Saturday, March 8, 2014

Stepping on Tender Buttons: “Malachite.” & “An Umbrella.”


THE BOOK ..........................-           TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ...................-           OBJECTS
THE SUBPOEM ...................-           MALACHITE: NUMBER 33
WORD COUNT......................-           18
THE SUBPOEM ...................-           AN UMBRELLA: NUMBER 34
WORD COUNT......................-           24
STANZAS..............................-           1 each
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.....................................-           HEADY

An umbrella is a contextual framework which attempts to cover everything.” Allan Keeton


The sudden spoon is the same in no size. The sudden spoon is the wound in the decision.


Coloring high means that the strange reason is in front not more in front behind. Not more in front in peace of the dot.

To open this discussion by The Buttons Collective, the Steiny Road Poet suggested that the objects of “Malachite.” and “An Umbrella.”—spoon and umbrella—had handles. Then she suggested that how to get a handle on these two subpoems might be through the words decision and reason.

Among the association these subpoems elicited were: love-making; folklore of malachite; Egyptian cosmetics; copper & measuring spoons; fish lures; post-Stein umbrella pop culture: Mary Poppins, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Singing in the Rain, Jason Mraz’s song “The Forecast”; Robert Louis Stevenson’s essay “The philosophy of umbrellas”; tightrope walking; punctuation as symbolic spoons and exclamation marks; Pointillism & Matisse; Yayoi Kusama’s polka dots; the politics of mining; the malachite sunbird; and metapoetics. What follows are some highlights from the study session.

Allan Keeton’s first comments were, “I love these two. There is something erotic in all that fronting & behinding.”

Steiny agreed saying, “Allan, yes, they seem tactile and sexual. Spooning in 'Malachite.', a visceral description that seems like spooning in 'An Umbrella." with emphasis on front—front occurs 3 times.” 

Tamboura Gaskins saw “An Umbrella.” as “beautifully-expressed love note from Stein to Toklas”:

Coloring high means that… ==> Because I am so high-colored… ==> Because I have such a strong, vivid personality…
…the strange reason is in front… ==>… it is perceived, strangely, that I am in front… ==> …that I am the leader… ==> …that I am the dominant one…
…not more in front… ==> …I am not more in front ==> …I am not the leader… ==> …I am not the dominant one… ==> I do not overshadow you
…behind. ==> be ∙ hind ==> be a female deer ==> be a dear ==> B. dear ==> Alice B. Toklas, dear 
Not more in front… ==> No, not better than you ==> not out in front casting a shadow on you
…in peace of the dot. ==> Peace, be still, dot ==> Rest assured, do∙t ==> Be peaceful, doe T ==> Be at peace, dear Alice B. Toklas
Simply marvelous!!  Great way to make up after a falling out!”
Steiny notes here that the discussion for “Water Raining.” speculated about the possibility of a love spat.
Eleanor Smagarinsky followed up on Tamboura’s love note interpretation with:
“Tamboura wrote:
… it is perceived, strangely, that I am in front…

“I'm tempted to see it also as:
...the stranger is always in front --- meaning: when I am in public (in front), I wear a different face .... a public persona ... and it seems perhaps like I don't love you... as if I am a stranger...

“The words front and back remind me of running a restaurant - there's the back of the house and the front of the house. I imagine, from what I've heard on some of our threads, that Alice was more back of the house and considered by most to be the woman behind the woman. Perhaps this is Gertrude's way of saying the work at the back of the house is more important than what I do at the front.” 


Steiny researched malachite folklore. Some of the findings point to the Egyptians and the myth of Isis, which the Buttons discussed in “A Drawing.” The following passages are drawn from the Howl at the Moon website:
In some parts of Germany, Malachite shares the same reputation as Turquoise in protecting the wearer from falling. It has also been said to warn of coming danger by breaking into pieces.
The Egyptians used Malachite for protection and safeguarding pregnancy. They would also grind them for use as eye cosmetics. [Not recommend today since Malachite dust particles are highly toxic.]

