Like most of her poems, Gertrude Stein’s poem “A Red Stamp” featured in Tender Buttons (1914) is hard to grasp on first read, and even harder to grasp on the second. Steins poems change the traditional construction of poems so much that most of the time they are beyond conventional comprehension, “A Red Stamp” being no exception. The first confusing thing about this poem is that it has no mention of a Red Stamp anywhere in its content. It is almost as if Stein just sees an object lying close to her, then creates a poem based off of her train of thought at the time of seeing the object. Stein is known for the concept of “automatic writing,” in which one creates poems letting their mind and hand become one being instead of fully thinking out what is being written. This practice makes it so her poem is more a string of words that allow for little to no interpretation because it is already fully deconstructed. The poem seems to be posing a question, however nothing is really asked of the reader, leaving them confused and unsure of what they have just read. The second confusing aspect to her poem is the repetition of words and sounds such as “if” and “dust.” She strings similar sounding words together to create some sort of meaning, but together the words are hard to process: “…and even dust, if they dusty will dirt a surface that has no extreme grace…” (6). The way Stein uses repetition creates almost a hypnotic aspect to her poem, as if I was reading a spell or an enchantment. She uses diction that actually is quite lovely sound, there are a lot of “s” sounds that helps the poem flow like a hiss, however there is a sharp ending with the “ca” sound of “catalog.” Reading Steins poems is almost like reading into the human mind, and trying to understand the working of human thought. I think to attain pleasure from Stein’s poems one takes them on face value and move on. Poems like this are not up to interpretation because they simply are what they are, and since Stein focuses on sound more than sense, letting the poems stand alone is the most feasible way of making sense of them. Steins readers most likely did not know much about her or her poems, so this style of poetry could easily catch someone off guard. Yet I believe, even though her poems are more confusing than anything else, they do have creative merit through her way of writing them and letting her mind take the wheel.
Tender Buttons (1914) p. 6