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Friday, October 3, 2014

Bridging from Whitman & Dickinson to Stein's Tender Buttons

What? The Steiny Road Poet is participating in another session of ModPo?

Yes, the 2014 Coursera MOOCModern & Contemporary American Poetry (ModPo) by University of Pennsylvania professor Al Filreis’ is absorbing every spare moment of Steiny’s time. Again. The news is she is now seeing more clearly why the good professor begins his course with Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman.



What happens in this course is that Filreis shows how 20th century poets like Rae Armantrout and William Carlos Williams seem to be influenced by Emily Dickinson and/or Walt Whitman. (To clarify—Rae Armantrout has bridged into the 21st century and is doing a fine job on innovating anew.) The pivot point in Filreis’ MOOC is week four when Gertrude Stein is introduced.


THE WHITMAN DICKINSON BRIDGE TO STEIN

This ModPo year, Steiny took deeper looks at Dickinson and Whitman and saw cross connections between the work of these poets and Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein.

Cross connections between Whitman and Stein are strong. For example, Stein seems to point at Whitman in Tender Buttons, section 1 “Objects” subpoem, “A Chair.” 

Here is stanza 8 of “A Chair.””

Actually not aching, actually not aching, a stubborn bloom is so artificial and even more than that, it is a spectacle, it is a binding accident, it is animosity and accentuation.

Here are the opening stanzas of Whitman’s elegy to Lincoln “When Lilacs in the Dooryard Bloom’d”:

1
When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,  
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,  
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring. 
Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,  
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west, 5 
And thought of him I love. 


As stated in the proceedings of the Buttons Collective on “A Chair.”, Stein seems to be addressing the assassination of Abraham Lincoln through his widow Mary Todd Lincoln. In the cross comparison of stanza 8 of “A Chair.” with the opening of “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” one notices a sound repetition based on the keening “ac”—actually not aching, actually not achingaccident … accentuation (Stein) compared with lilacs last (Whitman).

But Stein also imitates Whitman’s dooryard bloom'd with stubborn bloom. Stein’s words: and even more than that reverberate with Whitman’s phrasing: and yet shall mourn with ever.

Stein also seems to summon Whitman in other parts of Tender Buttons. Could the “Objects” subpoem “A Leave.” be pointing at Leaves of Grass? Maybe, Stein is setting the compass to Whitman, but within the subpoem pointing to “I Sing the Body Electric.”





Here is “A Leave.”:


A LEAVE.

In the middle of a tiny spot and nearly bare there is a nice thing to say that wrist is leading. Wrist is leading.


Here is an excerpt from “I Sing the Body Electric”:

2

The expression of the face balks account,
But the expression of a well-made man appears not only in his face,
It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of his hips and wrists,
It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex of his waist and knees, dress
    does not hide him,


What Steiny notices about “the Body Electric” is the word wrists and all that emphasis on joints. And why in Stein is the wrist leading? Possibly because she is writing and in writing she is leaving some thoughts on the page, the printed page that in hot type had a kind of spacing called leading. Wrist as my Buttons pal Peter Treanor pointed out to Steiny while they were talking in email this summer (imagine that another reality beyond the ModPo discussion forum) wrist is a joint between hand and arm. And Peter informed Steiny based on the Oxford English dictionary that the origin of wrist comes from—Old English via German—writhe. If you take the h out of writhe, you get write.


Stein is pretty blatant in the Tender Buttons “Food” section as “Way Lay Vegetable.” opens with Leaves in grass and mow potatoes, have a skip, hurry you up flutter. Or maybe not so blatant since it is Leaves in and not Leaves of. However Steiny won’t comment further but will patiently await the ModPo Buttons Collective to weigh in on “Food” soon.


