Open Letter to Kristen Stewart


(Poet and actor Antonin Artaud.)


Dear Kristen Stewart,

I’m a poet and professor at UCLA, and thought you might be interested in what some of my poet friends (most of whom also teach and are otherwise very accomplished) and I have been writing on Facebook about your recent poem published in Marie Claire. This is partly to address the apparently universal opinion by journalists – most of whom seem to not know anything about literature – that this is a terrible poem.

My own initial post went like this: “The second stanza isn’t horrible. Worst part of the poem are those awful adjectives! Stupid Beats.” What I meant by this was that the words “digital” (applied to moonlight), “scrawled” when linked to “neon” (neon is a much overused word by poets who want to sound like Beatniks) and “abrasive” (applied to organ pumps) weren’t working for me. I also didn’t like the word “ubiquitously” especially since everything up until that point was in the singular – ubiquitously seems to suggest some sort common element among many parts. Not a big fan of “Whilst” either.

But I thought the second stanza was very delicate with sound play – “parked” and “Marfa” are good off-rhymes (I heard the word “barf” in there somehow) and there is some nice alliteration in “Devils not done digging / He’s speaking in tongues all along the pan handle / and this pining erosion…” etc. And I like the broken syntax and quick movements in perspective – there’s little to no punctuation and most people can’t pull that off. And the line “He’s speaking in tongues all along the pan handle” is very evocative to me – and seems to explain some of the eccentricities of syntax and vocabulary in the first verse!

Anyway, so some of the other comments that came in here quite interesting. I’m not going to give the poets’ names since I haven’t asked their permission for this (I’m writing this quite quickly), but a female poet in New York wrote: “I don’t think it’s bad at all. It’s better than 90 percent of the poems in the first batch of my intro to creative writing class. I just read three different poems about a football game. Three different young men.”

Another poet here in Los Angeles – he studied linguistics and works at Google – wrote “For someone who never went to high school, I think ‘Your nature perforated the abrasive organ pumps’ shows a pretty promising imagination.” I think what he means is that there is genuinely Surrealist element in the first stanza – “abrasive organ pumps” could have been written by Antonin Artaud – and has some real shock value. This same poet wrote (in response to some negative commentary on the FB feed):

Not sure why folks are hating on this poem. It’s young, but the more I read it, the more I like it. For someone just starting out, it isn’t overly freighted with expectations of what a poem should do or be. If it’s ‘beat’, it’s more Bolinas or young Bernadette than hortatory elder beat. That first line is weird and inspired. And moonlight strafing the foothills, nicely observational.

[“Bernadette” is Bernadette Mayer, a prominent New York poet associated with the Lower East Side.]

Another poet wrote: “I like the title!” That’s pretty cool since I’m not sure if I can get behind the title (unless I read it as extremely pop/campy in that Jeff Koons way). He actually wrote earlier on his own FB feed that he liked the title (that’s where I learned about your poem).

The defenses continued to roll in, even for the unusual adverbs. One poet, a teacher at a prominent college and co-editor of a major publisher of poetry, wrote: “Hm. I actually like the weirdness and energy and if you’re going to have an adverb at all why not go with ‘kismetly.’ I say go for it Ms. Stewart.”

This same poet later wrote – in response to a post that compared you to James Franco (Franco’s writing took a lot of digs on our feed, with no defenders): “No, honey, this is yards better than the few Franco pieces I’ve seen. But there’s lots of different types of poets and poems in the world.”

You found your strongest defender in a poet, editor and teacher at a major university in the Midwest. She wrote:

I actually think this poem is TERRIFIC. I guess there’s something wrong with me. It has a great punchy energy, it’s strange, and I never know where it’s going next. I would put stars all over this poem if it were turned in in my class… Also the language isn’t boring – kismetly and ubiquitously have a nice feel to them. I think this is pretty great.

So you see, there are a lot of qualities to your poem that really come out when you think about them. I’ve come around to liking your strange adverbs, and love it when people invent words. (The great Russian poet Mayakovsky once wrote that the creation of a neologism is a revolutionary act.)

My advice would be – if you really want to do something with poetry – is stay away from that terrible tendency in Hollywood (not just among actors writing, but mostly) to litter your poems with decadent sex and booze stories – Charles Bukowski is not the only one to have ever written a poem, and happily, much as I like him, your poem has none of his qualities. It seems that a lot of male actors in L.A. when they get down to publishing – and they usually publish way too much – seem to think they have to prove they know what a bad hangover or an abusive relationship is.