Next Steiny highlights in bold text from the malachite myths below (also quoted from the Howl at the Moon website). What she sees based on the following info is that Stein invokes the power of Malachite to aid in the success of Tender Buttons.
Malachite encourages an appreciation of aesthetics, sensuality and beauty, friendship and justice. It helps us to imagine ourselves in the position of others and be able to empathize with them. It is an aid to rid yourself of shyness and awakens your desire for knowledge. Malachite makes us more aware of our desires, needs and ideals, but the realization of them is still up to us.
Malachite stimulates inner imagery. Dreams, imagination and memories become alive and real. Suppressed feelings can be suddenly brought out in the open. It can take away inhibitions and encourage your expression of feelings. Moods may be experienced more intensely and then dropped again as fast as they came.
Malachite strengthens your understanding of concepts. It enables you to absorb information more quickly as your imagination makes you strong and aware of how to handle it. Thought can flow very quickly and decisions can be made without much contemplation. Malachite strengthens the capacity to observe. Even the tiniest things are realized much more quickly and their meaning is easily recognized.

Malachite eases menstrual cramps and problems and facilitates labor. It also encourages the development of female sexual organs and heals their ailments. Malachite stimulates liver activity, has a detoxifying effect, and aids in alleviating rheumatism. It stimulates nerves and brain activity.

What particularly interested Steiny about the malachite-body connection is the corollary myth about waving a spoon in front of the belly of a pregnant woman to determine the sex of the child. Might one call this spoon waving a sudden spoon? An ongoing discussion in the study of Tender Buttons is the inability of Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas to have a child. Because they are two woman deciding to be married couple, the sudden spoon—if it were thought of as a diviner of a child’s sex—is just a wound in their decision to be a couple.

Peter Treanor dug deeper into Egyptian eye makeup and said:
“Just been looking around at all things malachite, and been snooping in ancient Egypt looking for Isis too. And found that malachite was used as eye makeup, crushed and applied under the eyes. For medicinal purposes and for protection against the evil eye.
“The ancient Egyptians regarded beauty as a sign of holiness. Everything the ancient Egyptians used had a spiritual aspect to it, including cosmetics, which is why cosmetics were an integral part of their daily lives. In tombs, cosmetic palettes were found buried with the deceased as grave goods which further emphasized the idea that cosmetics were not only used for aesthetic purposes but rather magical and religious purposes.

“The two main forms of eye makeup were green eye paint and black kohl. The green eye paint was made of malachite, a green carbonate of copper, and the black kohl was made from a substance called galena, a dark grey ore of lead.

“In the sudden spoon, that oo makes me think of eyes, Even the dd looks like eyes with eye liner (kohl) on them, but turned on their side.

"And spoons themselves are eye shaped, even look like a ‘d’ shape too from the side.

“Spoons and eyes (suddenly they look the same shape)

“And looking at that spoon, the shape and the tail (handle that comes off to the left) it reminded me of the Eye of Horus.

“See the spoon? and the handle coming off to the right?

“The sudden spoon is the same in no size.
(or that’s what it sounds like when I say it)

"No size sounds like a mixture of nose and eyes.

“The second sentence of the subpoem repeats the sudden spoon, it is like another eye on the page. Written. Two eyes, Two sudden spoons  
But the second eye is the wound in the decision. I don’t know about this, maybe decision and incision and vision are being suggested? (What is the root meaning of ision? It’s in all those words). incision seems like it relates to wound. Maybe the wound is the gap between the two eyelids, wound as opening. The decision may be the decision to open your eyes and see, to open the wound rather than keep them (your eye lids that and the wound) closed, blind, shut, like a healed wound.

“To be open / aware is to be incisive. Incisive / incision are related.
And I’m sure I almost caught a glimpse of Isis in decision and incision and vision somewhere
I sis
Eye sis(ter)
I sister?”


