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Rhapsodica's picture

My initial reaction to

My initial reaction to Lifting Belly was similar to many that have been shared so far. As I was reading it the night before class, I was frustrated and annoyed with my inability to understand what Gertrude Stein was talking about. I took several breaks and eventually got up and did laundry about halfway through. As I walked down the hallway, I talked to a friend about how I totally didn't understand the poem I was reading at all. "It's poetry... isn't it supposed to be hard to understand?" she asked me, laughing. it?

As difficult as it may have been to grasp what Stein was talking about from line to line, I feel like that's... well... the whole point. The part that YJ and I looked at, where she says that "lifting belly names it" (“it” being lesbian sexuality, we figured), sums up how she's taken this one term and given it so many different meanings. She doesn't even have to say what "it" is. "It" is everything she's spent the previous 30 or so pages describing. "It" doesn't need a concrete definition. "It," to her, doesn't have a single, concrete definition.

So, I found it especially interesting to juxtapose Stein's poem against Hacker's. While Stein's descriptions are complex, seemingly coming from an almost unconscious place, Hacker's are simple, immediate, conscious. Sometimes, this kind of directness is good. Hey, I agree... her poem is hot. But it feels so... overt. Stein's poem initially frustrated me because it was so difficult to comprehend, but Hacker's frustrates me because it is so obvious.

It makes me think about how sex is viewed in general... how, often, the stereotype is that men just want to get straight to the point, while women want to be more slow, sensual, and loving. Which isn't to say that Hacker's poem doesn't have a certain air of sensuality... just that, the experience she describes seems to be driven more by that stereotypically masculine mentality (very objective-driven), even though she's describing sex between two women. Which seems interesting to me, since as Steph pointed out, Hacker is using a very traditional, masculine form in writing her poem. Is she saying something about how sex between two women doesn't have to be flowery and sensual in the way someone might stereotypically assume? That it can fit into that masculine form, even though there is no masculine figure involved?

"Can you mention her brother.


Her father.


A married couple.


Lifting belly names it. "

Stein doesn't seem to think so, at least. And while she certainly alludes to pleasure and orgasm, it is not the main focus of the action in her poem. In her poem, lifting belly has so many definitions, so many descriptions... many of which do not make sense to us, even though they make sense to her. Hacker's poem automatically makes sense to us, if only because the language is so clear and direct. No simple, pre-existing language seems to do it for Gertrude Stein.

… sorry this is sort of all over the place. Lots of thoughts all at once.


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