I would also suggest that you read a lot of crazy shit – i.e. look at the Surrealists and even earlier French poets, some of the more “experimental” work in the U.S. (I could help you with that), read philosophy if you have the time, books about insects and ancient cultures and Japanese horror movies and roofed bridges and, well, anything – it can all go into a poem provided you really care about what you are reading. Conversely, don’t be afraid to be small – William Carlos Williams wrote a major poem about a cat that was only 27 words long.

And lastly, don’t be hung up with trying to make your poems make too much sense. Yes, you don’t want to sound deranged (necessarily, though Arthur Rimbaud argued for just that – but he wasn’t being trailed by paparazzi) or like you have no control over the language. Actually, it’s good to have language have some control over you – I think that’s what we all liked about this poem, you were really going with it.

With enough revision, you can make a poem that has a clear emotional intent without necessarily telling a story or having a clear “message.” An American example would be Hart Crane – many of his poems would (to a journalist) appear completely impenetrable and gibberish, but those of us that love him know exactly what he means. But you can find a lot of examples of this in the movies – David Lynch, obviously, was never kept up at night wondering if everyone understood what his movies were trying to “say.”

I think you were really brave to publish this poem, especially in a magazine in which you can’t merely hide behind their literary credentials to help it pass. Keep going!

Kismetly yours,
Brian Kim Stefans (and a bunch of other poets)    Send article as PDF   
    February 12, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    Woah! I’m reading comments and I gotta say Kristen’s power in society is overwhelming and she’s not even trying hahahaha I love her and she shits on every other actress of this generation.

    February 12, 2014 at 8:45 pm

    Note: If you have to point out that you and your friends are “very accomplished,” then you haven’t accomplished enough.

      February 12, 2014 at 8:49 pm

      Haha, no (@francybhall).

    February 13, 2014 at 12:15 am

    I used to be a poetry slam judge for contests where people won actual money, and have had a few pieces published, so am a bit more than the casual reader. I disagree with you on several points.

    For instance, you claim she made good use of missing punctuation. There’s a difference between leaving out a comma or period to affect the flow of reading, and leaving out an apostrophe. “Devils not done digging” is one such example. I actually had a brief debate with someone over whether that should be “Devils aren’t done digging,” meaning plural, or if there should be an apostrophe so that it’s one devil. This doesn’t affect flow in a positive way. It takes the poem full stop. This isn’t stylistic. It’s a typo. If you want to see a masterful non-use of punctuation, read Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. Despite most punctuation being left out, you never once, in an entire novel, have to stop to figure it out.

    For another, the cadence was jerky in a very amateurish way. It’s not a beatnik beat. It’s just plain tossing words together.

    I know many poets who’ve spent many years honing the craft, and their words seem effortless in their simplicity and beauty. Theirs work doesn’t always make sense in the way you’re saying it doesn’t have to make sense, but you’re never left wondering WTF you just read/heard. You understand, even on a subconscious level, what the piece is trying to do. What is the point of Kristin’s piece? To take us on a trip? Invoke a feeling, or a thought? What is it trying to do? We shouldn’t have to question what we’re supposed to get out of a piece.

    Your letter ultimately comes across as a letter by someone who feels a need to give everyone a trophy. Guess what. If you want to put a product out there when you know it will get attention, if you fail to polish your skills, you have to expect criticism. Anyone who is a professional in any area of the pubic eye knows this. Frankly she should have taken some poetry classes or studied with an actual poet before deciding to release a piece. Well, maybe she studied with an emo teen who writes in a black notebook with a glitter pen about how hard her upper-class life is. This piece is very emo, and you are a rare poet who actually likes it.

    February 13, 2014 at 12:54 am


    What’s a little remorse look like to you? Her apology wasn’t enough? Is she supposed to walk around with her head down, looking shameful, and apologizing every five minutes until you’re satisfied? Who do you think you are? I hope you’re not holding your breath and you can contain your huge sense of self-importance and entitlement. Your hate just makes you look bad. She looks happy to me when I see her.

    What daily “photo ops?” I haven’t seen Kristen in the mainstream news for anything but her work projects. If you stop stalking her every move on gossip sites, then you wouldn’t see the paparazzi pictures that are taken while she’s trying to live her life and the gossip surrounding her personal life.

    She has a huge publicity drive on to restore what image? Kristen has been getting hate for being herself for going on 6 years. What is she going to “restore” it to exactly? Is she trying to restore it to before the first Twilight movie when she had a very small following in the indie world? That seems unlikely and counterintuitive to what you’re suggesting.

