Wednesday, November 20, 2013


In the fifth pairing of the Ten Buts thru Ten Comms Project reading A Piece of Coffee.” through “Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother,” Eleanor Smagarinsky, recognizing the complexity of this subpoem comprised of seven stanzas broke her discussion into sections.


More of double.

A place in no new table.

A single image is not splendor. Dirty is yellow. A sign of more in not mentioned. A piece of coffee is not a detainer. The resemblance to yellow is dirtier and distincter. The clean mixture is whiter and not coal color, never more coal color than altogether.

The sight of a reason, the same sight slighter, the sight of a simpler negative answer, the same sore sounder, the intention to wishing, the same splendor, the same furniture.

The time to show a message is when too late and later there is no hanging in a blight.

A not torn rose-wood color. If it is not dangerous then a pleasure and more than any other if it is cheap is not cheaper. The amusing side is that the sooner there are no fewer the more certain is the necessity dwindled. Supposing that the case contained rose-wood and a color. Supposing that there was no reason for a distress and more likely for a number, supposing that there was no astonishment, is it not necessary to mingle astonishment.

The settling of stationing cleaning is one way not to shatter scatter and scattering. The one way to use custom is to use soap and silk for cleaning. The one way to see cotton is to have a design concentrating the illusion and the illustration. The perfect way is to accustom the thing to have a lining and the shape of a ribbon and to be solid, quite solid in standing and to use heaviness in morning. It is light enough in that. It has that shape nicely. Very nicely may not be exaggerating. Very strongly may be sincerely fainting. May be strangely flattering. May not be strange in everything. May not be strange to.


In Step 1 of her analysis, Eleanor looked at the commandment.

“It reads Kabed et avicha ve'et imecha—‘Honor your father and your mother’ (Deut. 5:16). Respect your parents. Nowhere will you find in the Torah an exhortation of ahavah —to love one's parents. That is taken for granted. But love is not enough. We must show kibbud — our deep esteem for them.”

She pointed to a sermon that further illuminated what she meant. Than she provided a gloss on the commandments and the fifth commandment in particular:
“NOTE - In Judaism the commandments are not considered to be individual commandments, but categories. For example, here - teachers are also included as requiring our honour/respect. This might mean that certain words used by GS in her poem may refer to her Medical School teachers, as well as her parents.
“It is said that the first 5 commandments encompass the God/human relationships, and the next 5 encompass the human/human relationships. So why is this number 5? Because parents are the creators of people, and in that sense an insult to a parent is equivalent to an insult to God.
"It is interesting to note that kibbud, the Hebrew word for respect, and kovade, the word for weight or burden, stem from the same root. The Hebraic concept is that kibbud and kovade go together. If we want to be respected we must be willing to assume a burden, to carry a load, to shoulder responsibility. From here.
“This is reflected in the last stanza of the poem—to be solid, quite solid in standing and to use heaviness in morning. Here, morning may refer to mourning.”


Step 2 of Eleanor’s analysis involved linguistic leaps initially noticed in the Steiny Road Poet’s close reading of “A Piece of Coffee.”. The essence of the discussion is, as Eleanor notes, that one way of honoring your parents is by producing an heir so that the family name and lineage will continue into the future. The catch was that Alice and Gertrude could not reproduce, as in birth a living child. However, as any author might tell you, what is written is considered offspring and one might hear an author refer to his or her book as my baby. For Gertrude Stein who was brought up by a father keen on his children getting the best possible education, what she produced mattered. Both aspects of reproducing an heir to continue the family lineage and getting a sound education (Steiny purposefully chooses the word sound to emphasis the multi-dimensional meaning suited to this Modernist) is emphasized in the major work that preceded Tender Buttons, Stein’s long novel The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family's Progress.

The emphasis on er words in “A Piece of Coffee.” came across to Eleanor as Stein playing obsessively to invoke the word her. The her that is never stated overtly is, of course, Alice. Eleanor takes this one step further by noting the proliferation of the article A (Steiny counts 17 occurrences including the title), which also stands for Alice.

Here’s Eleanor’s close reading of stanza 4:
slighter & simpler - there is no fecundity.
negative answer - not pregnant.
the same sore - no change in the pain.
the intention to wishing - says it all really.
the same splendor, the same furniture - G&A are both women, they have the same bodies with the same sexual organs.

"same" - appears 3 times.
"sight" - appears 3 times.

“They see that they are the same, also may refer to site—their home, the place in which they make love. A further pointing is possible—to the difference between parents and offspring—G might be hinting that she is not at all a copy / same as her parents, in any case.”

By chance while Eleanor is out doing errands, she runs into her mother at the supermarket and steals a few minutes to discuss this subpoem.

“When I showed Mum what I thought was a subtle reference to children being different from their parents, Mum said: ‘Every child comes into a family to give the parents something they don't have... bringing new things into their lives.’

“Mum then read stanza 5: The time to show a message is when too late and later there is no hanging in a blight. Her reaction was this: ‘You know what I always say—men do not know the good that was in their hands 'til they have lost it.'[Later, Mum called to tell me: ‘It's not my quote, by the way, it's Sophocles.’] Mum went on to explain that it's all about links in the chain, and when that chain is broken, there is much pain.

“Me: This matches something I've been thinking of.... She writes about designing / making / cleaning / perfecting something. I'm wondering if she's referring to her creation of a new 'language,' that she perhaps views her words and writings as her progeny. Certainly it has survived her—for we're sitting here, outside the supermarket, discussing her words.

“Mum went on to read the phrase strangely flattering [last stanza—
‘That's what happens with children and parents, there's a strange connection-with-a-gap. Love can't conquer all. There's a gap between their experiences and personalities and it's a strangeness that remains.’"


Then Eleanor had this breakthrough that extended a eureka shouted by Steiny:

“15 days ago, we studied ‘A Method of a Cloak.’ and I thought that the many occurrences of the letter ‘A’ created a type of coded love-letter to Alice. Karren then wrote this: ‘Now I understand why Alice got so mad with Gtrude when she learned about May Bookstaver and how Stanzas in Meditation was heavy with the word may.’

“There are 5 occurrences of ‘May’ in the last stanza of this poem.
There are 3 occurrences of ‘one way,’ and 1 of ‘perfect way.’
Then there is this:
may not
may be
may be
may not be
may not be
strange to.

“I'm not sure about this, but I'm going with my gut feeling. Gertrude has decided that she will honour her parents through the productivity of her mind, and she does this with Alice by her side, as her one and only love. But the memories of May remain... and yet... there can only be ‘one way’.... only one ‘perfect way' ...... but still the hesitation... may not, may be, may be, may not be, may not be, and finally ------- STRANGE TO. Gertrude decides and proclaims that her family is Alice, and that May is a stranger.”

And so this discovery of all the ‘may’s’ and how this poem could be talking how Stein is honoring her parents with her creative products like Tender Buttons, made Steiny see all printing lingo and how "A Piece of Coffee." seems to be a perfect companion to “A Plate.

“Look at such words as: double, table, clean mixture is whiter and not coal color, simpler negative answer, no hanging in a blight (maybe the darkroom is polluted?), supposing that the case contained rosewood and a color (ever hear of a California job case that printers use?), settling of stationing cleaning (lots of cleaning goes on between print jobs on the old printing presses), a design concentrating the illusion and the illustration, it is light enough in that.”

Collaborative learning is a mighty powerful coming together. Thank you, Al Filreis, for ModPo!

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