Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Careful Meditations

MissArcher2's picture

Careful Meditations: A Poetry Exercise in Word Replacement

a collaboration of intellect by Gertrude Stein, William James, Mark Strand, and Isabel Holmes


This semester, in my Creative Writing class, we had a visit from the poet Mark Strand. My final project has its origins in a poetry exercise suggested by Mr. Strand during his visit: when he has writer's block, he informed us, he likes to get started on ideas by taking poems and replacing all of the essential words (verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs) with his own words--and not just synonyms. This idea was stuck in my head as it came time to decide on a final project for this class, and I was curious to further explore Gertrude Stein's work Tender Buttons, which we studied in class because Stein was a student of William James'. Her work was greatly influenced by our friend William, and through Strand's word-replacement exercise I sought to gain a deeper understanding of her nonsense poetry and to make a connection between Stein's work and the writings of William James. Each piece I selected from Tender Buttons was chosen for a reason--be it syntactical or otherwise, and each word I chose from our comprehensive James text replaced a Stein word for a reason. I come away from this project with a much deeper understanding of both James and Stein, and the firm position that Tender Buttons is NOT nonsense. Contrarily, her use of words is brilliant: the way they flow into each other and how repeated words change meaning in the space of half a sentence. I'll be the first to admit that I took some liberties in my word replacement, not adhering to a strict verb-for-verb exchange, adding words here and choosing to keep some ironically appropriate original words in place there, but I tried to preserve the integrity of Stein's word-play through alliteration and anaphora. Tender Buttons is an inside-out example of the forest vs. the trees: usually, we're told to stop focusing on details and look at the big picture, but in Stein's work, the big picture makes absolutely no sense, while each individual tree is breathtaking. 

Original (excerpts taken from


Tender Buttons



Nickel, what is nickel, it is originally rid of a cover.

The change in that is that red weakens an hour. The change has come. There is no search. But there is, there is that hope and that interpretation and sometime, surely any is unwelcome, sometime there is breath and there will be a sinecure and charming very charming is that clean and cleansing. Certainly glittering is handsome and convincing.

There is no gratitude in mercy and in medicine. There can be breakages in Japanese. That is no programme. That is no color chosen. It was chosen yesterday, that showed spitting and perhaps washing and polishing. It certainly showed no obligation and perhaps if borrowing is not natural there is some use in giving. 



More of double.

A place in no new table.

A single image is not splendor. Dirty is yellow. A sign of more in not mentioned. A piece of coffee is not a detainer. The resemblance to yellow is dirtier and distincter. The clean mixture is whiter and not coal color, never more coal color than altogether. 

The sight of a reason, the same sight slighter, the sight of a simpler negative answer, the same sore sounder, the intention to wishing, the same splendor, the same furniture.

A not torn rose-wood color. If it is not dangerous then a pleasure and more than any other if it is cheap is not cheaper. The amusing side is that the sooner there are no fewer the more certain is the necessity dwindled. Supposing that the case contained rose-wood and a color. Supposing that there was no reason for a distress and more likely for a number, supposing that there was no astonishment, is it not necessary to mingle astonishment.

The settling of stationing cleaning is one way not to shatter scatter and scattering. The one way to use custom is to use soap and silk for cleaning. The one way to see cotton is to have a design concentrating the illusion and the illustration. The perfect way is to accustom the thing to have a lining and the shape of a ribbon and to be solid, quite solid in standing and to use heaviness in morning. It is light enough in that. It has that shape nicely. Very nicely may not be exaggerating. Very strongly may be sincerely fainting. May be strangely flattering. May not be strange in everything. May not be strange to.


Book was there, it was there. Book was there. Stop it, stop it, it was a cleaner, a wet cleaner and it was not where it was wet, it was not high, it was directly placed back, not back again, back it was returned, it was needless, it put a bank, a bank when, a bank care.

Suppose a man a realistic expression of resolute reliability suggests pleasing itself white all white and no head does that mean soap. It does not so. It means kind wavers and little chance to beside beside rest. A plain. 

