Thursday, December 26, 2013

Stepping on Tender Buttons: “A Chair.” Part 5 of 6


THE BOOK ..........................-           TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ...................-           OBJECTS
THE SUBPOEM ...................-           A CHAIR: NUMBER 18
STANZAS..............................-           9
WORD COUNT......................-           256
THE LEADER........................-           THE STEINY ROAD POET
GENRE..................................-           VIRTUAL OPERA
LOCATION............................-           USA, UK, Australia, Philippines, S. Africa, Canada.
TIME......................................-           ALL HOURS OF EARTH’S CLOCK
TONE.....................................-           CLANDESTINE & MOURNFUL


A widow in a wise veil and more garments shows that shadows are even. It addresses no more, it shadows the stage and learning. A regular arrangement, the severest and the most preserved is that which has the arrangement not more than always authorised.

A suitable establishment, well housed, practical, patient and staring, a suitable bedding, very suitable and not more particularly than complaining, anything suitable is so necessary.

A fact is that when the direction is just like that, no more, longer, sudden and at the same time not any sofa, the main action is that without a blaming there is no custody.

Practice measurement, practice the sign that means that really means a necessary betrayal, in showing that there is wearing.

Hope, what is a spectacle, a spectacle is the resemblance between the circular side place and nothing else, nothing else.

To choose it is ended, it is actual and more than that it has it certainly has the same treat, and a seat all that is practiced and more easily much more easily ordinarily.

Pick a barn, a whole barn, and bend more slender accents than have ever been necessary, shine in the darkness necessarily.

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.

If the chance to dirty diminishing is necessary, if it is why is there no complexion, why is there no rubbing, why is there no special protection.

Dear Reader, like going to a religious service, this trip through stanza 8 and beyond will require much respectful standing.


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

Declaring there were several layers to this stanza, Eleanor Smagarinsky began with metapoetics (NB: Except for inserted bracketed commentary, this is what Eleanor commented):

The sound of it:


These words sound like they are genetically related.

ACTUALLY - in fact/really, but also can refer to the unexpected nature of said reality.
Death is as real as life, or is it? What is our reality? And is an ache real?

ACHING - may refer to either the physical or emotional, or both. Are they actually different?

ACTUALLY NOT ACHING -  Note that this is a negative. Emphasis is on the surprising fact of NOT really aching. But who is the subject of this phrase? The dead person, perhaps, who is no longer in pain, or perhaps.... no longer able to feel anything— both physical and emotional. The mourner, perhaps, who is experiencing the first shock of the death of a loved one and is numb both physically and emotionally, and is surprised or shocked by it. Or maybe the mourner is proclaiming this as a positive, revolting against the preconceived notions of mourning, perhaps the mourner is not aching, but feeling something else... as yet intangible/unwritten?

This phrase is repeated twice. This is important.

unreasonably or justifiably resolute
difficult to treat

So many variations on a theme, each of them applicable, each of them one layer of this complex word.
The bloomery was the one that hit me hardest when I discovered it.

[A bloomery is a type of furnace once widely used for smelting iron from its oxides. The bloomery was the earliest form of smelter capable of smelting iron. A bloomery's product is a porous mass of iron and slag called a bloom. This mix of slag and iron in the bloom is termed sponge iron, which is usually consolidated (shingled) and further forged into wrought iron. The bloomery has now largely been superseded by the blast furnace, which produces pig iron.]

From this point on, the "stubborn bloom" is the subject, the absolute focus of the rest of the stanza. Stein will now attempt to describe exactly what this stubborn bloom means to her.

Whether it's the flush of life on a cheek, a delicate flower growing between the gravestones, red-hot wrought iron, a powdery surface coating, a time of growth and beauty, a discolouration, a state of high achievement etc. These are all to be included in the following phrases, but the phrases will move us forward to uncharted territories.

ARTIFICIAL - fake, simulated, man-made, synthetic, insincere, affected.

