Saturday, February 8, 2014

Stepping on Tender Buttons: “Careless Water.”


THE BOOK ..........................-           TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ...................-           OBJECTS
THE SUBPOEM ...................-           CARELESS WATER: NUMBER 28
STANZAS..............................-           2
WORD COUNT......................-          89
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.....................................-           OVERFLOWING

“…even if we have biographical information and historical background and scientific fact, it still doesn't prove any interpretation is even close? Does it? I'm just going with whichever interpretation brings me most joy, frankly. And truth be told, all of them do!!” Eleanor Smagarinsky

“Imperfection and damage are to be valued. And highlighted in gold.” Peter Treanor


No cup is broken in more places and mended, that is to say a plate is broken and mending does do that it shows that culture is Japanese. It shows the whole element of angels and orders. It does more to choosing and it does more to that ministering counting. It does, it does change in more water.

Supposing a single piece is a hair supposing more of them are orderly, does that show that strength, does that show that joint, does that show that balloon famously. Does it.

A flood of ideas from The Button Collective enriched the discussion of “Careless Water.” in a way that nearly drowned the Steiny Road Poet by sheer volume and duration as she sifted through the subject and method artifacts of the more than a weeklong study session. Some of the topics included: the Biblical flood experienced by Noah, the 1910 flood of Paris, the breaking of the birth sac (as in her water broke and she went into labor), broken things like pottery and the world we live in, wars (the American Civil War where dirigible balloons were use by the Union to spy on the Confederates, Russian-Japanese War), Japanese culture (reverence for cracked wabi-sabi objects,
Kintsugi—pottery repair with gold filling, haiku, the unblemished skin of Geishas and the role of the parasol, broken-looking Kanji characters, “The Great Wave of Kanagawa”—an Ukiyo-e print by Hokusai, Mu—being without something), Jewish traditions and stories (no hair cutting between Passover and Shavuot, a period of time called Omer when the faithful shift from praying for rain to praying for dew coinciding with the growth period for fruit), Christ symbology, angels (Jewish and Christian), the female deer called doe as seen in Biblical literature, skin, and always word play.


Steiny forecasted this deluge with her opening statement about “Careless Water.”—“ While there are some familiar objects and actions in ‘Careless Water.’, a mysterious world order prevails.”

First to comment was Allan Keeton:

“I love how angels & orders are an element like water.
Maybe they are the careless element.
A fifth element like the ether.
One that is mending the broken world.
Perhaps they carelessly broke it first.

“Do we have a Jewish wedding with the broken plates?
These plates are then mending & that is a Japanese wedding.”

He followed these thoughts with:

“We've also have a single piece of broken cup/plate as a piece of hair
that is made orderly (plated = braided) with more of them.

“One thinks more hair, but the orders are with the angels & are elemental.
Counting = ministering.
How many angels fit on a single strand of hair?

“What is this choosing & changing in more water?”

Peter Treanor took up the broken dishes and conjectured:
Cup/plate sounds so like couplet, a piece of broken couplet (couplet being ‘a pair of successive lines of verse, typically rhyming and of the same length’) or cutlet even and maybe cupcake. But I like a piece of broken couplet. Breaking the old forms.”

And certainly Stein was making it her business to revitalize the English language, which meant breaking the old forms. However true to her fractured cubist approach, we Buttons detected resonances of many kinds relating to broken things.


In whip smart reaction, Mark Synder offered these two associations that connected things Japanese with broken pottery and broken world:

“Japanese concept of wabi-sabi imperfections that make something special, like the cracks in your favorite coffee mug that mark it as yours.  It is a fundamental concept in the tea ceremony.

“There is a Zen parable from Japan about a university professor that goes to a master to learn about Zen. The master invites him to tea.  The Master pours the tea, and continues to pour as he overflows the cup, spilling it all over the floor.

“Finally unable to stand it, the professor shouts "Stop!  The cup is full!  No more will go in!"

“The master replied ‘How can I teach you Zen unless you first empty your cup?’”

How’s that for careless water and the possible vessel into which the Zen master poured that
water? Certainly that overflowing cup is a much smaller version of the Biblical flood that Noah endured or the flood that happened in Paris in 1910, the year that Gertrude and Alice married and their joy overflowed without public outlets to contain it.