Suppose ear rings, that is one way to breed, breed that. Oh chance to say, oh nice old pole. Next best and nearest a pillar. Chest not valuable, be papered.

Cover up cover up the two with a little piece of string and hope rose and green, green. 

Please a plate, put a match to the seam and really then really then, really then it is a remark that joins many many lead games. It is a sister and sister and a flower and a flower and a dog and a colored sky a sky colored grey and nearly that nearly that let.


Suppose it is within a gate which open is open at the hour of closing summer that is to say it is so.

All the seats are needing blackening. A white dress is in sign. A soldier a real soldier has a worn lace a worn lace of different sizes that is to say if he can read, if he can read he is a size to show shutting up twenty-four.

Go red go red, laugh white.

Suppose a collapse in rubbed purr, in rubbed purr get.

Little sales ladies little sales ladies little saddles of mutton. 

Little sales of leather and such beautiful beautiful, beautiful beautiful.


Word-Replacement Version:


Careful Meditations



Education, what is education, it is originally rid of a prescription.

The raising in that is that institutions weaken in standing. The change has come. There is such search. Then there is, there is that hope and that interpretation and trailblazing, surely any is impressive, sometime there is learning and there will be a knowledge and understanding very understanding is that used and using. Certainly pondering is handsome and enduring.

There is no gratitude in thinking and in medicine. There can be breakages in families. That is no explanation. That is no path chosen. It was chosen yesterday, in innate aptitudes thinking and perhaps wishing and washing. Toward certainty it showed no tendency and perhaps if deciding is not natural there is some use in reasoning. 


More of concreteness.

A trust in rules for action.

The reduction of a reason, the relative reason righter, the reduction of an empirical absolute answer, the intimate pluralistic philosopher, the intention to reasoning, the ideally perfect, the decidedly irrational.

The attempt to deny a truth is when implicitly affirmed and always there is no doubting in a Hegelian universe.

A not imaginable self-contradictory variation. If it is not dialectic then a disconnexion and more than any other if it is ration is not rational. The paradoxical side is that the contradictions there are implied and easily is the opposite satisfied. Supposing that the circumstance contained self-contradictory and a variation. Supposing that there was no armament for a peace and more liberty for a law, supposing that there was no harmony, is it not possible to mingle outcomes.

The adoption of voluntary faith is one way not to wish willful and willing. The one way to use will is to use facts and theories for believing. The one way to postulate truth is to deliberately resolve the destiny and the destination. The perfect way to pin the faith is to have a certitude and the rolling up of an experience and to be sure, quite sure in believing and to use reason in deciding. It is live enough in being tempted. It has that inner potential. Action creating may not be valued. To turn your back on God may be unpreventable. May be mistakenly useful. May not be mistaken. May not be useful to.


Habit was there, it was there. Habit was there. Define it, define it, it was an action, an unjustified action, and it was not where it was unjustified, it was not thought, it was directly acted upon, not stopped will, stopped it was valued, it was physical, it put a try, a try when, a try failed.

Suppose an opportunity a defining moment of definite defiance suggests removing itself action all action and no bending does that mean stop. It does not so. It means decision wavers and little chance to recover recover dignity. A habit.

Suppose failure, that is one way to quit, quit that. Oh chance to say, oh not good enough. Next best and try it again. Consistency not valuable, be persevering.

Carry on carry on the task with a great strength of determination and hope grows and energy, energy.

Wander an attention, take a fall from the path and try again try again, try again it is a failure that deters many many breaking habits. It is a pitfall and pitfall and a triumph and a triumph and a break and a difficult exception an exception peculiarly passed and nearly that nearly that prevailed.


Suppose it is within a mind which open is open at the start of thoughtfulness concluding that is to say where it is so important.

All the thoughts are independently knowing. A simultaneous possibility is in store. A society a typical society has a prescribed set a prescribed set of acknowledged namings that is to say if we can name, if we can name we are agreed to notice blocking off future attempts.

Go brain go brain, fade slowly. 

Suppose a conclusion in meaningful words, in meaningful words nonsense.

Possible thought language possible thought language possible tasks of philosophy.  

Possible thoughts of minds and such pondering pondering, pondering pondering.