Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Stepping on Tender Buttons: “A New Cup and Saucer.”, “Objects.” Part 1 of 3


THE BOOK ..........................-           TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ...................-           OBJECTS
THE SUBPOEM ...................-           A NEW CUP AND SAUCER: NUMBER 24
STANZAS..............................-           1
WORD COUNT......................-          16
THE SUBPOEM ...................-           OBJECTS: NUMBER 25
STANZAS..............................-            3
WORD COUNT......................-           49
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.....................................-             AWED

“This thread has: butterflies, flowers, plant grafting and horticulture, Ariadne's thread, typewriters, pens, programming logic, letter analysis and symbolism, baseball, accordions, Torah and Kabbalah and Gematriah, Chaim Potok, the Milky Way galaxy, anatomy lessons, food preparation, dumplings, wood carving, an artist named Nehemiah, Schumann gloves, lesbian sex, B language, dancing, and treadmill notes. And I'm sure I've missed something. Give the Buttons a little poem or two and they'll roam far and wide.” Dave Green


Enthusiastically hurting a clouded yellow bud and saucer, enthusiastically so is the bite in the ribbon.


Within, within the cut and slender joint alone, with sudden equals and no more than three, two in the centre make two one side.

If the elbow is long and it is filled so then the best example is all together.

The kind of show is made by squeezing.

The Steiny Road Poet notes that this discussion (all Tender Buttons discussions happen inside the Coursera Modern Poetry MOOC) of “A New Cup and Saucer.” and “Objects.” by the Buttons Collective accrued 297 posts. While not all posts are comments that extend the appreciation of the subpoems under discussion, this count exceeds the posts on “A Chair.”, which weighed in at 239 and caused Steiny to break up the discussion into six separate blogposts here. However, CHAIR is a nine-stanza poem with a 256 word count while CUP-SAUCER and OBJECTS together comprise four stanzas and 41 words. So this time, Steiny is breaking the discussion into three parts. Part 1 looks at “A New Cup and Saucer.”. Part 2 looks at “Objects.” and the tremendous effort by the Buttons Collective to discover, given it carries the same name as Section 1 of Tender Buttons, what sets this subpoem apart from the others in the first section of Stein’s long poem. Part 3 continues the discussion of “Objects.” but with associations to Jewish sacred teachings and Kabbalah with a reflection on why study “Objects.” and “A New Cup and Saucer.” together.


Mark Snyder kicked off the discussion by seeing a Clouded Yellow butterfly feeding on flower nectar in the line Enthusiastically hurting a clouded yellow bud and saucer. The flower is a just opening bud that he saw as the bud and saucer.

Steiny affirmed Mark’s vision by recounting Gertrude Stein’s anecdote in The Making of Americans where she writes about a boy (her nephew Allan) who is collecting butterflies. Then his father (Gertrude's brother Michael) says to the boy that he is hurting (no, killing) something lovely. So the boy says he won't ever do it again and goes to bed. Then his father sees an incredible moth and catches it for the boy's collection and gives it to him in the morning. It’s as if the excited father in his reversal gives the boy a blue ribbon with a bite taken out of it—enthusiastically so is the bite in the ribbon.


Mary Armour noted that from the garden imagery emerges Stein “writing the body anew (clitoral imagery everywhere); with interior spaces and 'seeing' table settings, chairs, plates, cups, saucers; with the garden as a domestic and loving space that is also a room.” These thoughts came to her as she thought about “the swelling bud, the butterfly alighting on the rim of the cup, the saucer and indentation, the grafting into hybridity [see Stepping on Tender Buttons: “A New Cup and Saucer.”,“Objects.” Part 2 of 3].” For Mary, this was again, “Stein's radicalization of domestic spaces.”


Then Mary extrapolated to a domestic moment between Gertrude and her partner Alice that led immediately to the mythic story of Ariadne’s thread:

“Alice is seated across from GS, on the other side of the tea cups and saucers and she is doing embroidery, she is sewing, she is mending. She bites the thread with her sharp white teeth so as to make an ending. The thread may be a red thread like Ariadne's ribbon of thread given to Theseus as he enters the labyrinth of the Minotaur.”

Steiny pauses here to bring attention to what Ariadne’s thread means to what Gertrude Stein is trying to achieve in Tender Buttons. Ariadne’s thread is about solving a problem on various planes the physical (how to work your way through the maze of the Minotaur), the mental (the method for problem solving), and the ethical (the rules one follows to achieve success). Stein’s dilemma is her love for her same sex partner that breaks societal rules of the day. Together Stein and Toklas are locked into their maze of love, looking for an acceptable way to celebrate their union that they still know is good despite what the outside world says.

Now back to Eleanor Smagarinsky who joined the conversation to link Ariadne’s thread to prior Buttons discussions about ribbon, rib, Adam-Eve: “The male/female relationship might also point to Adam & Eve, which I think reflects/adds to your Ariadne/Theseus take.”