    Bottom line, she’s not trying to do anything but work and grow as an artist. I get the feeling that is what makes people like you angriest. You’re frustrated with your own life and trying to project that onto her. But, it doesn’t work because she’s still thriving in a career that she loves and you’re making snarky comments on the message board of yet another person who’s actually accomplished something in his life.

    She is doing what she always does, promoting the projects that she’s involved in. She’s not trying to make you like her and never will. What did she “share” that she hasn’t shared before? She has always shared what books she’s reading, that she cooks, hangs out with friends at home, and that she writes. She’s always talked about her choice of not going to college and possibly directing one day. What’s new, or more revealing than before?

    Oh, she “cryptically” said that loving somebody doesn’t mean owning them because when you love somebody you want them to be what you love and free. That’s sharing too much? I guess sharing that she doesn’t have it all figured out is “pretentious” and “cryptic?”

    The writer asked her to share a poem and she did. Since when is writing/sharing a poem a reason to ridicule somebody, even if you don’t like it?

    You apparently have issues with this young woman. Do yourself a favor and stay away from articles about her. If you don’t like her, then there are plenty of other young actresses to choose from. Pick one that’s “worthy” of your high moral standards and move on with your life.

    I hope if she does decide to pen a tell-all that you can manage to stay away from it (as if you wouldn’t be squirming in your seat, with the permanent butt imprint, salivating at the mouth to read it).

    February 13, 2014 at 3:36 am

    Unfortunately, I am not at all baffled by the fact that Stewart’s personal life has become the central focus of the conversation revolving around her poetry. As a scholar of 19th century poetry, I am often saddened by the fact that the space cleared for women by the 19th century Poetesses remains a similarly confined place in poetic culture. The public still tends to emphasize the importance of a female poet’s reputation and her ability to depict her virtuousness above any other value that might be produced in her poetry. Even though we have revised some of our standards of feminine virtue, poetry written by women is almost always assumed to be a form of diary verse, that reflects nothing but their personal emotions and this is generally an unfair assessment of even the most biographical poetry. Even Sylvia Plath’s poetry is not wholly biographical. The events in “Daddy” align with the Cold War as much, if not more, than as they connect with personal details of Plath’s own life. My point here is that, patriarchal culture produces different standards for critiquing male and female artists, poets, and really and sort of celebrity. While there are numerous men and women who will maintain Woody Allen’s value as an artist regardless of the discussions surrounding his personal life, there is less of a tendency to do this regarding women artists. We can see this clearly in the fact that Stewart’s career has actually suffered more from her affair than the director of the Snow White series. What was his name again? I bet you do not know, Ali. RUPERT SANDERS is the name of the much older married film director who got to continue directing the Snow White series after Stewart was dropped for being the other party in this scandal. Do you not think that he seriously hurt people in his life too? His wife and children maybe? The fact that he was not fired really would not bother me if she also was not fired. The real problem I see here is a double-standard. While most reactions paint Francos poetry as annoyingly typical and trivial, his poetry did not produce the ridiculously hateful backlash that we see with Stewart’s poetry. Whether or not you like Stewart’s poetry is your decision. However, if you are going to comment on her poetry use the language of poetic analysis, not the misogynistic rhetoric associated with Hollywood gossip. Also Ali, I believe that Stewart is technically speaking a woman, not a girl.

    February 13, 2014 at 8:08 am

    Some interesting discussion on this thread!

    I was interviewed yesterday by Alex Cohen of KPCC for her morning show Take Two which airs 9-11am. It will either be played today or tomorrow. Just FYI.

    February 13, 2014 at 8:45 am

    Brian, thanks for the awesome open letter. It gave me, as a Brazilian, a not English-speaking person, an insightful analysis of her poem.

    Poetry is a difficult thing in any language because the cadences. Also, seems she mention some part or region of Texas. So… I could not understand most of it.

    But I admire Stewart for her courage to let a so intimate thing to be published even knowing that that the media bullying and cyber hating would happen. She knows that she is the “Ugly Duck” of this era. American Sociology will study this time frame and will certainly give her as a example of this social behavior.

    She is a phenomenon! Everything this girl do or not do, wear or not wear, say or not say, become news and Provoke debates.

    The fact that these last few days everybody is discussion poetry is phenomenal!


    Although I agree with most of you said above, I would like just to inform you that:

    – Kristen was not fired from Snow White and The Huntsman series, yesterday was just published by Production Weekly that it is a go project, with her, the same producers and two writers, one is a new writer and the other is David, who at the time of the “event” said he was out if she was out. So… She is in!

