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Stein's 33 1/3 x 3 Lives - Sam Degen

On May 1st, I participated in an event to celebrate Gertrude Stein’s novel Three Lives that was called “Gertrude Stein 33 1/3 x 3 Lives.” This celebration included a skit of a mixture of the three stories in Three Lives put into a single narrative, a poem written in response to the novel, an opera performance of an opera written by Stein, and numerous readings in different languages of Stein’s works, including the languages of Dutch, English, Russian, and Yiddish.

Since I did not speak any of the languages that were used, it was difficult to keep my full attention on the readers because I could not force myself to try and comprehend Stein in these readings the way I did when a piece when read in English. Instead I just listened to the sounds that were made and the flow of the language. In the other languages, there were not as many pauses as were used when a piece was read in English. This became evident when line after line flowed into the other without any real break. This was much different than when it was read in English because the readers would pause for any line break instead of flowing through the poem. This made me think that in other languages there is an easier flow between words and thoughts, and that maybe in English we are able to pause more often because that it how we were trained to read works out loud, especially poetry, and this mode of reading cannot be easily transferred to other language because the rules can be different from English.

I think I was the most influenced by the creative writing piece that was read, the poem written in response to the novel. I didn’t really understand the topic of the poem, but I was struck by the easy flow between phrases and the seemingly disconnected objects that made sense within the framework of the poem. Listening to this made me think of how my poetry is constructed and how I can change how I write poetry. Things don’t need to have a clear connection; everything doesn’t need to be laid out and easy to decipher as long as there is some reason for it being there. The word choice was excellent and there were quite a few phrases that I wished I could have written them down to share (and possible steal and mold to fit my own poetry).

All in all, it was an enjoyable night, filled with the beauty of poetry and other languages that can be as beautiful as own when rolling off of a native tongue. Besides, even if it wasn’t enjoyable and I didn’t learn a thing, I still got up in front of all those people and said a few lines in the skit that I helped perform.