Note that ART is in ARTIFICIAL, there is meta here. Stein is struggling towards a new way of capturing/expressing death through her art.

And here she is definitely struggling:
"and even more than that..."
"it is... it is... it is... and..."
One word/one phrase will not suffice. She is adding more layers of meaning and showing her method as she forges her way.

There is also ARTIFICE in ARTIFICIAL. I believe that artifice is Stein's enemy, which (after being worked in the forge) becomes a true friend. Keep this in mind for later, when we will come across ANIMOSITY.

SPECTACLE - a visually striking display or performance. A show. An object of curiosity or contempt. Dramatic public display. Eye-catching. Exhibited as unusual, notable or entertaining.

Why have these people come to the funeral? Did they come for the person, or for the show? But a person, when still alive, IS the show. No?

a promise / agreement (legally binding)
a narrow fabric used to finish raw edges
imposing an obligation

But this is the one that resonates most for me:

A CASE-BOUND BOOK --- (a coffin-bound body)
super or crash

ACCIDENT- lack of intention or necessity, chance (not murder?), unexpected & medically important event, an unfortunate event resulting from carelessness. But also the more subtle:

"a nonessential property or quality of an entity or circumstance" e.g. 'the accident of nationality'.


What is the opposite of FRIENDSHIP?


If you Google "the opposite of love" you get that more horrendous of clichés (I have a very sensitive gag reflex to clichés, so please excuse me) - "The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference", ugh. As if anyone could possibly believe such silliness. Indifference is really code for "feelings that are hidden", but that's just my opinion.... yep.... moving right along here....

But in the case of ANIMOSITY, as it is used here in this stanza, I think Stein is truly powering ahead with a complex definition of friendship, and the effect a death has on the friendship, as felt/viewed/expressed by the surviving friend. The mourner feels illogical animosity towards the dead friend (this is often the case... I have a friend who's a social worker and she has mentioned this phenomenon to me) for abandonment, or any number of other personal issues, I suppose. Also, there's the animosity the mourner feels towards everyone else, in general, because none of them can possibly understand her own sense of loss, her own deep sadness.

Now, let us complete the circle and find ourselves not at all where we began (tip of the hat there to Mr. J Zuzga [ModPo Teaching Assistant] who first used that phrase when teaching Stein to me). So we scroll back up to the comment box (#5) containing ARTIFICE (and we realise that Stein has indeed taken the cliché and turned it around and brought it back full circle. Friendship develops into animosity, but the animosity does not negate the friendship, in this case—it is a healthy/living symptom of the friendship.

[Allan remarked: “Binding the stubborn bloom of an accidental wound given in animosity.”]

ACCENTUATION - making something more noticeable, emphasis on a specific feature.

So animosity, in this case, accentuates the friendship/love. But wait, let's go back to check what the subject is here. What is IT?

IT is the STUBBORN BLOOM, in all its layers of meanings and associations and sounds and colours.


The three repeated letters even look like a stubborn bloom.

ACCENT is in ACCENTUATION -- and this points again to a meta-poetic reading:

ACCENT - a distinctive mode of pronunciation of a language, a distinct emphasis given to a word or syllable in speech by stress or pitch.

And here we are, in what is 'actually' Stein's warm embrace of a newly forged language, which may truly comfort us in our time of need. But wait, cliché alert, cliché alert, cliché alert:

How easy it is to give lip-service to the idea that Stein's language is wondrous, special, life-affirming. Gag reflex, ugh.

It's time to take a stand—if I really feel that it's all about the ACCENTUATION then I have to say loud and clear that it is about the SPOKEN WORD and not the written word. Well... it's always about the written word, of course, but it's equally if not more so about the spoken. And we all gather 'round and marvel at the 'sounds' of the words Stein uses, and yet - practically nobody is actually SPEAKING the words.

Accentuation, you see, reminds me of something very specific:

[Here, Steiny asked Eleanor to say more about cantillation. Additionally, she said, “Also it occurs to me with your isolation of the A words that all of them are articulated with the mouth open and come out sounding like aching cries. And surely with all the imagery or trappings of death and mourning the accentuation is this kind of cantillation, no?”]

