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Monday, November 25, 2013

Stepping on Tender Buttons: “A Seltzer Bottle.”



TENDER BUBBLES FROM THE BUTTONS BOX

THE BOOK ............       ......-           TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ..................-           OBJECTS
THE SUBPOEM ..................-           A SELTZER BOTTLE: NUMBER 13
STANZAS.............           .....-           1
WORD COUNT.............   .....-           160
THE LEADER........... .....-           THE STEINY ROAD POET
CO-LLABORATORS..............-           MODPO STUDENTS/THE BUTTONS
GENRE.............                ....-           VIRTUAL OPERA
LOCATION............           .....-      USA, England, Australia, Philippines, South Africa, Canada..
TIME...............                    ...-           ALL HOURS OF EARTH’S CLOCK
TONE..............                   ....-           PASSIONATELY AGITATED

“…I see the poem A SELTZER BOTTLE as a meta poem
concerning the pressure between the containment of the
text & the allusionary bubbles that arise from reading,
the substitution of one thing for another, which is never
final, nor is it sufficient, suppose each one must pop while
many more arise…” Allan Keeton

A SELTZER BOTTLE.

Any neglect of many particles to a cracking, any neglect of this makes around it what is lead in color and certainly discolor in silver. The use of this is manifold. Supposing a certain time selected is assured, suppose it is even necessary, suppose no other extract is permitted and no more handling is needed, suppose the rest of the message is mixed with a very long slender needle and even if it could be any black border, supposing all this altogether made a dress and suppose it was actual, suppose the mean way to state it was occasional, if you suppose this in August and even more melodiously, if you suppose this even in the necessary incident of there certainly being no middle in summer and winter, suppose this and an elegant settlement a very elegant settlement is more than of consequence, it is not final and sufficient and substituted. This which was so kindly a present was constant.

While “A Seltzer Bottle.” has a whiff of the print shop with words like lead in color, discolor, manifold, no other extract is permitted, no more handling is needed, the rest of the message is mixed, a very long slender needle, and black border, the text leans heavily toward linguist and metapoetic reading.

ECHOES FROM OTHER BUTTONS

Tracy Sonafelt provided a comprehensive discussion in which she led with a list of “echoes of other subpoems” that resonated with her experience of Tender Buttons:

metal (lead, silver): nickel in GLAZED GLITTER., copper in DIRT AND NOT COPPER., silver (metal and color) in A METHOD OF A CLOAK. and A BOX. (#2). We have looked at alchemical and periodic table connections. Stein’s questions across TB Objects: What is X? What are its identifying elemental properties? How can we change or transform or act upon X? What happens when we do?
black: A SUBSTANCE IN A CUSHION., A METHOD OF A CLOAK. Stein Qs: What color is X? What is color? What is black-ness, red-ness, etc.?
dress: A LONG DRESS. Interest in fashion. Stein Qs: How is X made? How is X constructed?
altogether: WATER RAINING. Wholeness, completeness. Stein Q s: What is the nature of X when combined with Y, or with Y + Z? What component parts, taken together, constitute X?
necessary: A RED STAMP., A BOX. (#2), A LONG DRESS. Stein Qs: What is essential to X? What is inherent in X? What conditions must be satisfied to achieve X-ness? What is the essence of X?
occasional: A PLATE. Interest in parties, gatherings, celebrations. Stein Q: How do occasions ritualize or ceremonial-ize objects?
elegant: NOTHING ELEGANT. The context of elegant here suggests not so much what is refined or tasteful but what achieves perfection in design ... so an elegant solution, an elegant equation, as much as an elegant gown or elegant decor. Stein Qs: What constitutes elegance in design? What is the elegance inherent in everyday objects?”

Steiny notes that TB MOOSG is working consecutively through Tender Buttons and has not yet address subpoem 31 “Water Raining.”. “A Long Dress.” has been discussed and the results of that discussion will follow this post.


THE ACTIVE STILL LIFE OF THE LUDIC STEIN 

Next Tracy presented her thoughts on the text divided by sound, word play, and the conditional/hypothetical.

Sound.
The effervescence of seltzer is completely captured by all the “s” sounds in this sub-poem. (The much-repeated word suppose is practically a popping, fizzing, onomatopoeic stand-in for seltzer in and of itself.) Listen to all those bubbling, spitting s’s [N.B. Following a Bernadette Mayer writing experiment, Tracy selects only the words containing an ‘s’ sound:

Seltzer particles this makes is discolor silver use this is Supposing certain selected is assured suppose is suppose extract is is suppose rest message is mixed slender supposing this dress suppose was suppose state was occasional suppose this August melodiously suppose this necessary incident certainly summer suppose this settlement settlement is consequence is sufficient substituted This was so present was constant.