Steiny helped Eleanor pinpoint a comment she made about ribbon in “Mildred’s Umbrella.”: Eleanor meditated on the word RIBBON until it levitated and became RIB ON. She then conjured up the Garden of Eden, a woman made from a man’s rib, the cunning of a serpent and an expulsion – a loss a great loss a restitution.

Then Eleanor continued:

“…that's where we played a bit with the idea of ‘rib on’ referring to the Genesis story of Adam's rib. This would then make ‘the bite’ into Eve's biting of the forbidden apple, I suppose. 

“The cup and saucer—they are different, but still a couple. They go together. But they are NEW. Mary—your image of GS and A sitting across from each other really opens up the poem! Suddenly I see relationships everywhere!!”


For Allan Keeton, the bite in the ribbon came from:
“Those typewriter typefaces with their letter-shaped jaws
dripping black ink-blood look hungry for the page.”
In further explanation, Allan linked the process of typing to the way Stein was writing:

“The typebars have long elbows & slender joints.
It will jam if there are two in the center.

“If the elbow is long & the ribbon filled with ink, then that kind of show,
the showing of letters to make words,
is made by squeezing the keys.

“Is she saying, that in her poetry, the bite is in the placement of words,
in how & where the type bites the page?”

Allan and Steiny put their heads together to recover what had been noted in “A Piece of Coffee.” about typewriter ribbons and the mechanics of writing. First here is the last stanza of “A Piece of Coffee.”:

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.

Here is a paragraph from Steiny’s blogpost on “A Piece of Coffee.”:

“This stanza seems to transition from furniture to writing or the mechanics of writing such as writing done on a solid heavy typewriter, a machine with a ribbon, a machine where the lining is pieces of paper, a machine that is used in the morning after the night of handwriting is completed, the night where the writer writes for herself and strangers as Stein stated in her long novel The Making of Americans. This is the point in the poem where the piece of coffee has disappeared and things such as the stains coffee leaves needs to be cleaned up carefully with special implements of soap and silk. Then one can see the illustration, the design on the paper made of cotton rag.”

This is what Steiny classifies as bone fide review time and gives herself a little pat on the back for insisting on the arduous exercise that resulted in the Ten Buts Thru Ten Comms project. The ability to reach back to work already done helps the Buttons move forward with studying Tender Buttons.


And one set of comments always seems to lead to another. Eleanor followed on with: “Allan, your typewriter connection led me to think of fountain pens—the way they look and the way they are filled (cut & slender joint, filled, show, squeezing etc.), and then I Googled "filling a fountain pen" and found this article which blew my mind.

Picking up on the review theme, Peter Treanor reflected:

“Shame we couldn’t run the words of pen types (and all things pen) through the text of the whole work and see which ones come up. I wonder if she is using typewriter parts as well in the text? I get this picture of her actively trying to avoid any kind of conventional meaning or linear flow to her writing, whist trying to pack in as many codes and oblique. But maybe that was her multisurface /multidimensional cubistic representational intention. Meanings on different and fractured planes.”


With some days to meditate, Peter then saw the brewing of tea:

Enthusiastically hurting a clouded yellow bud. The enthusiastically seems to suggest infuse to me—infusiastically infusing, which you do with tea. Hurting, scalding with the boiling water perhaps. And a clouded yellow bud, could be both the buds of the tea (which are made from the growing tips of the tea plant), or maybe even jasmine buds  which are yellow, clouded as the cloudy colour of tea, especially if milk or lemon is added. And the bud and saucer, well the pretty china ornate cup is bud shaped. So she gets the bud to be at least two things at once.   All very Cube-of-sugar-ist..

“And the bite in the ribbon, bite has so many meanings. Could the ribbon be the handle of the teacup? (it is long and ribbony), the bite could be the chunk taken out of the centre of the handle as if it was  bitten, or it could be the purchase that the handle gives, allowing the cup to be lifted (as to grip or take hold on a surface is to bite too) or the pain incurred as the fingers touch the hot cup, or the sharp tangy bite of the jasmine tea with lemon.”

Typically, Peter mines Tender Button anagrammatically and this not only leads to cubist vision but often insights other members of the Button Collective use to go fishing deeper into the word pool. Here, Eleanor invoked Doris Day singing “Tea for Two” and then progresses to:

“But in this case, it's not ‘you and me’ but ‘you and I.’ Look at how many different ways the letter ‘U’ is used:
saUcer (again)
enthUsiastically (again)
(also - "new" sounds like you)

“And then there's the letter ‘I’:
enthusIastIcally (again)

“It's as if Stein is pedantically taking each word and each object, and transforming it into a metaphor for herself and her significant other.”

Then after an exchange with Mark over what could hurting mean, Eleanor steps into Peter’s shoes and transforms hurting to her thing such that Enthusiastically hurting becomes enthusiasm about her thing—that bud and saucer—moving associations into an erotic zone.

Allan asked:

“Is new cup & saucer a new universe?

“Here is our Milky Way galaxy looking like a cup & saucer.
It even has yellow.”

Soon, Dear Reader, you will understand how
sympathetic Allan’s comment would be in relation to “Objects.”

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