[Eleanor provided this video on cantillation:

and then this remarkable sound recording of Eleanor singing/cantillating stanza 8 of “A Chair.”

[Dear Reader, Eleanor's contillation is a must hear recording.]


Typically, Stein scholars say that Stein did not use literary allusions or touch upon the past commemorating historical events because her emphasis was the present moment, the effort to open the window of what is now. However, Stein lived in her time by reading profusely and widely. The American Civil War made a large impression on her and many think her early years in Baltimore where she could have seen soldiers moving about made a big impression on her.

What suddenly occured to Steiny, actually coming at her like a ton of bricks—how could she have failed to mention this earlier?—is that Stein references Walt Whitman’s poem “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” The word bloom suddenly made that clear.

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,
And thought of him I love.

This is Whitman’s love poem for mankind, for the great liberator of men Lincoln. Perhaps Gertrude who was in love with Alice was also mourning the loss of her brother because he had been her helpmate through her childhood, her transition to undergraduate school at Harvard, and after her devastating love affair with May Bookstaver.

Other words in Whitman’s tribute to Lincoln reinforce such objects as barn and veiled women:

In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green

Coffin that passes through lanes and streets,
Through day and night with the great cloud darkening the land,
With the pomp of the inloop’d flags with the cities draped in black,
With the show of the States themselves as of crape-veil’d women standing,
With processions long and winding and the flambeaus of the night,
With the countless torches lit, with the silent sea of faces and the unbared heads,
With the waiting depot, the arriving coffin, and the sombre faces,
With dirges through the night, with the thousand voices rising strong and solemn,
With all the mournful voices of the dirges pour’d around the coffin,
The dim-lit churches and the shuddering organs—where amid these you journey,
With the tolling tolling bells’ perpetual clang,
Here, coffin that slowly passes,
I give you my sprig of lilac.

And also there is the singing:

Sing on there in the swamp,
O singer bashful and tender, I hear your notes, I hear your call,
I hear, I come presently, I understand you,

And the singer so shy to the rest receiv’d me,
The gray-brown bird I know receiv’d us comrades three,
And he sang the carol of death, and a verse for him I love.

In addition, this tie to Whitman’s love poem of mankind made Steiny go back to stanza 1 of “A Chair.” with fresh attention to read it this way:

A widow in a wise veil and more garments shows that shadows are even. [Shadows might be dead or living people who have been oppressed, as in the population of Africans brought to America to be slaves working American agricultural fields, etc.] It addresses no more, [President Lincoln makes no more speeches, such as The Gettysburg Address] it shadows the stage and learning. [The assassination of Lincoln put a pall on ever using Ford’s Theatre as a place of amusement and because of various threats, John T. Ford ended up selling the building to the U. S. government. After Lincoln’s death the rights of Blacks were curtailed, including government support for education.] A regular arrangement, the severest and the most preserved is that which has the arrangement not more than always authorised.

For years after Lincoln’s assassination the American public continued to support proper commemoration for this president. Support for the great Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, had a rough ride through Congress. The first five bills, starting in 1901, were defeated but finally in December 1910, the bill passed and by 1913 Congress approved choice of design and location. Of course this news puts it right in the timeframe of when Stein wrote this section of Tender Buttons. And how is the statue of Lincoln presented in this memorial? Well, seated in a chair on a pedestal!
So, Dear Reader, it is through Eleanor’s meta exploration, Steiny saw Stein’s veiled pointing to Whitman’s love poem to mankind and the fallen 16th president of the United States as well as the connection to the creation of the Lincoln Memorial where one of our greatest leaders sits perpetually in a great big chair.

1 comment:

Eleanor said...

The connection with Whitman's poem is utterly incredible. What a THRILLING discovery, Karren!!

Also, look at that huge chair on which Lincoln is sitting...of course. Superb.