The poem is entitled A SELTZER BOTTLE., not A BOTTLE OF SELTZER. Like the text, the bottle has primacy. The sub-poem—the bottle (like the carafe and the box and the cup and the tumbler and the purse and so, so many containers in TB)—contains the seltzer, all of these “s” sounds. This is the essence of what TB Objects is: a still life of objects recast in words ... particularly in wordplay.

Here Steiny pauses to repeat Tracy’s observation: Tender Buttons is a still life of objects recast in words, especially wordplay. Barbara Crary responded to this by citing this tasty tidbit from an article the TB MOOSG had been made aware of some weeks ago:

“I recently re-read the Jacket2 article on The Making of ‘Tender Buttons,’ and thought of the following lines when looking at possible meanings in this poem: ‘Activity in Stein’s Paris apartment/salon often coalesced around a large rectangular wooden table for dinner parties, and later the same table would turn into a desk for Stein’s nightly composition. According to Stein, she set objects on the table to prompt her writing: I used to take objects on a table, like a tumbler or any kind of object and try to get the picture of it clear and separate in my mind and create a word relationship between the word and the things seen.’" 

In truth, Steiny had not internalized that Tender Buttons was a series of composed portraits until this thread of interaction between Tracy and Barbara. Still Steiny is not convinced that Stein would have liked the term still life applied to her Buttons since creating the present moment was keenly important to her. What is odd about Tender Button portraits is that Stein employed so few active verbs. But especially in “A Seltzer Bottle.”, this is clearly a still life.

Continuing with Tracy’s analysis, here are her thoughts on:

Word Play.
(1) Words as tangible objects: 'there certainly being no middle in summer and winter.' Here, if we consider summer and winter as graphic objects without regard to meaning, we see they literally have no middle, no letter as a midpoint. The middle of each is blank space.

“(2) Floating meaning and grammatical function. Without traditional semantic (and sometimes syntactic) context, it is often impossible to determine a word’s meaning or grammatical function. This which was so kindly a present was constant: is 'present' a gift or the current time, or is it functioning adjectivally as a-present (like aplenty), so that the sentence suggests 'This which was so kindly here was constant'? There are tons of these. Is 'lead' a metal, or is it playfully suggesting the homophone 'led'? 'A dress' (address) ... 'a cracking' (get 'a-cracking') ... 'altogether' (all together) ... 'around' (a round).

“(3) Meta-metaphors. The poem TB is made of many particles, its sub-poems. The use of this is manifold, many-folded, like an origami creation. The syntax, through repetition and variation, continually folds back onto itself, and often the structure of the poems is almost literally many-folded, meaning we could literally take the paper the text is printed on and fold it to show interconnections. In suppose no other extract is permitted, is there a suggestion that each sub-poem, each extract, is a micro-embodiment of the goals, purposes, and methodology of the whole of TB? Is each sub-poem an extract biopsied from the whole with that very long slender needle so that reading it amounts to reading the composition of the macro-poem in micro?”

Within the TB MOOSG, members of the Button Collective frequently play with words as they investigate and enjoy the words served up by Stein. Here’s Allan free associating with particles and very much tuned into the issue of verb use by Stein:

“…
bits of language-language particles
                                               (participles?) 

That present = pre-sent pulls up the past
& thus past participles …”

MAPPING THE IF & THE SUPPOSE

In the final part of her analysis, Tracy talks about:

"The Conditional/Hypothetical.
The structure of this sub-poem is, as in A RED STAMP., almost entirely conditional or hypothetical. If is the conditional signal there, also appearing here thrice, though suppose/supposing is the primary marker, appearing here ten times in this sub-poem. It is like a geometric proof that takes us from axiom to axiom or a scientific experiment that takes us from hypothesis through experimental steps to conclusion: (1) hypothesis; (2) assurance of universal applicability or practical application; (3-12) experimental suppositions or “steps”; (13) conclusion; (14) note about methodology."

Here Tracy maps out the structure of “A Seltzer Bottle.”:

"(1-hypothesis) Any neglect of many particles to a cracking, any neglect of this makes around it what is lead in color and certainly discolor in silver.

"(2- assurance of universal applicability or practical application) The use of this is manifold."

(3-12) experimental suppositions or “steps”:
"(3) Supposing a certain time selected is assured,
(4) suppose it is even necessary,
(5) suppose no other extract is permitted and no more handling is needed,
(6) suppose the rest of the message is mixed with a very long slender needle and even if it could be any black border,
(7) supposing all this altogether made a dress and (8) suppose it was actual,
(9) suppose the mean way to state it was occasional,
(10) if you suppose this in August and even more melodiously,
(11) if you suppose this even in the necessary incident of there certainly being no middle in summer and winter,
(12) suppose this and

"(13- conclusion) an elegant settlement a very elegant settlement is more than of consequence, it is not final and sufficient and substituted.