WHITMAN TRAITS FOUND IN STEIN

In the meantime, some traits in common between Stein and Whitman fall in these categories:

  • The human body
  •  
  • Love of America
  •  
  • Emphasis on poetic identity and maybe identity in general
  •  
  • Attention to what’s natural (part of that Emersonian influence?)
  •  
  • Awareness about economics, class (the haves and have-nots as well as what is equal and democratic)
  •  
  • Contradictions/dualities
  •  
  • Metaphysical issues



ROOTING AROUND IN DICKINSON TO FIND STEIN

As to the commonalities between Stein and Dickinson, probably most of the list in common with Whitman applies but much more subtly. Certainly Dickinson’s extreme emphasis on word selection applies. Often one has to go to the root meaning of a word with both Dickinson and Stein. Here’s an anecdote from Steiny recent interactions in ModPo.



September 10, 2014 in the ModPo discussions, Dave Poplar, one of the many super fine teaching assistants, and Steiny were chewing the fat during his office hours. I was concerned about swerving Splinters in Dickinson’s “Brain within its groove.” Here is ED's entire poem:






Emily Dickinson, #556


The Brain, within its Groove

Runs evenly--and true-- 

But let a Splinter swerve-- 

'Twere easier for You—

To put a Current back-- 

When Floods have slit the Hills-- 

And scooped a Turnpike for Themselves-- 

And trodden out the Mills--


Dave was concerned about ED’s use of scooped. So Steiny went to the roots of scooped and a saw this:

[Middle English scope, from Middle Dutch and Middle Low German schpe, bucket for bailing water.]

Would you say that going to the grassroots was on a par with the Steinian wrist-writhe discovery? Thought so.


KEEP THE WHITMAN DICKINSON RADAR GOING FOR TENDER BUTTONS

The conversation isn’t over. Fair warning to the Buttons collective that we will be on the lookout for Whitmanian and Dickinsonian markers as we do a new close reading of Tender Buttons “Objects” and a first close reading of Tender Buttons “Food.” 


P.S. It’s not too late to sign up for the free Coursera ModPo MOOC and then join in the TB MOOSG (Tender Buttons massive open online study group).

Monday, July 21, 2014

Stepping on Tender Buttons: “Peeled Pencil, Choke.”, “It Was Black, Black Took.”. “This Is This Dress, Aider.” Part 2 of 2


CARD SHARKS IN THE BUTTONS BOX

THE BOOK ..........................-           TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ...................-           OBJECTS
THE SUBPOEM ...................-          PEELED PENCIL, CHOKE: NUMBER 56
WORD COUNT......................-           3
STANZA(S)............................-           1
THE SUBPOEM ...................-         IT WAS BLACK, BLACK TOOK: NUMBER 57
WORD COUNT......................-           27
STANZA(S)............................-           2
THE SUBPOEM ...................-          THIS IS THIS DRESS, AIDER: NUMBER 58
WORD COUNT......................-           32
STANZA(S)............................-           2
THE LEADER........................-           THE STEINY ROAD POET
CO-LLABORATORS..............-           MODPO STUDENTS/THE BUTTONS
GENRE..................................-           VIRTUAL OPERA
LOCATION............................-USA, UK, Australia, Philippines, S. Africa, Canada.
TIME......................................-           ALL HOURS OF EARTH’S CLOCK
TONE.....................................-           CHAOTIC WITH A SHIMMY

 “Stein reaches around till she finds what suits her purpose. And we [Buttons] have learned to do that too.” Karren Alenier

“If you come to Stein with a big ego, you won’t get very far at all—you need to work with others.” Eleanor Smagarinsky


PEELED PENCIL, CHOKE.

Rub her coke.


IT WAS BLACK, BLACK TOOK.

Black ink best wheel bale brown.

Excel lent not a hull house, not a pea soup, no bill no care, no precise no past pearl pearl goat.


THIS IS THIS DRESS, AIDER.

Aider, why, aider why whow, whow stop touch, aider whow, aider stop the muncher, muncher munchers.

A jack in kill her, a jack in, makes a meadowed king, makes a to let.


Talk about stepping in it, “This Is This Dress, Aider.” seems like a mined field. Let’s talk about the title first.


TAKING CAREFUL STEPS IN THE AIDER MEADOW

Allan Keeton:
THIS IS THIS DRESS, AIDERè “This is distress, aid her.”

