Monday, December 2, 2013

Stepping on Tender Buttons: “A Blue Coat.”


THE BOOK ..........................-           TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ...................-           OBJECTS
THE SUBPOEM ...................-           A BLUE COAT: NUMBER 16
STANZAS.............................-           1
WORD COUNT.....................-           32
THE LEADER......................-           THE STEINY ROAD POET
GENRE..................................-           VIRTUAL OPERA
LOCATION.............................-          USA, UK, Australia, Philippines, South Africa, Canada..
TIME.......................................-           ALL HOURS OF EARTH’S CLOCK
TONE.....................................-           LYRICALLY AS IF DREAMING

“A Blue C (sea) Of Alice Toklas?” Dave Green

“In reading Stein, you should never swim against the rip.” Eleanor Smagarinsky


A blue coat is guided guided away, guided and guided away, that is the particular color that is used for that length and not any width not even more than a shadow.


“The first thing that pops into mind,” said Allan Keeton, “is a police officer, the blue coat of a certain length, guided by the law & guiding someone to stay a length of time in a cell with hardly any width & now they are not even more than a shadow as far as society is concerned.” As an afterthought, he continued, “We also have the Union bluecoats vs. the Confederate grey.”

Using the arresting image of a French policeman in blue uniform and white gloves directing traffic, Mary Armour presented the history of the blue uniform in France—how “The French army wore a dark blue uniform coat with red trousers until 1915, when it was found to be a too visible target on the battlefields of World War I. It was replaced with uniforms of a light blue-grey colour called horizon blue.” Then she shifted Stein’s attention from the streets into the studio of Pablo Picasso and his Blue Period (1901-1904) and Matisse’s blue drenched canvas of The Conversation.

Almost simultaneously, Barbara Crary recounted, “I tried a bit of Internet sleuthing tonight about the color blue and Stein and found that Ulla Dydo says GS associated the color blue with Alice because of her blue eyes.  But she also associated blue with Picasso in his blue period.  I wonder if the blue coat could be a coat of paint, with the brush 'guiding' it along a length of canvas.  A painting is two-dimensional so it would not have a width and the image would just be like a shadow of the object being portrayed.”


But Mary was completely at the ready with fluid response,

“Yes, the movement, so insistent and  evocative, a needle looping thread, a hand gesturing in a certain direction, brushstrokes of the  painter on  canvas, the  pen in the writer's hand looping that 'g' again and again -- guiding and gliding,  giving and guiding, gliding and guiding...away, up and away, guided away.

“Hypnotic  and  incantatory, Gertrude's extreme pleasure in a lulling voice, loving repeating, inducing an alpha state of  a child rocked to sleep, the hand  guiding the cradle, the  rocking in a hammock, the colour blue on a dance floor, dipping and swaying, a guiding hand, guiding away, o brightening glance how shall we tell the dancer from the dance?

“A blue coat is guided guided away, guided and guided away.”

In poetic lines came Allan’s rejoinder,

What is the regulation length of a line in poetry?
What is the required meter?
Who polices that?

The earth is also coated with blue.
Here the guiding may be done by the sun's gravity & away the earth goes guided in its orbit.
Blue is the color used for the planet that has 365 days as the length of its orbit.

Then more conversationally, Allan said, “In this context the statement about widths & shadows seems to speak of eclipses or of nighttime. Blue is the color used for the planet for which the length of a day is 24 hours.”

“The blue of the sky” Dave said, “is slowing fading away as the sun sets. Blue is the color the sky has for the length of the day. But only for the length of the day--the blue has no width, no dimension outside time. It is as evanescent and fleeting as the night's shadows.”

More poetic lines from Allan making veiled reference to numenon, a concept The Buttons ran into while exploring the first ten subpoems through the Ten Commandments (see Ten  BUTS Thru Ten COMMS: CUSHION & SACRED NAME):

Maybe the poem is about naming abstract qualities.
The guiding, guiding away is the pointing 

which is not the thing & not its absence.


Peter Rant brought the exchange to a more tangible reality:

not any width not even more than a shadow
This seems to be a coat that is not being worn, as if on a hangar. And then one thinks of length without width. This is a blue line. 

"guided and guided away as if running into the future or another place.

“A line that is guided and guided away seems like a river running within its banks and yet running downstream, away. If you look downstream, it will shrink in width as it is guided away.

“Now coat is a mystery. It protects, keeps warm. It could be a coat of arms or a coat of fur or just a coat.

“The air or the atmosphere is a blue coat in a way.”

The influence from Peter Rant on Allan with shades of "A Long Dress." went like this:

“A coat being made is unworn & flat--without width.
It could be made in a factory like the shirtwaist factory.
It being guided along a sewing machine by a seamstress,
before being guided away down the factory to add notions
& so on down the length of the factory floor.

“A blue coat with no width is then like a shirt without a waist.
Waist brings up waste & the waist of the hourglass from
long dress of the hourglass. Thus, time.

“There is no time to waste in a factory.
There is a fixed length of time to complete
each blue coat. A timeline timed by a stopwatch
& not an hourglass.

“If the crackle of a fire starts, there is no width,
not even more than a shadow of the seamstresses.”


However, Peter Treanor took this direction with blue joke (joke being a perversion of coat):

“Blue is of course used to denote profanity, ‘blue joke’ and was being used as such at the turn of C20th, comes from pornographic books being sold in blue covers in Paris apparently. A rude Coat , coat as an outer garment , a wrap around to keep you warm.

“There could be lots of guiding and gliding and repetitive rocking (there are no commas here though so no heavy breathing) and flying  away on ecstatic flight. Maybe guided away, away in the sense of repetitive working, i.e. he was working away on GS's poem?  That (place ) is the particular that is used for that length (of time),  Length as a length of time, has no width. and the guiding and guiding  would result in orgasm, which is like a shadow in that  orgasms are no more tangible than a shadow, which is a thing ( visible) but not a thing touchable ( has no solid presence).

