Gertrude Stein and Jennifer Hecht

Margaret Dickie quotes Gertrude Stein in her article “Women Poets and the Emergence of Modernism” saying, “The literature of a hundred years ago is perfectly easy to see, because the sediment of ugliness has settled down and you get the solemnity of its beauty. But to a person my temperament, it is much more amusing when it has the vitality of the struggle” (Dickie, 236). Even with the small passing of time between when Gertrude Stein wrote Patriarchal Poetry and now, I still feel the vitality of the struggle when reading this poem.  As I look over her poem Patriarchal Poetry, I feel overwhelmed as my eyes struggle to comprehend the same word repeated over and over within a span of a couple of lines. Just looking at the poem’s title, and knowing historically the treatment of women at that time, I had assumptions about what this poem would be about. I assumed there would be more ranting against a patriarchal society that kept women down, but instead got a whole page of her repeating “Let her try. / Let her be shy” (Nelson, 65). As Dickie says, “The essential aim of their art is their attempt to get away from such sense” (Dickie, 237). Her severing of language from referentiality through repetition is one way she accomplishes this.

When reading “Gender Bender” by Jennifer Michael Hecht however, I get more of what I was expecting from Stein content-wise. She discusses how men use women saying “Either, deep in the dark of your history, someone showed you that you could be used as a cash machine, as a popcorn popper, as a rocket launch, as a coin-slot jackpot spunker, or they didn’t and you grew up unused and clueless.” She ends her poem saying “If you see a girl dressed to say No one tells me what to do, you know someone once told her what to do.” Although “Gender Bender” is much easier to understand and it seems like her message is more effective than Stein’s, I wonder if it really is. Or if Stein’s experimental use of language is also effective when thinking about the content of her poem and I just haven’t realized how yet.


2 thoughts on “Gertrude Stein and Jennifer Hecht

  1. Very inspiring!
    The part with men using women reminds me of Virginia Woolf’s essay about the Angel in The House: “Man must be pleased; but him to please / Is woman’s pleasure”


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