Steiny asks, could Aider be Ada, the character and title of Stein’s first portrait (written in 1910), which was about Alice Toklas? This seems likely because until Alice-Ada took flight from San Francisco and her family, her whole life was devoted for caring  for (aiding) her father, brother, and grandfather. She was assigned this role when her mother died of cancer. Interestingly, the Ada portrait dwells on Ada exchanging “tender letters” with her father who wanted her to come back, but Ada was not willing because she had become “happier than anyone else who was living then.” (Maybe these tender letters gives the title Tender Buttons a more fraught meaning.)

Finding Stein allowed Toklas to choose whom she would aid for the rest of her life. However, the Aider subpoem might be similar to the situation Alice had faced in giving her commitment to Stein instead of her father (the meadowed king) and her brother (jack in kill her). According to the Ada portrait there were other family members who also lived with Ada’s family and that was taking its toll on her. These interlopers were perhaps the munchers of the Aider subpoem.

Here is a read that incorporates Alice’s backstory. Aider, why, aider why whow—Alice, why aid me. whow stop touch, aider whow, aider stop the muncher, muncher munchers—Tell me the why and how as we touch or maybe you would prefer that we stop so you can tell me about the family members who took advantage of you. A jack in kill her—There was your brother, still living at home and not looking for a wife and a jack in, makes a meadowed king—your ageing father worried about his son and each of them were makes a to let—taking a share of you.


WHAT DO THE LETTERS SAY?

Anagrammatic and sound variations of the title could be:
This Is Distress, I Read.
This Is Distress, A Ride.
This Is This Dress, Aired.
This Ist His Dress, Ada.
Shit Is Shit. Dress Aired.

Next let’s look at: Aider, why, aider why whow, whow stop touch, aider whow, aider stop the muncher, muncher munchers.

From the Oxford English dictionary regarding whow:
whou, whough(e, whouh, whow(e, variants of how, howe int.1
    C. 1425 Quhow: see whew int.
    1542 Udall Erasm. Apoph. 314 ― Whough, saieth he, half my brother’s bodye is more then the whole.
    1598 R. Bernard tr. Terence, Phormio ɪɪɪ. iii, ― How much money need you? speake. But thirtie poundes. Thirtie! Whow.
    1615 Brathwait Strappado 129 ― Whou Billie whou, what faire has thou bin at?
    1627 W. Hawkins Apollo Shroving ɪɪ. iv. 33 ― He answered me nothing but whough, pugh.
    1815 Scott Guy M. xlv, ― ‘Eh whow! Eh whow!’ ejaculated the honest farmer, as he looked round upon his friend’s miserable apartment.
So † whowb(e (in quots. as sb.; cf. howbub, hubbub).
    1600 W. Watson Decacordon ᴠɪɪ. x. (1602) 217 ― They hissed him out with whoubs & hoo-bubs.
1600 W. Watson Decacordon ɪx. viii. 327 [see how, howe int.1].

This gives the details on how old the word whow is and how it doubles as an interjection.


CHEWING THE FAT & THE SCREAM

Muncher has a variety meanings. The Free Dictionary says that a muncher is “a chewer” who makes a loud noise chewing presumably food and that this chewer may be doing it with pleasure. Could this be Stein enjoying Alice’s cooking? Since the next section of Tender Buttons is called “Food,” this may be experienced as Stein cueing the reader for the next food-oriented subpoems. However, since Stein’s publisher set the order of the sections and “Objects” was written last, the cueing is only accidental.

Peter Teanor:
Muncher could be  eating or mouth or a grazing animal (cow, horse?). And stop the  muncher seems like someone trying to stop eating or the mouth or an animal. Is there a ride, on a horse? And are the muncher munchers people/animals who eat the muncher? If a horse is the muncher (munching on grass (leaves of grass?—[Whitman’s Leaves of Grass?])) are the muncher munchers people who eat horse? The French are partial to a bit of horse (or so us Brits are led to believe)
.”

