Saturday, November 30, 2013

Stepping on Tender Buttons: “A Long Dress.”


THE BOOK ............       ......-           TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ..................-           OBJECTS
THE SUBPOEM ..................-           A LONG DRESS: NUMBER 14
STANZAS.............           .....-          3
WORD COUNT.............   .....-           84
THE CO-LEADER........... .....-           THE STEINY ROAD POET
THE CO-LEADER........... .....-          MARK SNYDER
GENRE.............                ....-           VIRTUAL OPERA
LOCATION............           .....- USA, UK, Australia, Philippines, S Africa,Canada..
TIME...............                    ...-           ALL HOURS OF EARTH’S CLOCK
TONE..............                   ....-           REFOCUSED AND ENERGIZED

Participating Buttons: Steiny Alenier, Barbara Crary, Eleanor Smagarinsky, Allan Keaton, Claudia Schumann, Peter Treanor, Lillian Alden, Nicola Quinn, Dave Green, T. De Los Reyes, Ellen Dillon, Mary Armour


What is the current that makes machinery, that makes it crackle, what is the current that presents a long line and a necessary waist. What is this current.

What is the wind, what is it.

Where is the serene length, it is there and a dark place is not a dark place, only a white and red are black, only a yellow and green are blue, a pink is scarlet, a bow is every color. A line distinguishes it. A line just distinguishes it. 

I'm Mark Snyder. The discussion opens with an observation by the Steiny Road Poet [a.k.a. Karren Alenier] and Peter Treanor that when divided by punctuation, the supoem contained fourteen parts, which coincides with “A Long Dress.” being the fourteenth subpoem in Tender Buttons. [The idea of dividing “A Long Dress.” by the end-stopping punctuation of commas and periods came to Steiny from Eleanor Smagarinsky.] The question was raised as to whether the number fourteen might have a larger numerological significance to the poem or to Gertrude Stein. The Button Collective leaves this unanswered for now.

Steiny noted the correlation between the number of subparts and subpoems, and suggested examining the connections between each corresponding subpart and subpoem.

What if we took each end stopped bit here and reread:
--bit #1 (What is the current that makes machinery,) against subpoem 1 (A CARAFE, THAT IS A BLIND GLASS). OH WHY is that comma after CARAFE?,

--bit #2 (that makes it crackle,) against subpoem 2 (GLAZED GLITTER)
--bit #3 (what is the current that presents a long line and a necessary waist.) against subpoem 3 (A SUBSTANCE IN A CUSHION) and so on?
Would we learn something new in this "system to pointing"?”

With this in mind, Steiny correlated the eighth subpoem MILDRED'S UMBRELLA to the eighth subpart of A LONG DRESS (it is there and a dark place is not a dark place):

If we Buttons were to agree that the 8th subpoem ‘Mildred's Umbrella.’ might be boiled down to the single word vagina, that Mildred's umbrella is her vagina, then that private place, that dark place is not without light in the sexual act.”

Peter noted the significance of the word just in a line distinguishes it/ a line just distinguishes it. He said the word just is what distinguishes this line from the line that precedes it, which puts a spotlight on just. Steiny suggested flipping the word order (e.g., “A just line distinguishes it”). She also noted the influence of Gustave Flaubert on Stein's writing, particularly his principle of le mot juste (the right word; the exact word)—the perfectionistic pursuit of finding the exact word to suit the author's purposes. How do we receive the exact word from Stein? Steiny asked. Well, she is telling us her lines distinguishes these words, these exact words. Steiny also pointed out the association of the word “just' to “justice,” noting the injustice that the love Stein and Toklas shared was unacceptable in the culture of their time, and the injustice of them being unable to have their own children. Tender Buttons was their child, Steiny added, the line carried into the future that we receive here as we midwife every line.

Peter carried this line of thinking further, using Google searches on the words line, current, machinery, waist, and came up with the idea of printing presses. He offered an alternative reading of the subpoem: electricity is the current that runs the machinery of the press; the press prints the flow of current events or news; the press crackles with noise and ideas; the resulting book has long lines of words and sentences and a waist in the binding of the resulting book or pamphlet; the wind (of change) being expressed in the words of the book; the serene length of the wisdom contained in the book; books offer hope and wisdom to those in dark places; paper is read (red, playing on the pun found in the old joke what is black and white and read all over?) So a line does identify the written/ printed word, and a just line distinguishes it even further. And so if justice or the just distinguishes it , is it words, the printed word, the laying down of language and ideas that the it is. That does all these things? Peter concluded his discussion by noting a connection between writing and creating, generating, planting seeds of continuation and pleasure, that both sex, reproduction, words and print.

