Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Stepping on Tender Buttons: “A Time to Eat.”


THE BOOK ..........................-           TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ...................-           OBJECTS
THE SUBPOEM ...................-           A TIME TO EAT: NUMBER 37
WORD COUNT......................-           19
STANZA(S)............................-           1
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.....................................-           POLITELY RAVENOUS BUT FINICKY

My initial take on this is a cross between Fiddler on the Roof traditionalism and an episode of Downton Abbey.” Judy Meibach

“Each OBJECT has instructions,
is the instruction, the education, of how to read it.
If so this OBJECT should eaten rather than read.” Allan Keeton


A pleasant simple habitual and tyrannical and authorised and educated and resumed and articulate separation. This is not tardy.

In presenting “A Time to Eat.” to the Buttons Collective, the Steiny Road Poet suggested that despite the opening words pleasant and simple, a patriarchal tyranny seems to rule. Among the topics discussed were eating, rules for eating, grammar rules, and details of Gertrude Stein’s family living, especially around food. This poem also takes on a certain reflection from Ecclesiastes 3:2—To Everything there is season, a time for every event under heaven…


While Dave Green walked the Buttons through the subpoem pointing out how each word applied to the act of eating, Karren Alenier [a.k.a. Steiny] read through the poem on the theme of separation.

Dave Green:

pleasant ==> eating is pleasant
simple ==> eating is a simple affair most of the time
habitual ==> we eat meals every day, they are daily habits
tyrannical ==> eating is tyrannical in the sense that we are driven to do it by hunger, we have no choice if we want to live
authorized ==> society sets aside times for meals, recognizes that people need to eat
educated ==> educated people know it is important to eat regular meals and to eat well
resumed ==> a meal is a resumption of eating since the previous meal
articulate ==> meals are occasions for conversation
separation ==> eating is a separation from hunger
This is not tardy. ==> We are eating at the right time. This is a time to eat. 

Karren Alenier:
Stein is describing separation in six ways.

A pleasant simple habitual separation ===> like people who live together but one goes on a trip at regular intervals. I think Leo occasionally traveled without Gertrude when they lived together before Alice enter the picture.

tyrannical separation ===> one person of a couple is put in jail, like Apollinaire when he was accused of stealing the Mona Lisa.

authorised separation ===> one person of a couple must report for military duty, like Apollinaire who was not a French citizen signed up for the French military during WWI and after his Mona Lisa incident.

educated separation ===> one person of twosome is sent off to college, like when Michael sent Gertrude, Bertha, & Leo east to Baltimore after their father died and then Leo went north to Harvard.

resumed separation ===> one person of a couple where they were not getting along leaves the relationship yet again, something like the stormy relationship Marie Laurencin had with Apollinaire.

articulate separation ===> perhaps one can think of Gertrude's departure from Johns Hopkins as one she thought through at length and over a period of time. It wasn't one thing that helped her make up her mind. It was true that she was suffering from the bad love affair with May Bookstaver where Gertrude felt not only spurned by made a fool. May said she was experimenting with love and moved from a woman to a man whom she married. Gertrude was also unhappy at Johns Hopkins where women were treated patronizingly or disdainfully. 

In this context, This is not tardy might mean these kinds of separations were not slow and they were some how expected. In the wake of these separations, one could only eat to mark time.


Peter Treanor remarked that Steiny’s separation read-through made him think of six degrees of separation, with full awareness that though separate, people are all increasingly interconnected. Steiny responded that six degrees of separation is so contrarian in that Steinian way of measuring the world.

Perhaps the impetus for this subpoem was Gertrude’s father Daniel who force fed his children castor oil. Perhaps the castor oil regimen is what gave Gertrude’s close-in-age brother Leo a bad stomach, if not psychological problems.


However, the meat of the discussion centered on grammar—grammar rules and the way this subpoem is structured. Here are some highlights.

Peter Treanor:

“I suppose the laws/rules of grammar (language) and the laws/rules around eating/diet have various similarities. Both are concerned with controlling or prescribing behaviour regarding a basic human activity. Table manners and dietary laws and language use. Both are handed down through generations, deeply steeped in tradition, both are central to a sense of personal and cultural identity, both are taught not innate, there are great sanctions involved in transgressing either, both are culturally specific. Both are involved in articulation, chewing and speaking, and both result in us behaving in a way contrary to the way we would naturally act.”

Peter also pointed out the over abundance of the conjunction and. It made him think of the eye problem conjunctivitis. And now as Steiny ruminates about the overall discussion, the abundant and’s sock in the idea of six degrees of separation because the truth of this grammar is how strongly Stein has connected these unparalleled adjectives. Here’s what Eleanor Smagarinsky noticed.


 Eleanor Smagarinsky:

“According to this site there are 5 categories of adjectives. And there are 5 and’s in this poem. English grammar dictates the order in which different kinds of adjectives are placed in a sentence, and whether they should be separated by a space, a comma or and (the site I'm using as a reference describes these in detail).

“Stein's sentence construction feels off, because it is grammatically weird, but not necessarily wrong. It's this grey area which makes it so very unsettling....unpalatable. Separation is the noun, which is described as being:


“They all sort of make sense, but you really have to stop and chew on the adjectives a bit, to get the taste for them. Can a separation be habitual? Theoretically, perhaps. You can have an educated guess, so why not an educated separation? I suppose. A resumed separation? Odd, but poetic, maybe. Articulate separation? Really not sure about this one, but it does make you think of the possibilities.

“And there is not one comma in the entire poem.

“Finally, WHAT is not tardy? Grammatically, that's an incomplete sentence. What is this pointing to?”


Allan Keeton provides final words on this subpoem bringing together eating, time, and grammar.

Allan Keeton:

“Thinking more about eating AND about time AND grammar,
it seems that grammar organizes language
in a similar way that concepts of time organize experience.
They both set the table to allow us to eat (language AND experience).

“A clock maintains time as

habitual and tyrannical and authorised and educated and resumed and articulate separation. 

“Events become discrete. They happen one after the other to form a narrative.

“Grammar maintains a similar authoritative separation between words
AND even between events AND our experience.

“In this phrase:
A pleasant simple habitual and tyrannical and authorised and educated and resumed and articulate separation. 

“things are strange because the joining conjunction AND which wants to put every word on top of each other

“this AND that AND the other

“is actually spacing them out on the page to maintain articulate separation.
The word AND is the
pleasant simple habitual and tyrannical and authorised and educated and resumed and articulate separator.
in this sentence.

“There is some not quite convincing slight of grammar going on.
The phrase itself is tardy.
It takes time to get from habitual to articulate, 
but the sentence says they all occur at once.”


One stone left unturned is that Alice Toklas ruled the eating once she entered Gertrude Stein’s life. She was the master chef. Those seated at their table followed Alice’s rules of etiquette. Still, this subpoem seems pervaded by a masculine tone especially with the march of words tyrannical and authorised and educated that seem to point to Stein’s father Daniel. 

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