But before visiting the topic of the first big flood, Eleanor Smagarinsky referenced “The Great wave off Kanagawa,” an Ukiyo-e color woodcut print by Japanese artist Hokusai. The Edo period print was published between 1830 to 1833. Undoubtedly, Stein and her artist friends Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse who collected Japanese prints knew this image well. It not only depicts careless (carefree) water but also has the small phallic outcropping in the background of Mount Fuji.

Dave Green’s segue into flood read, “If we're going to think along religious lines, probably the earliest occurrence of CARELESS WATER would be The Flood, which almost broke the world. And of course there was counting involved, two of each kind of animal.”

So there was Noah choosing and ministering counting.

Eleanor also brought up the Tower of Babel which came about after the flood and which demonstrated a new kind of arrogance against G-d. So G-d punished mankind by splitting them up into seventy different nations and tribes, each speaking a different language. In relation to “Careless Water.”, Eleanor said,

“And now, here we are, in ModPo, gathered from all parts of the world (well...some, at least). And even though we all communicate in English, Stein is teaching us a new language. She's breaking and mending our language after the careless water has passed. We minister to each other, we count our numbers, our days, our ways of interpretation. We come together and then apart, we are single and joint and strong and we show probably more than we think, and we certainly become proud, puffed with false air like a balloon, imagining ourselves to be oh so famous. And yet, lurking in the background, is that culture that is Japanese, that culture which has no use for us and our infantile alphabet and our adamant belief in finding the solutions to poems that were never meant to be questions in the first place. Not one question mark. Does it.”


Briefly Steiny will say about the war topics that they relate to the concept of a broken world. Stein had a keen interest in the Civil War which she brushed up against as a child living in Baltimore and which has a much stronger association in the Tender Buttons subpoem “A Chair.”. In Stein’s memoir Wars I Have Seen, she wrote, "The Russian-Japanese war I remember that one very well too." However, this war where Japan and Russia made a deal with each other to break apart Manchuria and Mongolia with part going to Japan and part to Russia had no further play in Wars I Have Seen and is bare hint in “Careless Water.”.


Peter explored an association about writing as it relates to the Japanese poetic form haiku. His discussion was not suggesting that Stein was using this form but only to approaches Stein might be wrestling with relative to writing.

“And so cups and plates or couplets that are broken and mended and there's Japanese culture. Elements and order and angels (or angles) and counting. And change in fluidity. Well where is it pointing, it's pointing east and to Haiku to me.

“The essence of haiku is "cutting" (kiru).[1] This is often represented by the juxtaposition of two images or ideas and a kireji ("cutting word") between them,[2] a kind of verbal punctuation mark which signals the moment of separation and colors the manner in which the juxtaposed elements are related.
 Cutting and breaking and sticking together and mending in a Japanese fashion

“Traditional haiku consist of 17 on (also known as morae), in three phrases of 5, 7 and 5 on respectively.[3]
 Counting and (ad)ministering the rules of the form.”

When Eleanor asked for clarification as to how haiku related to Tender Buttons, Peter replied:

Eleanor! No, no haiku in the form there, but I am wondering if she is referring to the form. I would imagine if she set out to do a haiku the first thing she would do would be to make it completely unrecognizable as a haiku! She seems hell bent on breaking the rules of traditional writing, so I don’t think she would suddenly roll over and obey the rules of Haiku or I would be surprised and disappointed if she did! But there is something of the enigmatic, nonlinear reading and ‘chopped up-ness’ of haiku that may have appealed to her and seems similar in some ways to how she writes. Just a vague hunch with no real or strong argument to back it up here and probably miles off the mark.”

Bringing up writing form also brought out form as it pertains to the natural world for Eleanor:

 Sui or mizu, meaning "Water," represents the fluid, flowing, formless things in the world. Outside of the obvious example of rivers and the lake, plants are also categorized under sui, as they adapt to their environment, growing and changing according to the direction of the sun and the changing seasons. Blood and other bodily fluids are represented by sui, as are mental or emotional tendencies towards adaptation and change. Sui can be associated with emotion, defensiveness, adaptability, flexibility, suppleness, and magnetism.

Dave said, “I'm getting the feeling that she [Stein] is talking about solid objects that also have a feeling of fluidity to them because you can see cracks and imperfections in them but yet the objects hold together. And there's something mystical about that combination of the solid and the fluid, hence the connection to the angels and orders. The cracked cup and plate somehow take on some of the characteristics of the careless water when immersed in it. The world is not as sharply divided into solids, liquids, gases as one may think at first. Even solid objects can have sui. They have strength, they show joints (cracks), but can also have some of the lightness of air, like balloons. The ‘perfect solid’ is actually more of an illusion and the ‘imperfect solid’ is closer to the truth of how the universe is made.”


