaningful to others.”

Speaking of the laureateship, she said, “One needs to admit it’s something that crosses the mind.” All the same, when the phone rang in early May and she saw the Library of Congress number on caller ID, she thought it might be a prank. “I thought to myself, ‘Really?’ ” she said.

Student Research in Beinecke Collections

Posted in Announcements, Beinecke Collections, Poetry at Yale by beineckepoetry on June 4, 2012

Zoe Mercer-Golden, Yale Class of 2013

Radical Reading Practices in the Archives of H.D. and Gertrude Stein:
A New Approach to Autobiography

This paper was born out of an independent study conducted under Richard Deming about modernist female poets whose archives we have at the Beinecke. I looked at the archives of Gertrude Stein and H.D., both American women writers who lived in Europe for most of their careers. The two writers are radically different in terms of the themes that they explored and the styles of their writing, which was an aspect of their work that I studied through my final paper.

After spending a semester reading Stein and H.D.’s work in published and archival form, I decided to focus on their autobiographical (or semi-autobiographical) writing for the sake of comparing their two literary styles and thematic preoccupations. For H.D., I considered how her work was a process of “translation,” how her work with Sigmund Freud, which she discusses in Tribute to Freud, and her sense of her own “giftedness,” which she writes about in The Gift, inform her writing technique and her drafting proclivities. By reading the various drafts of The Gift and the notebook in which she wrote Writing on the Wall (the first part of Tribute to Freud), I wrote about H.D’s characterization of herself. as a channeler of stories and images that came from realms beyond her and how this affected her writing process and the form that her archive takes. For Gertrude Stein, I thought about the word “making” in light of her epic novel/memoir The Making of Americans and how this word (like H.D.’s “translating”) informs her writing and writing process. As with H.D., I looked at Stein’s various drafts and notes for The Making of Americans and her writing about The Making of Americans in order to make sense of the process behind these works and what this process signaled about Stein’s thematic and stylistic interests. By comparing the work, archives, and writing processes of these two writers, who superficially have much in common, I drew attention to the ways in which writers ask to be read differently, as individuals with their own unique processes and preoccupations, distinct from movements or time periods.

Read the essay: Zoe Mercer-Golden, “Radical Reading Practices in the Archives of H.D. and Gertrude Stein:
A New Approach to Autobiography”

Images: Man Ray, photographs of H. D. and Gertrude Stein (1920-22)

Rudyard Kipling: 3 Days Only

Posted in Uncategorized by beineckepoetry on June 1, 2012
Rudyard Kipling: 3 Days Only

Friday, June 1 – Monday, June 4, 2012
Unique opportunity to view treasures from the Beinecke collection. Yale’s Kipling holdings are the most complete in the world and include a number of rare items. The Richards Collection of Rudyard Kipling at the Beinecke Library was assembled and donated by David Alan Richards ’67, Law ’72. On view:

  • “Kim” – original edition with very rare dust jacket
  • “The Second Jungle Book” – original edition with very rare dust jacket
  • “If” – one of two known copies of first separate edition, perhaps most widely memorized poem in the English language
  • Objects crafted with images of “The Absent-Minded Beggar,” the poem Kipling wrote in 1899 to raise funds for families of soldiers fighting in the Boer WarKipling Collection at the Beinecke Library