Sandra Doller on “I am I because my little dog knows me.” -Gertrude Stein

This seems like an odd choice for a favorite line of poetry. It’s little—in a few senses, no less so due to its limited, maybe even triteness, of subject. There is something domestic, girlish/old ladyish, silly, and even coy about it. I can’t separate Stein herself from her line, which is partly what makes it a line I love: Stein is not only defined and embedded in her line here, but every time I read/hear/say it, I can’t help but conjure a person actually attached; it’s an embodied line. And a line of poetry should contain a person, a whole one, right?

This line o’ Stein also does and contains many of the things a poetry line is and carries. Because I come from a non-lit/non-poetry background (as many poets naturally do) I think of “lines” in poetry as relational units: I especially like thinking of “a line” in terms of a come-on or pick-up line, which I think a line should in many ways be. What is it about a line that makes it need itself. Makes it demand its own existence and finitude as a line. What/who else does it need? Do you want to go home with it, drink with it, or turn it off the box? Because I think about performance, I think a line should also have something in it that makes it want to be said in addition to being read. And it’s memorable, in a more-than-Coca-Cola-ad way, but , yes, there is also a sense that this line is an advertisement for itself.

There is a song in this line, the scarecrow of a nursery rhyme, which is also just right, and part of where poetry comes from, and is headed. Or could be. Poems are for children and old people; the rest of us are incidental and liminal and too angsty and stupidly busy to dig it all fully.

This line, in one of its lives, comes from a play (go play!), or a poem (“Identity A Poem”) or something that calls itself a play. Which also seems just right. Stein’s poems/plays/prose/portraits push what genre is and still challenge our weak little needs to categorize and conventionalize everything, from pieces of art, to “I”’s, to “dog”’s.

For a writer so well known for repetition, only “I” is repeated in this line. Continuous present as self-definition, maybe the only self-definition possible, in that tautological yet never simplistic Stein way. Like Stein, like poetry, like lines, like dogs, this little piece of work (Stein/her line/her dog) is simple but not simplistic.

And, of course, there’s a dog in it. How could I not love a line that has Stein and a dog? I am afraid of/love dogs beyond control, object, measure. They are we. They are better. They are worse. They know us better. They define us, as they’s/us’s do. It’s a math equation, our codependence. I have a little dog; she is 50 pounds; I have a non-little dog; he is 100 pounds. Math is life.

I almost talked about:

“the little

thin things


-Lorine Niedecker

Because it’s related, and because I love other people’s children. But that’s another dog altogether.


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4 Responses to Sandra Doller on “I am I because my little dog knows me.” -Gertrude Stein

  1. Isa says:

    “And a line of poetry should contain a person, a whole one, right?” Such an interesting idea, Sandra. One I’ve been thinking about recently. And so interesting to think of presence or containment of a person in Stein’s work. Thanks for giving me some additional thought-fodder.

  2. SEO says:

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