Dear Reader, as you can see, one thing leads to another and before one can say something Mary Poppins-ish, the Buttons go down a rabbit hole of meta-poetics as Peter just did. So, Steiny is going to back up with Dave Green who waxed nostalgic about how at the beginning of the Coursera Modern Poetry MOOC, he had interpreted "Malachite.":

“Gertrude needs to use a measuring spoon. So she quickly selects one out of a set of copper measuring spoons. She notices that none of the spoons are exactly the same shape, leaving aside the differences in size. Because she selected the spoon quickly, she got the wrong size by mistake, thus making a bad decision. There was some oxidation on the spoon, a green patina, which reminded her of the green copper mineral, malachite.”

And should Steiny say that right at the beginning of discussion that she had given this factual information about malachite: “Malachite: a bright green mineral, found in veins and in association with copper deposits. It is a source of copper and is used as an ornamental stone. Composition: hydrated copper carbonate. Formula: Cu2CO3(OH)2. Crystal structure: monoclinic.” And "Malachite." made her think back to "Glazed Glitter.".

Judy Meibach mulled over "Malachite." as follows:

“The sound of sudden spoon is very poetic, but very odd. Particularly as it relates to malachite—for if malachite is a decorative stone, the source of copper, it would stand to reason that the spoon is a copper one—but when we, or maybe, when I, think of a special spoon, if you will, I think of a silver one, not a copper one.
However, maybe I am off—maybe there is something special about a copper spoon—but for what—and what is the significance of the suddenness of it all—but then we can read the second sentence in this subpoem, and Stein repeats sudden spoon, saying it is the wound in the decision. These to me are the pivotal words—wound in the decision—what does that mean—maybe I am completely off, but to me it means that it is a departure from the indulged life that somebody with a silver spoon has.  The sudden spoon represents the sense of reality—a reality check if you will.”

What Judy said sent Eleanor Googling copper spoon and what she found were photos of copper fishing spoons. Here’s what Eleanor said,

“The fish decides to take the spoon (the bait) = ‘The sudden spoon is the wound in the decision.’

“And now the repetition of ‘The sudden spoon’—doesn't it sound like fly fishing? The reel unwinding and then winding and again unwinding? As the fisherwoman tries to lure her catch.”

To this Karren Alenier [a.k.a. Steiny] responded:

“And the hiss of all those S's, Judy, is the fly-fishing line being thrown out with that sudden spoon! It's like Gtrude is making that lure wiggle but repeating it twice!!

“I also found this after I read what Eleanor had found on copper spoon:

The ancestor of the spoon had appeared by the late 17th century, and was possibly invented in Scandinavia, but this type of bait doesn't seem to have really caught the imagination of anglers for another couple of centuries. A spoon didn’t look like anything at all, but they were highly effective and not at all expensive. One of the earliest types was the Colorado, which was truly spoon-shaped and can be identified by the weight inside the spoon and a pair of lugs near the head, almost parallel to the flow, which were there to make it spin. 

“I love that business about this kind of lure not resembling anything, meaning it didn't look like a bug or a fish and that must have really appealed to Gtrude.

“What this also means to me is that ‘Malachite.’ is now tied ‘A Drawing.’, which has its measurement of water with Allan's association of mark twain.  


Along the way, especially after Peter had brought up the issue of Egyptians believing one could ward off the evil eye with malachite, discussions about the word itself suggesting with its opening syllable (mal) evil came this discussion by Mary Armour:

“The 'mal' or evil in malachite for me has of course to do with mining and the mines in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana are not good news for those who are employed to go down or work at processing the ore. Not unlike the women working in the dress factory [see ‘A Long Dress.’] that caught alight, hard and dangerous  work for desperate people. Deposits of malachite are often found near to copper deposits and hence you have the  mines set up during the  heydays of the colonial Zambian Copperbelt.

“The most important and substantial malachite deposits were once in the Ural Mountains in Russia, where 20-ton blocks once came from the quarries and were used to decorate the palaces of the Russian tsars. Scary to consider then the Malachite room of the Winter Palace of the Russian Royal family. Designed in the late 1830s, the Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna, the wife of Nicholas I, used it as her drawing-room. The room, including columns, pilasters, fire-place trimmings and decorative vases is made completely of malachite using the ‘Russian mosaic’ technique.

