Sunday, April 13, 2014

Stepping on Tender Buttons: “A Fire.", “A Handkerchief.", “Red Roses."


THE BOOK ..........................-           TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ...................-           OBJECTS
THE SUBPOEM ...................-          A FIRE: NUMBER 39
WORD COUNT......................-           32
THE SUBPOEM ...................-          A HANDKERCHIEF: NUMBER 40
WORD COUNT......................-           16
THE SUBPOEM ...................-          RED ROSES: NUMBER 41
WORD COUNT......................-           19
STANZA(S)............................-           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.....................................-           READY TO PARRY

“Why are there three in this set?” Judy Meibach


What was the use of a whole time to send and not send if there was to be the kind of thing that made that come in. A letter was nicely sent.


A winning of all the blessings, a sample not a sample because there is no worry.


A cool red rose and a pink cut pink, a collapse and a sold hole, a little less hot.

Dave Green wondered:

“Could these poems represent the stages of a relationship?
“A FIRE. - This is the early uncertain phase of the relationship. GS is not sure whether to send a letter or not. She is sitting before a fire trying to decide, or perhaps the "fire" is the psychic discomfort she is feeling about the situation. But then that becomes moot because she receives a letter from the person she was thinking about, and the letter pleases her. She realizes her worry was unnecessary. 
“A HANDKERCHIEF. - The positive letter she has received means that she has won "all the blessings". The relationship she was hoping for has been confirmed. She can wave a handkerchief in celebration, or perhaps dab her eyes with it.
“RED ROSES. - Roses are a symbol of love. GS is the rose and her significant other is the pink. "A sold hole" - the relationship has allowed her to get rid of the hole of depression she was in.”

As leader of the Tender Buttons Massive Open Online Study Group within the Coursera Modern Poetry MOOC the Steiny Road Poet looks for ways to keep the discussion lively. While each subpoem of Tender Buttons seems to have its own strategy for its existence, consecutive clusters with related characteristics appear. In introducing this trio of subpoems, Steiny suggested, “In this run of poetic parts, Gertrude Stein is signaling to us.” Steiny thought of building a fire as a way to convey a message (e.g. as American Indians did), the waving of a handkerchief to signal a need for help or for truce from battle, and the sending of red roses as sign of passionate love.

Steiny finds the presentation of sets of subpoems appealing, particularly when subpoems are short. Because Steiny has no agenda for completing the discussion of Tender Buttons by a certain deadline and has no higher authority to please except the overall pleasure of working through this provocative poem with a congenial group of intelligent and witty people, she hopes never to run into the problem of “just going through the motions” and producing an assembly line of comments. And she loves that a member of the MOOSG has asked why study the poem with these three parts together.

In the end, whether the MOOSG accepts the choices for study that Steiny makes comes down to trust and faith. And same for herself, about the investment being made in a poem that continues to stump and excite the academic community. Here, there is no competition for tenure or leg-ups. Here is the joy of discovery and comradery.

Thinking outside the box as is her usual tack, Eleanor Smagarinsky said she had been thinking for four days about Judy’s question, particularly since the prevailing line of discussion had focused on the associations between “A Fire.” and “Red Roses.” Looking back in Tender Buttons, she saw “A Little Bit of a Tumbler.” leading “with all of that shining colour and necessary spreading, which sounds exactly like a fire to me” as a “rush straight into the first line of "A Fire." Eleanor questioned, “What was the use....’If something spreads into nothing, then what's the use? It's as if the fire from the little tumble Stein took has spread into her next poem.” However, what Dave saw set things into perspective, which Eleanor characterized as “the stages of a relationship.”