Allan:
“According to the Urban Dictionary:”
Muncher, Munch, Munches, Munchers. An individual or group of homosexual nature (male or female). A shortened term stemming from phrases such as carpet muncher (referring to lesbians) And Pillow munchers—referring to homosexual men.

Steiny asks who is the ultimate muncher? How about the artist who created “The Scream”? Surely Stein was aware of Edvard Munch and his work.

Edvard Munch (Norwegian: 12 December 1863 – 23 January 1944) was a Norwegian painter and printmaker whose intensely evocative treatment of psychological themes built upon some of the main tenets of late 19th-century Symbolism and greatly influenced German Expressionism in the early 20th century. One of his most well known works is The Scream of 1893.  


ADDRESSING THE DRESS AGAIN

The last stanza A jack in kill her, a jack in, makes a meadowed king, makes a to let evoked lots of discussion which included card games, the King of England’s property, violence, sex, and rentals.

Eleanor Smagarinsky:
makes a to letè makes a toilette.

Screech, that’s Steiny stopping suddenly to notice that this homophonic translation of a to let to a toilette puts this phrase in touch with the title of this subpoem— THIS IS THIS DRESS, AIDER.

toi·lette  (twä-lt)
n.
1. The act or process of dressing or grooming oneself; toilet.
2. A person's dress or style of dress.
3. A gown or costume.


DECONSTRUCTING MEADOWED KING

Peter:
“meadowed-
me a do wed (is ‘a’ Alice?)
me, alice do wed.

From the phrase meadowed king, Peter deconstructs the word meadowed but one must not overlook that Stein considers herself the male partner and the king of the house (or should Steiny say King of the Took/Rook?).

Could it be that Stein is repeating A jack in is pointing to ejaculation? Could it be that entire subpoem “This Is This Dress, Aider.” describes sex between Stein and Toklas?

Now back to how Dave Green responded to Eleanor’s interpretation of makes a to let.

Dave Green:
to let in the sense of letting a room or a contract? If a jack is put in ‘a,’ she will share a room with you or make room for you in her life, award you a personal contract, a pledged relationship?
makes a meadowed king—sounds Shakespearean. I like the sound of it.

Eleanor:
“This killing at the end. Of course, it's sexual. But still, there's more to it. There's violence/risk/danger, and it's more complex than just a fetish, because homosexuality really was (still is, in many countries) dangerous. People's lives are at stake, any way you look at it. Living like this perhaps felt like living with some sort of poison which you were born with, in your very body—your desire threatening your life. This made me look back at the word ‘lace,’ perhaps it could also refer to the lacing of a person - constraining, beating or poisoning.

“From ‘A LEAVE.’
soldier has a worn lace a worn lace of different sizes that is to say if he can read,

“Is she [Stein] warning us?

“From ‘A LITTLE CALLED PAULINE.’
A little lace makes boils.

“These have not been ‘pretty little poems,’ and there's a threatening violence throughout (it's in the grammar somehow). I believe this is one of the factors that lead to Stein's readers feeling angry and defensive.”

Karren:
meadowed king

“Dave said this phrase sounded Shakespearean so I thought I would look and see what I could find. I found King's Meadow, which seems fraught given Henry VIII grabbed this land from the monks. Would we call them munchers?”

King's Meadow is a park in ReadingBerkshireEngland, located next to the River Thames. It stretches from the Coal Woodland (so-called because it used to be the site of a coal heap [1]) to King's Meadow Road near Reading Bridge. King's Meadow is visible from the railway when entering or leaving Reading railway station from the eastern side. 

King's Meadow was a possession of Reading Abbey and became owned by the King after the dissolution of the monasteries. In 1869 the town of Reading purchased 12 acres (4.9 ha) of the meadow as a recreation ground.[2] This area has long been used as the site of a variety of public events such as Reading market, a racecourse, Reading shows and fairs.