‘I've always felt that when I look at jewellery or shiny stuff, the material conditions and means of production need a new kind of symbolism, something that carries the memory of suffering and risk, the people who dug it out of the earth and endured smelting furnaces and crushing or grinding machines, and  so these vivid shining  metals or semi-precious stones could be seen as an aesthetic plaything in the West.”


A look at the last syllable of malachite, i.e. chite, homophone to kite as in bird of prey, linked the conversation not only to the Isis myth—she turned into a kite in order to conceive from the dead body of her husband their child Horus—but also to “An Umbrella.”. 

Allan observed, “Umbrellas have ribs 
that look like the bones in a bird's wing.”


Then riffing off a quote from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Philosophy of Umbrellas” (Tamboura brought this essay to the attention of The Buttons), Allan offered,

It is not for nothing, either, that the umbrella has become the very foremost badge of modern civilisation—the Urim and Thummim of respectability. Its pregnant symbolism has taken its rise in the most natural manner. [from Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1894 essay “The Philosophy of Umbrellas”]

“Pregnant symbolism of an umbrella?

“I had never noticed that an open umbrella is shaped like a pregnant belly
held over one's head rather than in front.

Coloring high means that the strange reason is in front 

“The pointy thing is the belly button which
has popped out to become an outie.

“The baby is not in front of the umbrella,
it is behind the front.

not more in front behind.

"Wholly new conditions of intercourse.”

To this poetic flight, Tamboura responded,

“Oh, Allan, yet another layer you've uncovered: an umbrella as protector of the womb, a place of nourishment and nurturing. 

“And I luv how you were influenced by the R.L.S. makes me wonder if Stein herself found inspiration there as well.”


For Gertrude Stein, the umbrella was something she rebelled against. In The Making of Americans, her character Martha, as a child, throws her umbrella into the mud after she, on her way to school, is abandoned by her siblings. Later this same character, as a teenager, sees a man beating a woman with his umbrella and decides then and there that no man shall hold an umbrella over her head, that she must become independent and get a good education. The Stevenson essay “The Philosophy of Umbrellas” establishes this protective device as an item of high culture, but for Stein it seemed to represent patriarchal tyranny.

Something else to keep in mind is this is third subpoem of the “Objects” section dealing with the umbrella—“Mildred’s Umbrella.”, “A Mounted Umbrella.” and “An Umbrella.”. Interestingly the associations brought up in this appearance of the umbrella were different, though in all three, the sexual associations dominated.

Some of the new associations offered for umbrella were the shade (a root meaning of umbrella derived from umbra) created by the moon passing between Earth and sun (eclipse) and Henri Matisse’s 1905 Pointillist painting “Young Woman with Umbrella.” Dave Green provided commentary about Matisse’s painting:

Coloring high means that… ==> The emphasis on color over form...
…the strange reason is in front… ==>… means that the painting first strikes you as strange...
…not more in front behind. ==> but then that strangeness recedes to the background
 “Not more in front… ==> It no longer feels strange...
…in peace of the dot. ==> ...but rather peaceful with its Divisionist dots of color.”


Because these two subpoems are abstract, the Buttons offered many metapoetic comments and some of these have already been documented here. Here is a bit of high art ludic speculation from Peter:

Coloring high means that the strange reason is in front not more in front behind. Not more in front in peace of the dot.
 “Um this one has been driving me nuts. But what are all these in fronts all about? There are 3 ‘in front's’ and two ‘not’s.’

“And what is the strange reason? I have been thinking of (il)logic or theory or delusion or lie or alibi as a strange kind of reason .But the strange reason is in front, she says. SO I looked (and looked) at in front. And there in front was Ont
, the base of ~Ontological, meaning, early 18th century: from modern Latin ontologia, from Greek ōn, ont- 'being' + -logy. Ont meaning being, its in front and in not.

“I get a bit dizzy trying to work out all the in fronts and behinds as directions in the sentence. But front (in the sentence) is in front of the dot (full stop) and Not is the first word behind it. SO maybe the in fronts and behind refer to the position of Ont (being) in the sentence. Maybe, maybe.
 And so maybe umbrella is used in the sense of an umbrella principle, and overarching idea or theory of being.