What did the Buttons see in reading these subpoems either separately or together in addition to the stages of relationship—pinking sheers (a pink cut pink),
four-letter words (fire-what-time-send-send-kind-that-made-that-come-sent), the Gertrude Stein-May Bookstaver affair, lies and letters, envelopes and boundaries, tracking the path of an oscillation function, the nature of how things exist, painting the town red in the early 20th century, the rose garden of the Queen of Hearts into which Lewis Carroll sent his character Alice, the emotional highs and lows of weddings, the dance of courtship, hankies and courtship, tuberculosis and the handkerchief, masturbation. Here are some of the highlights:


from Tamboura Gaskins:

A cool red rose and a pink cut pink, a collapse and a sold hole, a little less hot.
Lots of beautiful imagery about a broken love affair.  I see Gertrude and May Bookstaver here—
A cool red rose ==> Gertrude
a pink cut pink ==> a pink, cute pink ==> May
a collapse ==> Gertrude, presumably at the end of the relationship
a sold hole ==> May, pointing at her selling out to marry

Alice is here too.  There are a few too many a's to ignore—
a little less hot ==> Alice is a little less hot (than May)

Peter Treanor responded:

A sold hole, such a marvelously unromantic, bitter and caustic view of marriage, just what you would come up with if your lover had run off to marry someone else. I love it!

“And poor old Alice, tagged on at the beginning there (better than at the end I suppose) and not as hot as May! I would not have typed this one up if was Alice, unless I hadn't twigged what it meant of course.”

Peter also added “f” to “A Fire” and reconfigured to get the French word “affair.”

Karren Alenier [a.k.a. Steiny] threw in her two cents:
“What I'm hearing is
a sold hole ==> a sordid whore
I know this sounds harsh
but May had many lovers and
she played Gertrude who seemed very naive.

“May was like playing with fire and Gertrude was a cool cuke.”

“I bet Alice had no clue and maybe May bee was one of the underlying reasons why Tender Buttons was so coded and sui generis—one of a kind.”


After meditating on the kind of thing that made that come in, Karren looked up envelope given all the language about sending that proceeded. In the definition of envelope, she discovered that Free Dictionary’s 6th meaning pertains to debris (made up of particles of ice and dust) caused by the comet getting too close to the sun (fire).

en·ve·lope  (ĕn′və-lōp′, ŏn′-)
1. A flat paper container, especially for a letter, usually having a gummed flap.
2. Something that envelops; a wrapping.
3. Biology An enclosing structure or cover, such as a membrane or the outer coat of a virus.
4. The bag containing the gas in a balloon or airship.
5. The set of limitations within which a technological system, especially an aircraft, can perform safely and effectively.
6. The coma of a comet.
7. Mathematics A curve or surface that is tangent to every one of a family of curves or surfaces.

A bit of scatting and improvising followed:
A letter was nicely sent ==> A(lice) let her waz(oo) nightly scent.
A letter was nicely sent ==>letter was a nice lie sent.

Allan Keeton jumped in to turn the conversation to a more intellectual plane:

“Here is the purple graph of an oscillating function.
The smooth outer lines are the envelope of the function.
These lines follow the paths of the positive & negative
extremes of the oscillation.

To send a comment in an envelope to explicitly
mark the boundaries, the extremes, of the discussion.
The discussion itself oscillates within this envelope.”

Karren said Stein was oscillating over whether to send that letter and that the same kind of oscillating was happening in “A Handkerchief.”. a sample not a sample vs. to send and not send

The imprecision of comparing noun use (a sample) to verb use (to send) led to a conversation on the nature of how things exist.


“I see it quite differently, Karren.

“I suppose it's how you define "sample" here - is it a verb (you can sample or not sample...just as you can send or not send), or is it a noun?

“If it's a noun (and it does have that "a" in front of it both times) it means (loosely):
 ‘a small amount of something that is given to people to try.’

“Stein may be showing that she's made a decision—she was ‘trying out’ a certain love, but it's now ‘the real deal’ (so to speak). Hence, there's no more worries, decision made.

“Now that I think of it....’A Fire.’ can possibly be understood as having a quite definitive ending, if the letter is seen as being ‘nicely sent’.....straight into the fire. (And good riddance ;-)”

“I see what you mean, Eleanor. That there was no indecision with sample.

“I was seeing, or rather hearing, these two lines with this meaning of oscillation in mind:
1. To swing back and forth with a steady, uninterrupted rhythm.