The Dissolution of the Monasteries, sometimes referred to as the Suppression of the Monasteries, was the set of administrative and legal processes between 1536 and 1541 by which Henry VIII disbanded monasteriesprioriesconvents and friaries in England, Wales and Ireland, appropriated their income, disposed of their assets, and provided for their former members and functions. He was given the authority to do this in England and Wales by the Act of Supremacy, passed by Parliament in 1534, which made him Supreme Head of the Church in England, thus separating England from Papal authority, and by the First Suppression Act (1536) and the Second Suppression Act (1539).

Allan:

“A meadowed king sounds like a king who is out to pasture,
getting old and lacking vitality & power.

“A jack in kill her, a jack in, makes a meadowed king,
Her killing leads to the king's meadowing.

“Whow didst thou king come upon this meadowing?
A  knave put his jack in and killed her.”

Peter:

“Wasn’t there a meadow in another poem a few back?
or meadowme adieu,  a goodbye/ farewell.
she's jacking it in, killing it, saying goodbye, making a vacancy, a ‘to let.’”

Eleanor:

“Peter, you're right about meadow being in another poem, goodness!”


Water astonishing and difficult altogether makes a meadow and a stroke.

“So so good. You see, this is one of the poems Al [Filreis] and the [ModPo] Gang close read (if memory serves me right), and remember Amaris [a ModPo Teaching Assistant] talking in a separate live webcast about how words should be like water, not like furniture being moved around a room. So ....

“Stein's writing (there's the W again) is ‘astonishing and difficult’ but it will bring you to a wedding, to love, and a stroke—not only of the pen, but a powerful, erotic stroking....which is a stroke of genius as we swim through the water raining. 

“At this point in our study, I think we're swimming laps at a great pace!! (oh no, now ‘swimming laps’ is taking on an erotic frisson, is there no end? Apparently not!).”

Karren:
Allan, I think based on Henry VIII history that the meadowed king became a greedy king. The king stopped the followers (munchers--sheep) from feeding on the meadow that had belonged to the Catholic Church.

I find it down right perverse that Gertrude is speaking in Medieval English—whow which is so counter to her stance on creating the present moment, opening the window of now, with whow. But I have seen her do this before. She steals back to the distant past to encode her message and then folks stand around and scratch their heads. Why? Because the head scratchers Xpect Stein to be consistent. She just isn't. She reaches around till she finds what suits her purpose.

“And we have learned to do that too! So why not, a meadowed king, a king out to pasture. There's a content king, no? but oops, Allan, the king gets jacked. It's a funny kind of parlor game, those cards don't have the value you expect.”

Allan:
“Karren,

Why? Because the head scratchers Xpect Stein to be consistent. She just isn't.

“It’s a good thing that we didn't know that we were supposed
to expect consistency, at least not in meaning 1) below,
but perhaps in meaning 2). There is a feel to the way
the words like water hold together by falling upon 
and reaching around each other.

con·sist·en·cy
kənˈsistənsē/
noun

    1.
conformity in the application of something, typically that which is necessary for the sake of logic, accuracy, or fairness.
"the grading system is to be streamlined to ensure greater consistency"
synonyms

uniformityconstancyregularity, evenness, steadiness, stability, equilibrium;  




    2.
the way in which a substance, typically a liquid, holds together; thickness or viscosity.
"the sauce has the consistency of creamed butter"
synonyms:
thicknessdensityviscosity, heaviness, 

It's a funny kind of parlor game, those cards don't have the value you expect.

Absolutely.

Eleanor:
“So perhaps the (in)consistency of our group's dynamics mimics the (in)consistency of Stein's writing. Our different histories, life experiences, personalities, locations—they form a liquid. We ebb and flow as do Stein's words. The system to pointing demands an eclectic community.

“I suppose this method of study is more akin to scientific work—you have a team of scientists in a big lab. This is in stark contrast to the solitary academic who works alone in a corner of the library. If you come to Stein with a big ego, you won't get very far at all - you need to work with others. So when brand-new students arrive at the Stein chapter in ModPo, their confusion and frustration is to be expected—it's as if they were told to research a mysterious phenomenon but not supplied with a lab. They basically wonder around the forums looking for a room with some counters and beakers and Bunsen burners. They need to join a research team. The Button Lab!! Motto could be ‘Join the team—grab a test tube and a copy of the Periodic Table and start experimenting.’ In scientific research, no hypothesis is too far-fetched, no experiment is silly, and you never know when one thing will lead to another.”