Citing a lecture from her 1934 American lecture tour in which Stein detailed her dislike for commas, Steiny wondered why LONG DRESS had eight commas versus six periods. (Stein referred to commas as a “poor period” and said she almost never used them.) “No doubt in my mind,” Steiny said, “Stein was up to something with all those commas. But what?”

A comma lets you stop and take a breath, Steiny quotes Stein. Indeed, the musical notation for a breath is a comma; the moment of breathing is dictated in the score. But Stein felt, on the other hand, you ought to know yourself that you want to take a breath. Here, however, she is dictating the breathing, in quick pulses, for the reader, which suggests strong sexual overtones as in heavy breathing. The sexual connotation is enhanced with references to the “current that makes “ (anatomical) “machinery” [contractions of orgasm?] and a “necessary waist.” Dave Green suggested the image of Stein feeling sexual electricity seeing Alice B. Toklas in a long dress: The focus of desire looks like a line, a simple line, but is so much more to GS. Eleanor looking at the first word or two of each line in DRESS end-stopped by comma or period declared this was the sexiest love poem of all:
it is there
only A
only A

Claudia and Steiny connected “crackle” to the sound of taffeta and organza dresses. Allan and Peter added the sound and imagery of the “crackle” of typewriters, perhaps in a dressmaking factory that led to a connection by Barbara Crary to the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that killed 146 garment workers (mostly women) and still ranks as one of the worst industrial disasters in the history of the United States. It is noteworthy that this was a current event at the time Tender Buttons was written. Barbara pointed out the image of long lines of garment workers, most of them young Jewish or Italian immigrant women, and Barbara rightly points out that it's difficult to imagine that Gertrude and Alice would have been indifferent to this event and to what it said about the treatment/exploitation of women in a patriarchal society. Of course, the word “crackle” has an obvious connection to fire. She sees only a red and white are black...a pink is scarlet as vivid imagery of the grotesque deaths of those pale, rosy cheeked young girls burned to death or jumping to certain death on the sidewalk below... a dark and dismal factory is not dark if it is lit up by a massive fire. Most poignantly, Barbara added a photograph of victims of the Shirtwaist fire:

a line just distinguishes it.

Peter and Allan added the idea of a “necessary waist” suggesting an hourglass, which makes connections to references to time and pointing to time all the way back to A CARAFE, THAT IS A BLIND GLASS.

Peter offered a photo of Gertrude Stein in a Gibson Girl shirtwaist—perhaps the kind of shirtwaist made at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory. Steiny commented that the hourglass figure was only possible because of constricting corsets and added stories about Alice in Italy during blazing summer heat throwing one of her corsets out a train window.

So while the Buttons had studied “A Long Dress.” within the Coursera Modern Poetry MOOC curriculum, returning to the possible association of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire was magnified by the plight of our own T. De Los Reyes from the Philippines who had been caught up in the relief effort assisting people, including her friends, affected by the devastation of Typhoon Haiyun. We were all relieved to see T. reappear in our discussion.

1 comment:

Karren Alenier said...

Here's a comment that was made during the discussion of "A Long Dress." that I want to preserve:

My fist impulse was coded sex which you [Eleanor Smagarinsky and Tracy Sonafelt] have together explored well. Gertrude speaking to her rose Alice.

My second impulse was going no where. I was thinking something about fashion, sewing. Maybe I was influenced by what Ron Silliman said about Project Runway and having seen an art exhibition mounted at the Stanford (University) in Washington (DC) art gallery where there were standing artful dresses: including a rose is a rose dress and "A Long Dress." dress. I was thinking charm school and the kind of trinkets hanging off a bracelet. I was thinking those luscious young women (roses all) on the fashion runway who need to be protected by gates. I was thinking how the behind the scenes (seams) seamstresses who take in and let out the dresses to make them fit the models. But who can deny the vacuum cleaner or language frameworks? Shall I wear out WOW some more, Eleanor? Shall we cow tip, Tracy that palendrome making it MOM? You gals you de best! do wop do wop, snap snap bop.