Mary Armour, thinking about the cracked glazes of raku pots and the Japanese tea ceremony, quoted this from Wikipedia:

It is raku’s unpredictable results and intense color that attract modern potters. These patterns and color result from the harsh cooling process and the amount of oxygen that is allowed to reach the pottery. Depending on what effect the artist wants, the pottery is either instantly cooled in water, cooled slowly in the open air, or placed in a barrel filled with combustible material, such as newspaper, covered, and allowed to smoke. Water immediately cools the pottery, stopping the chemical reactions of the glaze and fixing the colors. The combustible material results in smoke, which stains the unglazed portions of the pottery black. The amount of oxygen that is allowed during the firing and cooling process affects the resulting color of the glaze and the amount of crackle.

Unlike traditional Japanese raku, which is mainly hand built bowls of modest design, western raku tends to be vibrant in color, and comes in many shapes and sizes. Western raku can be anything from an elegant vase, to an eccentric abstract sculpture. Although some do hand build, most western potters use throwing wheels while creating their raku piece. Western culture has even created a new sub branch of raku called horse hair raku. These pieces are often white with squiggly black lines and smoke-like smudges. These effects are created by placing horse hair, feathers, or even sugar on the pottery as it is removed from the kiln and still extremely hot.

[insert image of raku pot.]

The water cooling process points to the title “Careless Water.” and the insertion of horse hair into the raku glaze fits with: a single piece is a hair supposing more of them are orderly, does that show that strength, does that show that joint. Eleanor remarked, “This takes Mark's discovery [wabi-sabi imperfections] a step further by bringing that ‘single piece of hair’ into the design. As I follow what the two of you are developing, I feel as if I'm watching the potter at work, and then the tea ceremony taking place. A quite different "cup & saucer" and fabulous meta. How remarkable!”


The matter of pottery also brought up this from Eleanor: “I've been putting off making this reference to Kabbalah, because I don't really think it's what Stein is doing here. But anyway, here is something about ‘shevirat kelim’—‘the breaking of the vessels.’ 

Steiny jumped to say that bringing up the breaking of the vessels for this subpoem is as meaningful as it is for “Glazed Glitter.” which talks about breakages in Japanese and things chosen. What intrigued Steiny about her shevirat kelim reference was:

“There is also a decided erotic aspect to the Breaking of the Vessels. The vessels, as described by Luria's most important disciple, Chayyim Vital, are envisioned as being located in the womb of the feminine Partzuf, the Cosmic Mother, an expression of the age-old symbol of the feminine as vessel, receptacle and container. Further, the shattering of these vessels brings about a state of affairs in which the masculine and feminine aspects of the cosmos, which had hitherto been in a face to face sexual conjunction, turn their backs upon one another and become completely disjoined. The chaos brought about by the Shevirah (breakage) leads to an erotic alienation, a condition that can only be remedied through a rejoining of opposites through a renewed coniunctio of the sexes. At the same time, like the water that breaks signaling the birth of a new human life, the Breaking of the Vessels also heralds a new birth, that of a new personal and world order to be completed by man in the process of Tikkun [repair].”


From the Christian vantage point, Tamboura Gaskins offered these remarks that ties in broken world and vessels:

Careless Baptism.  This is an indictment on Christianity.  The water represents a baptism by holy water.  The careless-ness is a criticism of how loosely Christian principles are applied.”
No cup is broken in more places and mended, that is to say a plate is broken and mending does do that it shows that culture is Japanese.
“Here, we have a scene from The Last Supper.  The cup is the Holy Grail that represents the blood of Christ, and the plate is the vessel on which the bread, or body of Christ, is carried.  Again, there is an indictment or criticism of the many factions that Christianity has broken into—Catholicism, Lutheranism, Baptist, Methodist, etc.  Christianity, the cup and the plate, keeps breaking in more places in an effort to fix or mend what’s wrong with it.  And all this breaking and mending goes to show you that Christianity is all together foreign, or Japanese.”

Eleanor quoting Claudia Schumann in the discussion of “A New Cup and Saucer.” [Thread 8] answered Tamboura,

“Tamboura, my gut feeling is that you're on to something here!

