Al and Hemingway (Notes for Al Stephens project)

by jkatejohnston

The main thing I remember about the Hemingway class is that Mr. Stephens read two of my papers aloud, and I just about died of happiness. And relief. I didn’t torture him this time!

We were an unusually dim class. One time we were talking about the character of Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises. Mr. Stephens was losing patience with us.

“What is the problem here? Physically, what is the problem?”

Silence. Silence. Finally someone said, “He is…without a phallus?”


Good God! I’d missed that entirely. And just as well, since I would have had no idea how to say ‘penis’ in front of Mr. Stephens.

When the first paper was coming up, people started asking how to write it. How do you write an introduction? How do you write a conclusion? What about a thesis? He said not to bother with any of that. Start right in with what you have to say, and when you’ve said it, stop. But you need a title.

He must have been dreading what we were going to write. One day he read to us for a long time from a book by Bill Sankey about Hardy. [I’m almost sure this was in the Hemingway class, not the Hardy class. Does anyone else remember?] He wanted to give us some chance at writing about what was there.

Mr. Stephens said that Hemingway wrote a list of things that he liked, and I think he read that to us in class. It must have been in one of Hemingway’s letters. He said that that was a good assignment and we should try it. He didn’t mention that he wrote several poems that were that. He called them Depositions.

First Deposition

A trout stream in the high Rockies,
my wife’s laughter, a little brass whale
from Taiwan, the sight from my study window
of the two blue hills above the trees,
all kinds of cats, the high desert
of northern Nevada, all particulars
concerning the life and writings of Pope,
the time of sundown and just after,
the grammar of any language, a flawless
sea urchin shell found on Hendry’s beach
and kept around and looked at
almost daily for ten years now,
all the birds, the look of Greek on the page,
cottonwood trees in summer, glistening
above the ditches in the dry country
of the west, the words of English songs
of the period 1580 to 1620,
the smell of lumber, of the iron
in a hoe as you file it, of a horse;
bolts of fine woolen goods;
the Indian head nickel; rain,
snow, sunshine, wind, darkness,
the game of poker, discovering used bookstores
in large cities, the clear recollection
of the house and farmyard of early childhood;
driving through streets to meet someone
at the airport, at an hour, late or early,
when you are not usually out; bare trees;
the rhythms of iambic trimeter;
granite boulders; coffee; the coming
of the early darkness of December.

Alan Stephens, Collected Poems, 156