"(14- note about methodology) This which was so kindly a present was constant."

FINDING SHINE FROM SELTZER

Meanwhile, Steiny had been musing about seltzer (also known as carbonated water) as a cleaner, thinking that Stein was addressing her goal for cleansing the English language but also Steiny was thinking about that very long slender needle as a possible photographic tool (stipple) that Stein might be using to probe image from dots (think seltzer bubbles) into clarity. From this ramble of thought, Barbara took a deeper look at SELZTER’s 120-word sentence:

“…that  the long third sentence changes its hypothetical tone at the point where 'the rest of the message is mixed with a very long slender needle,'  so that everything that comes before that sentence is a restriction ( a certain time is assured, it is even necessary, no other extract is permitted, no more handling is needed), but once mixing is introduced, the if's become more speculative, so that by the end, the settlement is "more than of consequence, it is not final and sufficient and substituted." So perhaps this sentence also refers to the restrictions on the use/meanings of the words prior to her 'mixing,' in which she plays with the meanings to create a dress or a melody, supposing that the mean way ( the commonly accepted way) of stating something was only occasional, and not necessarily the only way. …”

In response, Tracy provided a verb mapping of “A Seltzer Bottle.”:

“(1) is. (2) is. (3) is (4) is (5) is is (6) is [NEEDLE] could be (7) --- (8) was (9) was (10) --- (11) being (12) --- (13) is is. (14) was was.

“Barbara, keeping my numbering system from my initial post (for ease of reference), I isolated the forms of the verb 'to be' and find they perfectly embody your idea that the long third sentence changes its hypothetical tone at the point where 'the rest of the message is mixed with a very long slender needle,' so that everything that comes before that sentence is a restriction ... but once mixing is introduced, the if's become more speculative .... Since in English we use past tense (If she were here ...) or infinitive (If that be the case ...) verb forms to mark the conditional subjunctive, tense shifts ought to illustrate that shift, and they do! To be verbs 1-6a (before needle) are all in the form of the indicative is. Post needle, we find largely the past was or infinitive be, and even in 'there certainly being,' we still have a conditional form ... until we reach the conclusion in (13), stated appropriately in the indicative present with is, followed by the simple indicative past tense in (14) with was. I didn't pay much attention to other verbs and verbals because the bare bones to be verbs largely carry tense and mood in this sub-poem.”


Barbara came back with these thoughts:

“Tracy,  your analysis of the verb tenses of 'to be' blew me away.  I didn't think to look at it that systematically and yet I sensed the change in tone.  I am trying to see how the first sentence sets the stage for the change that is to come (your hypothesis statement, so to speak).  The phrase 'any neglect of many particles to a cracking' sounds to me as though she is referring to the cracking of language, the breaking apart of the language code into many particles or aspects, in which none should be neglected.  But then I get all tangled up in the grammar and syntax of what follows.  What do you think about the end of that sentence and whether it fits with my ideas about language in the beginning?”

Tracy answered:

B, let's consider that sentence: Any neglect of many particles to a cracking, any neglect of this makes around it what is lead in color and certainly discolor in silver. I see the structure as working basically like this: A, A = B + C. If we replace the pronouns with their normal antecedents (and those antecedents may be floating or ambiguous) and re-arrange the syntax (into more 'normal' word order) just for the time being, we get this logic, I think (fingers crossed): Any neglect of many particles to a cracking, any neglect of many particles to a cracking makes what is lead in color and what is certainly discolor in silver around many particles to a cracking. Substituting your reading for Stein's language, we get: Any neglect of the breaking apart of the language code into particles, any neglect of the breaking apart of the language code into particles makes what is lead in color and what is certainly discolor in silver around the breaking apart of the language code into particles. Simplifying, we get this: Failure to break apart the language code and recast it makes the language code leaden (heavy, dull, sluggish, lacking life and spirit) and tarnished (sullied, soiled, stained). Does this seem to fit your reading?”

Speechless on this high level of intellectual exchange, Steiny leaves the final words to Barbara:

“Standing in the shower, where for some reason I think my best thoughts, I thought about the needle as Gertrude's fountain pen, which she uses to mix the message.  I liked thinking about the would-be/almost-was doctor filling her needle with ink rather than some sort of serum or vaccine.”



Definition: TB MOOSG: Tender Buttons Massive Open Online Study Group

2 comments:

Tracy Sonafelt said...

For the record, I did not follow a Bernadette Mayer writing experiment in my analysis of this poem. On my own, I observed and heard all of the “s” sounds and the way they echoed the sounds of seltzer, and when I isolated them, I simply noted the similarity of this type of culling process to a Mayer experiment.

Karren Alenier said...

Thanks, Tracy, for setting the record straight as well as reading the post! You wrote some amazing things.