“Interestingly, Claudia made a comment in Thread 8 about the Christian connection to cup. It intrigued me at the time, and I've been pondering it ever since:

This all brought to my mind another possible meaning for cup. In the story of Jesus before he was crucified and had a last supper with the disciples. When he shared the cup of wine with them he said, ‘Drink this, this represents my blood shed for you.’ The cup is very symbolic in Christianity. I see in my mind that cup represents Jesus and the saucer represents God holding Jesus and presenting him to us.

“A cup and saucer, a plate, water & blood, breaking and mending, and of course—the table, that table on which all the objects are (supposedly? possibly?) placed. Christian imagery is all-pervasive in art, it would be remarkable if it was NOT used by Stein in some way, don't you reckon?”

Tamboura answered, “GS is saying that Christianity is hurting her relationship with AT with its criticism of homosexuality.  She believes that the Christian church enthusiastically, or zealously, is against homosexuality (and it is).  Here, a new cup and saucer represents same sex unions, more specifically GS's union with AT.  It's new because it is different from the old doctrine, or ribbon...yes, Adam's rib comes to mind.”

Moreover, Tamboura added

“In addition to baptismal waters, there is an allusion to the resurrection of Jesus Christ—“

No cup is broken in more places and mended, that is to say a plate is broken and mending...
“Here, the cup and plate are broken in many places as was Christ's body during the crucifixion.  He was nailed to a cross through his hands and feet.  A crown of thorns was placed on his head, and a spear punctured his side.  He was so broken on Crucifixion Day that he died, but He rose on Resurrection Day completely mended and whole.
“And because Christ died, was broken in more places, and rose again mended, once you are baptized in the waters, you are saved from sin, the ultimate brokenness, and can realize everlasting life by periodically drinking from the cup and eating from the plate, which is an act of perpetual mendingThis You Do in Remembrance of Me—or so the Christian doctrine teaches.”


Peter joined the exchange and thinking out loud applied his deconstructive logic but all the same wondered if the

"Caressing water [a variation on careless water and water referring to religious baptism] could be BLOOD. This is a cup of my blood, blood is made up of platelets. And haemoglobin, what is globin? goblet? Cup, maybe, comes from globule-in globule being a drop of liquid, so it does feel like a cup. A cup of iron  (haem) a goblet. It is being constantly renewed, it is responsible for the constant mending and replenishment of the body, it ministers to it. Serious orders can be written in blood to convey how serious they are. And counting of the blood or a blood count, may or may not have been part of medical knowledge by then, but who wants to let temporal accuracy get in the way of a good analogy. And blood is water, mostly but it is changed water and changes in water. And do red blood cells look a bit like balloons?

“And if they were a hair, or a fibre or fibrin and many of then were orderly they form a mesh and cause bleeding to stop, and mending to begin coagulation.
Life blood
The blood of Christ
Caressing water

 “Platelets and couplets, poems as the life-blood.”


Mary ties together more of the Christian symbology within and from the world that Gertrude Stein drew substance.

“I'm thinking of how in the medieval theology of Duns Scotus and Aquinas (how many angels on the head of a pin?) angels were placed in hierarchies of orders and seraphic choirs. 

“Pseudo-Dionysius (On the Celestial Hierarchy) drew on passages from the New Testament to develop a schema of three Hierarchies, Spheres or Triads of angels, with each Hierarchy containing three Orders or Choirs. Although both authors drew on the New Testament, the Biblical canon is relatively silent on the subject. These hierarchies are highly speculative. As ever, much of so-called orthodox Catholic theology is indebted to the esoteric and older suppressed hermetic traditions that go back to Marcion and the Greeks  as well as Jewish angelology of Midrashic literature.

“Angels are ministering bodies, helping with the work of atonement (the mending) and we might read something of the Eucharistic transubstantiation rite here too. Water and wine become the Blood of Christ, as Word becomes flesh. There's numerology too, the significance of counting.”