“More a linguistic vibration.”

to send and not  send
a sample not a sample
a pink cut pink

“oscillation, heartbeat, uninterrupted rhythm ,

“It is, it isn’t, 
it's this and/or not this

“It seems to question the nature of how things exist, they are this way and then the opposite way at the same time. Made me think of subatomic structures being both waves and particles, occupying both modes of being at the same time when they should only exist in one state according to the (then) laws of physics. All this was in the air at the time of writing TB.

“The whole nature of matter constructed on things that oscillate and occupy different contradictory states of being simultaneously.”  

“Yes & you can sample from a probability distribution,
like flipping a coin.
Sometimes it is head & sometimes it is tails.
Sometimes it is sent & sometimes it is not.

“You can also sample from a quantum distribution.
If you do sample then sometimes it is sent and sometimes it is not.
But, if you don't sample then it is in an indeterminate superposition of sent & not sent.

“What if the quantum distribution determines whether you sample or not and the outcome of the sampling, if done, determines whether the letter is sent or not?

“What kind of communication results from that? I would imagine a kind that could make pink pink only by so cutting it.”


In “Red Roses.”, Mary Armour saw this colorful scene:

“Painting the town red? I can see an Impressionist painting in the mind's eye, the men with buttonholes and posies of pinks, the  long-stemmed red roses, a hot-air balloon collapsed when the fabric is punctured, hot air escaping, the cooling down through folds and layers from crimson to pastel pink, the hole wrinkling up and puckering. Which is to say that not everything  is orgasm but still...”
While Peter played variable scenes with “Red Roses.” that ended with “a whiff of weddings, but with a hot and cold emotional response to it” Tamboura offered this:
sold hole ==> sold hold ==> sole hole ==> sewed hole ==> imagining the expectation of a loss of virginity on a wedding night.

In “A Handkerchief.”, Mary tied the sample to something dire in Stein’s time:
“Something here has a poignant feel and I think of all the tears wept into cambric and lace-edged hankies during the American Civil War of Gertrude's youth. Handkerchiefs embroidered like samplers, initials embroidered, monograms, insignia so that when the hankie was dropped it could be retrieved and returned to its owner. A ritual not unlike the posting of letters through a slit, the leaving of calling cards in the still heat of the afternoon, courtship rituals devised from daily occurrences. I wrote a letter to my love and on the way I dropped it.

“And the hankies used to dab at tearful eyes, to discreetly cover the mouth when coughing, the young  women with TB, the  way a hankie could be used to conceal a grimace or laughter as a fan might  be used to mask the unconventional  expressions. Henry James and the tragedy of MinnyTemple the vivacious young woman who died young of galloping consumption and who would become Millicent Theale in The Golden Bowl.

“When someone sneezes, we say 'Bless you,' an old invocation against the plague. Atishoo, atishoo, we all fall down from Ring-a-ring-a-rosie. A pocket full of posies to ward off the odour of plague, a scented hankie  for stuffy drawing rooms, the distinctive perfume  sent out like a signal or imprint when a handkerchief is shaken.

“So charged with the everyday symbolic and erotic, and, of course, associations with death.

"You cough discreetly into a clean handkerchief but the phlegm has no bloodstain so the sample is harmless, no need to worry. You are surrounded with blessing, winning blessings and benisons, you are safe, no need to finger the worry beads. Your fine linen handkerchief is like a sampler, a text for the  loved one to decipher.”

Peter, who works in the medical field, responded about the
“blessing of coughing clear phlegm into a hanky
and the curse of a blood stained sample
the terror that that must have induced
the consuming fear
of consumption here
No Tender Buttons in TB bloodstained red rose bud production
Only collapse and being sold whole to the hole in the ground.”


Referring back to Dave’s opening interpretation of the set of three subpoems, Eleanor said,

“I am especially moved by your interpretation of the hole as the ‘hole of depression.’ Yes—it is a deep hole in the ground—a well (which means, unfortunately, that one is not at all ‘well’). Selling that hole, makes me think that Stein perhaps used her letter/words/language as currency—by writing it out, she found comfort.

“We don't necessarily have to be cynical about these poems, we can embrace them for their positive energy, and, my goodness, this is wonderful because this love is NOT impossible—and there CAN be a happy ending.”

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