    – Kristen just filmed 3 projects and beside Snow White, has more 4 projects in pre-production or production. Some already have international distribution and / or US distribution. All her 7 projects are at this moment in EFM in Berlin.

    – Sheila face of two essences from the Balenciaga and just was named the Chanel face for the 2014 collection.

    – She did an interview and just let a magazine publish one of her poems and it became a huge discussion. Everything she wear became sold out in hours after a papz candid picture.

    All she do is work! She is mostly in silence.

    She do not put a paper bag in her head or do drugs or DUI or performance a oral sex scene in a stage during a award presentation.

    But people make relevant all things Kristen Stewart!

    She is an amazing actress. She bought me since Panic Room, Speak and The Cake Eaters.

    She is magnetic! She has that undefined thing that you see.

    So… Her career did not suffer at all!

    If has a huge personal fan base world wide. Stats speaking…
    85% is above 18, mostly are between 25/35 but like me, a lot are above 45.
    2/3 of her fans are not Americans.
    They are a bunch of interesting working people who read a lot, go to the movies a lot, talk at least 2 languages and working in different areas.

    Each time they see a bullying or a prejudice article or behavior, they go in her defence as fathers and mothers.

    Why? Because it is instinctual! She evokes this feelings in people.

    She is a “working in progress” and know it. She is an artist! She has many interests and it is fascinating to watch her grow as a woman, a person and as an artist.

    Voice of Reason
    February 13, 2014 at 11:36 am

    Thank you, Mr. Stefans for this open letter.
    I couldn’t quite evaluate Kristen’s poem, since I’m German and surely no expert in poetry at all. Now I see that someone who knows his metier thinks positive about it, which is at least a little help with the appraisal. Thank you very much for this.
    I’m astounded at the negative backlash the publication of the poem has gotten. I don’t think Ms. Stewart was aware that this would get such a huge reaction. She did an interview and maybe bared more about herself as she actually wished for. This all seems so blown out of dimension, especially the unfounded hate by only hearing who wrote the piece. I sit here and shake my head over some of these comments.

    And now @ Mello
    I very much liked the last part of your comment. I’m a mom over fifty with daughters of Kristen’s age and really can’t understand how people can bash and trash her so much over things, that should not concern them, because they are privat. I’m one of this ‘mothers’, that would jump to her defence when ‘they see a bullying or a prejudice[d] article or behavior’.
    Kristen is just that polarizing.

    Malcolm Johnson
    February 13, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    I am into small presses, zines, poetry, art, etc. Kristen does not seem to realize that she is a Bohemian. When she does, her life will get larger. ‘You go Girl!’

    February 14, 2014 at 2:14 am

    I don’t see the point why poets should have to waste their time reading and critiquing this poem. Isn’t there anything better to do? Kristen doesn’t attempt to be a poet anyway – at least not to be in comparison to other poets. I think the best part of the article is when it said that Kristen “believes [writing poems] is somehow essential to her sanity” – and I think that’s what’s more important to her than being poetically acceptable.

    February 14, 2014 at 5:08 am

    Hi, what’s wrong with writing poetry (even if its shit)? It’s a very, very simple question.

    February 14, 2014 at 11:59 am

    People have asked me why I put a photograph of the French poet, actor and dramaturge Antonin Artaud at the top of this post.

    Well, it was a bit of joke. But he’s so much cooler looking than your average poet (and not a Beatnik). He was in the great film The Passion of Joan of Arc directed by Carl Dreyer in this photograph:

    I was also thinking of Renée Falconetti who played Joan of Arc in this film — who Artaud is looking at this point in the movie — and that Kristen Stewart could either do that role were there a loyal remake (ha) that was, as in the original, largely just a close up of Joan’s face (I think Stewart mostly acts with her face), or in any case that, like Morrissey, Stewart is something of a poetic martyr with her hearing aid starting to melt.

    Here’s the amazing Renée Falconetti:

    But I also mention that one of Stewart’s “worst” lines in the poem (about “abrasive organ pumps”) reminded my of Artaud, if only through the distillation of philosophers Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the “body without organs” which was inspired by Artaud (and is really hard to explain).

    So there’s a twisted logic behind it all. Artaud also wrote about Van Gogh being “suicided by society” which seemed apposite since all the journos were coming down so hard on the poem.

    But really, in the end I just thought it was funny to have him there. He was a weird but beautiful man. One of his most notorious compositions is called “All Writing is Pigshit.”

    More than you need to know, I’m sure. Thanks for all the great (and some not-so-great) comments.

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