It shows the whole element of angels and orders. It does more to choosing and it does more to that ministering counting. It does, it does change in more water.
“I'm picking up here of course on what Claudia and Tamboura were mentioning. Liturgical and theological overtones of some kind or another are frequent in Stein, what we are to make of them is tricky.
“Historically, it seems to me that before the 1960s, before Vatican II in any case, there were no deconstructionist critiques of patriarchal Christianity or Catholicism as we would know such critiques today. Catholicism was in one way, very much an affair of the Roman curia and very Italian, obscure and 'foreign'. In one way. But France was also the 'eldest daughter of the Church' and intensely  affected by centuries of Catholic symbolism,  authority and abuses (Cardinal Richelieu, anyone?) as well as by a well-established anti-clericalism. So in France 1912 and going into WWI we have famous literary converts Paul Claudel, Andre Gide and Charles Péguy. There is a huge   and popular cult around two women saints: Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux, rich, nuanced and contradictory images. And always foregrounded in the conscience of everyone is the Dreyfus affair.
“GS is democratic to her core, American and New World, assimilationist, secular, more inclined to the Protestant than the Catholic, more inclined in some ways to the sciences (photography! hot air balloons! automobiles!). BUT she absorbs what is in the air, what is sensuous, embodied, erotic, aesthetic, mysterious. She thought about the converso Teresa of Avila in Spain, she is intrigued by sacramental symbolism. She is receptive and lets the Unconscious play out as it will.”

Among the many responses to what Mary offered was commentary on Jewish angels. Eleanor said, “Yes, lots of Jewish angels but it's not common knowledge I guess. Here's a general wiki link, and here's one which discusses the Orthodox Jewish view of angels.” Dave selected various passes from Eleanor’s links to emphasize and make comment on:

The Hebrew word for angel is malach, which means messenger, for the angels are Gd's messengers to perform various missions.

“That immediately made me think of ‘Malachite.’ [the 33rd subpoem of “Objects” in Tender Buttons].”

Some angels are created for one specific task, and upon the task's completion cease to exist.

“Wow, temporary angels.”

"Notwithstanding the great spiritual level of the angels, the holiness of the Jewish soul supersedes that of the angel...This reflects itself in that fact that angels are one-dimensional: each angels has one specific form of Divine service. The human soul, on the other hand, serves Gd in many different ways, expressing itself through love, awe, etc."

To this quote Dave says “most interesting” but Steiny suspects Gertrude Stein is working up to something psychologically big within the larger context of Tender Buttons.


Steiny will draw this deluge of ideas to a gradual end with this shower of verbal play:

From Eleanor on skin:


SKIN is the object - largest organ of the human body.
Perspiration is a type of careless water.
Skin breaks and repairs itself endlessly.
It's a vessel containing the entire body.
It changes in water (wrinkles) but it's FULL of water, so it expands like a balloon!! That's how skin cells work, isn't it? Bloated. Also, the skin of the stomach expanding as the amniotic fluid fills the sac inside, as that wee baby grows. Or just a really good meal expanding the skin of the belly. Or anything sexual, nuf said. Water / blood.
Imperfections of the skin are like the Japanese concept Mark mentioned...wabi sabi (if I remember correctly). Which is so lovely, as our skin is like the clay in the potter's hand, and our imperfections are perfect.
HAIR. One hair or "more of them are orderly."

From Peter on the verb does:

9 does's in all, repeat repeat repeat, there's an awful lot of doing or does's
"it does", "it does"  are placed together.
3 "does that show's" at the end are  topped off by a "does it."

I looked up do, so many possibilities I fell off my meditation mat, so much in such a small word, very Zen / or Japanese felt like Mu, in that it is a small word for a huge concept and strangely they sound very similar. Much Ado About Mu perhaps.

From Tamboura on the noun does:

/doʊ/ Show Spelled [doh] Show IPA
noun, plural does ( especially collectively ) doe.
the female of the deer, antelope, goat, rabbit, and certain other animals.

does ==> female deer ==>  female dears

…does that show that strength…
…does are strong

…does that show that joint,
… does are communal

…does that show that balloon famously. 
… pregnant does, perhaps?

Does it.
Does are it.  They are the best.

While Tamboura thought she was moving away from religion, Eleanor was reminded of the Old Testament passage in “Song of Songs”: "I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the does of the field, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases."

Very quickly this talk of does turned into a singing lesson on "tonic solfa." So therefore the Steiny Road Poet fades away with an image of Gertrude Stein singing do-re-mi in a shower of careless water. For now, that, does it.


Eleanor said...

This was a truly joyful collaboration.

Karren Alenier said...

I'm posting this comment from Eleanor Smagarinsky that came after this blogpost was published:

"...there is a very strong connection between menses and water in Jewish tradition:

"Also this section of the rules of the Mikveh seems to fit with the "CARELESS WATER." 'Even the very end of a single hair above the surface (or a single hair in her mouth) invalidates the Tviloh [immersion in the water].'"

Karren Alenier said...
This comment has been removed by the author.