"And stretching it even further, ahem, shadow, has had and sow  rearranged in it. GS and Alice used to call orgasms ( or Alice's orgasms ) cows ( she's having a cow), so shadow, could be a rearrangement of —had (a) cow. And well a sow is a female animal too, and it does make a lot of squeally noises so maybe, I know , I do apologise.” And oh, did Steiny say that Peter T let us know that lube is anagram of blue.

Oddly enough, Peter T’s veiled reference to condoms made Steiny think of le petit bleu which were the French postal service's instant messages that went through pneumatic tubes in Paris and were delivered very quickly to the door! So there could be some strong possibility that Gertrude had these telegram-like messages in mind.


From Eleanor Smagarinsky:

“This whole thread has such an evocative tone. It reminds me of swimming in the ocean…

“I think of ocean waves when I read the 4 "guided" - the rhythm of this poem is the rhythm of an ocean that is very familiar to me. I can see this entire poem as encapsulating the experience of swimming among the blue waves, going in and out, and the tide, going in and out, like a mood. Waves become shadows in the blink of an eye, as does a person who is blue and who wades out into the ocean, enveloped in a blue coat.


“The alphabet as an ocean, or perhaps as a sea, or see. To be and see? Or Alice - seeing and being?

“And then the sky, because the sea reflects the colour of the sky, which makes me think the 4 "guided" are the four directions of the compass:

“Aussies know the danger of drowning in the ocean, only takes a few seconds to become a shadow. That's why we are taught to swim between the flags. Have a look. "You should never swim against the rip" -- I think those are good instructions for reading Stein, don't you think? The alphabet can seem benign, but some poems have hidden rips, beware, do not be lulled to sleep by the sound of the words, there's danger ahead. Stein is pushing out to open water with her poems.

“In the case of Tender Buttons, swimming between the red and yellow flags may be a safe option.... but you won't go out very far. How many risks are you willing to take in the name of adventure? Some people never put even a toe in the water. Others go too far.”


Then Eleanor stood back and asked, “Do you reckon the French 'cote' might be a reference too? (I'm not sure how to put that little French beret on the O).”

Steiny answered, “côte as coat!”

Allan exclaimed, “Le Côte d'Azure! Or Code Blue.”

But here is where the MOOSG turned to a discussion on fractals after Allan commented, “A coastline has a fractal dimension between 1 & 2.” While occasionallyt Steiny has been noting Gertrude Stein’s dimensionality, the discussion of fractals by The Buttons explodes the whole concept of thinking outside the box. Also prior to Stein’s writing Tender Buttons, Picasso was emerging from his Blue Period and trying to exceed with Les Demoiselles d'Avignon the dimensions carved out by painters of the past. Matisse called Les Demoiselles a hoax because, in his thinking, Picasso was trying to paint in the fourth dimension, an absolute impossibility.

Allan declared Tender Buttons an instance of fractal poetry saying, “That is why whole worlds arise & dissipate & reappear in new arrangements of pointing with every word or phrase or line or button or the whole of Tender Buttons. I like the notion of fractal reading as extremely close reading. Just look at how you can zoom in with infinite precision,
infinite closeness, & the thing keeps opening & opening up!”

Peter Treanor wondered how Stein does it?

“I’ve been thinking about that a lot. How does she do it, and what is it that she does.

“It seems to me that what she does comes about because she interrupts normal reading. We usually read from left to right along a line and skim over the surface of all the words and come to a meaning from the sentence at the end of it. We skim along and pay little attention to the words as we go, we are after the meaning, like Dave Poplar [Cousera Modern Poetry MOOC Teaching Assistant] said in a webcast, we are meaning seeking mammals. We skim over the surface like a pebble over water.

“But GS interrupts this, she stops us skimming across the surface because her sentences do not make sense to read traditionally, there is no meaning to be got from skimming left to right. So we have to stop at each word or set of words, and once we stop our pebble sinks and we are plunged into consideration of the depths of meaning of each word. We sink as deep as our imagination will take us, and explore as many meanings as that word can have for us. That’s what ( some of ) her genius is I think, that she interrupts our scanning of words and makes us fall into them.

“I think she makes us do the connecting, and that’s really clever. And that’s when they become fractal, when we are travelling down, into their meaning rather than scanning across the surface of them. I imagine that there is a whole different set of neurons firing in this process in the brain. It’s a different activity to usual reading, its more loose and associative and creative, so I guess it makes you experience differently. I wonder if it is like those 3 D pictures that you focus on, that are supposed to induce a kind of alpha wave meditative state. This process of connecting stein puts you into an alpha creative association trance.

“Now I think this process is magnified and accelerated by us doing this together, just as one of us will exhaust all possible meanings for them, someone else will have a different insight and it will spark us all of again. We are having turbo charged multiple group fractal experiences, no wonder we are giddy.”

Here, The Buttons all stood nodding with Nicola Quinn grinning, “I'm so glad fractals has come up here, I mentioned them earlier in a post in one of the many [Courser ModPo] forums, something about all the poems in this course being like fractals.”

Then wisely Allan completed Peter’s thoughts, “Stein broke up the form so as to block automatic reading. The mind then seeks other ways in. Since there are not any learned boundaries, no one has taught us how to read this stuff, the associations & allusions can just arrive & flow. Once this happens they can coalesce into new meanings that transform as they are coalescing. The poem becomes alive & begins breathing through us.”

Steiny, who had been thinking deeply about learning about learning, sees this particular discussion seminal in the journey through Tender Buttons.

This is how “A Blue Coat.” became more than a fantasia.

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

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