“A unified theory of being, Is that what she is exploring, through her objects, with reference to strange and colourful reasons and reasoning? Is she looking at ideas of being, both past and present? Is that the Umbrella principle behind (in front) this piece? Objects but with reference to theories of the nature of being interwoven in them. Is that the thread that connects the buttons? Is she looking at a unified theory of being, to bring peace in the Dot?

“But what is the Dot? The point maybe? It is made by the point of the pen. The point as reason or purpose. What is the point? The dot being the moment you make the mark? The Yud idea again? that All is contained in that dot, mark, point? 
It’s enough to drive you dotty.”

Here is an exchange between Allan and Karren regarding the dot that ends “An Umbrella.”:

“I am struck by the dot. at the end.

“It is as if Gertrude's periods at the end of her OBJECTS finally gets named.


“resting there in peace.

“It reminds me of a reverse Yud.
The dot left at the end of a mark when the pen is lifted from the paper.

“The earth spinning peacefully in a vast universe.

“An umbrella is a contextual framework which attempts to cover everything.

“The dot.

“is where everything ends up.”

“The end weight on dot. Might Stein being saying something about her subpoem titles? She gives intention to each subpoem with that period, that dot. Is there some kind of protection (umbrella) for her intention?

“The dot is an umbrella for her OBJECTS?

“Wow, cool Karren.”

“Apollinaire in his 1913 book Alcools uses NO punctuation. Stein who is not very punctuation oriented goes overboard in Tender Buttons. I find this interesting.”

Steiny will make this brief gloss about Apollinaire—she thinks Apollinaire had a fairly strong influence on Stein while she was writing the sections of Tender Buttons.


Eleanor also contemplated punctuation in this way:

Are these sudden spoons?
Can you see a question in a person's eyes?
Before you make your decision, you have to ask yourself a question.
Questions and the decisions which follow can wound.

“In French "mal" has many connotations, all lead to hurt of some sort. I was experimenting with mal a quitte as being a hint towards hurts to leave but it's really not proper French and feels like too much of a stretch (although fun play).

Are these closed umbrellas? 
Closed means "decision made", no more questions!
What was "the strange reason" for the decision?
(N.B. Thanks, Karren, for your leading post in this forum in which you hinted at the connection between DECISION and REASON.)

"Coloring high could mean high emotion, which necessitates an exclamation mark, which takes the place (peace--place) of the dot. And a dot does indeed give more peace than an exclamation mark which is so excited and loud and not at all peaceful!!! Do you see what I mean??? Yes. Ah. Peaceful again.

“in front not more in front behind. Don't they do that in Spanish? Use spoons and closed umbrellas in front of questions and exclamations, as well as after?”

Eventually Eleanor began playing with the sound of umbrella crossing back and forth between French, Spanish and English:



HOMBRE / MUJER (man/woman)

Claudia Schumann jumped in asking: “Do we have to go back to the Latin? Hombrella—is that a little man? Or GS as not really  man but a sort of man???

Allan bustled in with:

“Hombrella (little man)!
O so cool that the 
makes an appearance
& so we are back to alchemy & fertilization (eggs & sperm).
Such a huge open door for a microscopic dot. of a man to walk through.”

Barbara Crary experienced this by saying the word malachite: “a picture of the spoon, with the round sounds mala- comprising the bowl and the sharp -chite at the end the hard long handle.”


This from Allan to ensure, Dear Reader, that you know the Buttons are aware that their associations get carried to tight-rope walking extremes:

“I am sure many people would be aghast at how far away we are willing to go to play
& at the weird eddies we get stuck in for days.

“But we do keep coming back trying to touch the poem in our own ways.
But is the poem behind all our imaginings?
Are we sometimes in front dragging the poem somewhere it doesn't want to go
& sometimes in back stuck in our own daydream when the poem wants to go somewhere else?

“For some strange reason that seems to be what happens when we color high.”

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