CARD GAMES & RIDING THE COW

 Karren:
“Could we talk about parlor games again?

“Let's picture a raunchy casino like one you might find in Vegas but I bet there were raunchy casinos in Stein's time, maybe in Monte Carlo? Who knows about this?

“So we are all sitting under hot lights sweating with cigs hanging out of our mouths, telling the dealer to hit (touch) me and then stop. Meanwhile the casino is munching up  my money, our money.

“Then I get a Jack, a killer card and another Jack which puts the king out to pasture (meadowing the king) giving Alice something to tell (I say Alice tell it, tell that story  a to let==>a (Alice) tell it). So there is Alice aiding me in my distress.  OK, not me but Gertrude, Gertrude as the card shark overcoming the munchers.”

Peter:
“I’m sure she would like this game [euchre], popular at the time
with slang in it that includes:
    Milking the Cow: A celebratory gesture done when a team is in the barn (have 9 points) in which one partner interlocks his fingers with his thumbs pointing down while the other pretend the thumbs are udders and milk them.
    Opening the Barn: Similar to Milking the Cow, this is a celebratory gesture done when a team receives their eighth point in which one partner puts their hands together, fingertips touching, and the other partner "opens" the hands.
Riding the Cow into the Sunset: In the same spirit as Milking the Cow and Opening the Barn, players who win the game will ride the cow into the sunset. Both partners will put their hands above their heads and wave in a circular motion while slightly bouncing up and down to simulate riding a horse waving a lasso.

I can just hear her and Alice roaring with laughter at the in joke as they ride the cow till sunset ( oh and cows are munchers too).”

Karren:
Peter, did you see this:

The highest-ranking card in euchre is the Jack of the trump suit (called 'The Right Bower' or 'Right') …

how did you find euchre?

Peter:
“Yes I saw that the jack trumps/kills the king. And the whole game is farmyard themed so putting the king to meadow seems to fit too.

“I found it with the help of the Google fairy, random words like jack, king, game,1900, etc., into the digital cauldron and let chance and the oracular algorithms do their crazy thing. There is a French version of it mentioned that is for 2 people to play too. I thought they would be playing the games that were being played in Paris as well as ones that they'd brought from home. I don’t think they would be able to resist the cow business. Who could really?”


THE LETTER FETISH

Before Steiny picks up her lantern and moves on down the road from the last subpoems of section 1 “Objects,” she wants to return to the elemental objects of Tender Buttons and that is, the letters that make up the words and grammar of Stein’s renewed language. In particular, Stein focuses on A, which is also The One, her life partner Alice B. Toklas. Sure, Stein has entertained us with her card tricks and tongue twisters but, in the end, this is a love story about communication and partnership. Eleanor Smagarinsky has found the perfect way to close this discussion, which streams from the last words of “This Is This Dress, Aider.” (makes a to let):

LET - LET HER - LETTER
“Again, Roland Barthes”:
The writer of pleasure (and his reader) accepts the letter; renouncing bliss, he has the right and the power to express it: the letter is his pleasure; he is obsessed by it, as are all those who love language...
“Stein perfectly combines the pleasures of the body and of the text here. Aiding and abetting her partner (Ada) in the ‘crime’ of blissful sex, aiding and abetting her reader in the ‘crime’ of blissful text. She's really taking us to the limits in this last poem. Kill us off, Gertrude, go on, and then renew us—LET.
Barthes:
The text is a fetish object, and this fetish desires me.

So yes, Steiny invites you to join her in the next ModPo forum when in the fall of 2014 she plans to resume Tender Buttons studies. The ModPo course is free and open to all as is the Tender Buttons studies that take place in the ModPo Discussion Forums.