Monday, April 14, 2014

Stepping on Tender Buttons: “In Between.”


THE BOOK ..........................-           TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ...................-           OBJECTS
THE SUBPOEM ...................-          IN BETWEEN: NUMBER 42
WORD COUNT......................-           70
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.....................................-           THEATRICAL

“Gertrude is transgressive and  determined to get away with it. Touching, tasting, mounting, saying, playing.” Mary Armour


In between a place and candy is a narrow foot path that shows more mounting than anything, so much really that a calling meaning a bolster measured a whole thing with that. A virgin a whole virgin is judged made and so between curves and outlines and real seasons and more out glasses and a perfectly unprecedented arrangement between old ladies and mild colds there is no satin wood shining.

Jumping ahead of the obvious sexual pointing, Mary Armour asserted, “what I detect here is the  subtle play on fetish: the narrow foot, licking or sucking candy, the fantasy of  pretending to be a virgin in bed, the narrow path to be explored, the space between pillowy breasts, between fleshy curves, a finger outlining the nipple, skin  soft as satin, silky as polished wood, erectile tissue of the nipple or button.”

Mary suggests reading “In Between.” in this excerpted way to fully appreciate the sexual innuendo:

In between a place and candy
a narrow foot 
path that shows more mounting than anything
so much really
a whole thing
A virgin
a whole virgin
so between curves
and outlines and
real seasons and more
a perfectly unprecedented arrangement
wood shining.

Less obvious than the sexual content, the Buttons also discovered associations with the Leo-Gertrude-Alice situation, quilting, the Jewish wedding tradition of Aufruf, and the 1913 ballet The Rite of Spring and that theater experience as well as some grammatical issues. Here are highlights from the study session:


Peter Treanor:
“The first thing I noticed though was the title "In Between.",  [Stein] seems to have broken with the use of concrete nouns.”

Tamboura Gaskins:
Has she done away with concrete nouns?  I don't know...perhaps just on the surface of it all--

between ==> a short needle with a rounded eye and a sharp point, used for fine hand stitchery in heavy fabric.

Btw, Peter, in between is an idiom utilizing two juxtaposed prepositions.

“I spy a quilt...”

In Between ==> threading the needle


1) Technical definition: to put a piece of thread through a needle

2) Definition as an expression: to skillfully navigate a difficult problem (like putting a piece of thread through a needle, it has to be done very carefully and precisely)

3) Billiards definition: is to precisely shoot the object ball or the cue ball through a very tight or narrow pathway to it's intended destination. (Note this is an application of definition #2, using it for billiards)

“Some people believe 'thread the needle' is similar to the expression ‘walk a fine line’ which means to maintain a fragile balance between one extreme and another (e.g.: needing to be very careful not to annoy or anger two or more people or groups who have differing opinions).”

From quilting imagery, Tamboura moved to the situation between sister and brother Gertrude and Leo Stein once Alice moved into their apartment at 27 rue de Fleurus.

“Leo - Gertrude - Alice ==> the three layers of a quilt: backing, batting and decorative quilt top.

“And let's not forget the idiomatic phrase—“

in between
     a. situated in an intermediary area or on a line or imaginary line connecting two points, things, etc.
     b. in the way: I reached for the ball, but the dog got in between.

“Again, an allusion to Gertrude feeling caught in between Leo and Alice.

“This brings me to believe that underneath it all GS has written a subpoem with layers describing her precarious position caught between Leo and Alice as well as the qualities of a quilt and quilt construction.” 


Because Judy Meibach asked why Stein was in Paris before World War I and there was some additional confusion among some of the Buttons about whether Tender Buttons was published before or after WWI began, the Steiny Road Poet offers this timeline taken for the most part from the catalog Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories by Wanda Corn & Tirza True Latimer. What the timeline shows is Stein between her medical career and writing career and how the writing career took shape.

1901  Spring: Stein leaves Johns Hopkins University
without completing her medical degree.
           Summer: with Leo Stein in Morocco & Spain.
1902   Spring: with Leo Stein in Italy and in fall in London
1903   Winter: GS in NY
            Summer: in Italy
            Fall: moves into Leo's apartment 27 rue de Fleurus, Paris
1904    Spring: GS visits friends in NY & Boston
            Summer: in Florence with Leo
            Fall: Leo & Gertrude buy first modern painting
1905    First purchases of paintings by Matisse & Picasso;
  Saturday night salons begin
            Summer: with Leo in Italy
1906    Picasso portrait completed (begun in 1905)
1907    Alice B. Toklas arrives in Paris with Harriet Levy
1908    Summer: in Italy when GS courts to ABT
1909     Three Lives self published 
1910     Summer: GS, LS, ABT in Italy: GS & ABT celebrate
   their "marriage" in Venice
             Winter: Toklas moves into 27 rue de Fleurus
1911     Summer: GS & ABT in Italy, they visit Mabel Dodge
             in her Villa outside Florence
1912    Summer: GS & ABT in Spain & Morocco
            Word portraits of Matisse & Picasso published in
  Camera Work (a journal published by Alfred Stieglitz)
1913    January: GS & ABT in England looking for publishers
             Summer: GS & ABT in Spain
             Fall: GS & LS split up, LS moves to Italy
1914     April: LS completely moves out
             27 rue de Fleurus apartment undergoes renovations
             May: Tender Buttons published
             July: GS & ABT in England when WWI begins
             Fall: GS & ABT return to Paris after a prolonged stay
   in England due to WWI


The issues of grammar continued to be on Peter’s mind and he said:

“I think of ‘between the sheets’ or the space, or closeness, between two bodies. 

In between a place AND candy is AND. And AND is also in between ‘c’ and ‘y’ in ‘cANDy.’ A preposition (i.e. between) proposing to a  couple of conjunctions (and and). Conjunction being from conjoining, to join or merge. So what exactly is that proposition proposing??

“I also think of ‘in between the legs,’ a place, a sweet place ( like candy)

A narrow foot path, a passageway, a conduit, a narrow foot path by a (birth) canal perhaps (do you guys have canals with footpaths? they are dotted around the UK especially in the cities, and in Paris too) . So I’m veering towards a vagina here. A foot path, a little play with a toe maybe. And foot paths and mounting, I’m with Claudia on this one.. [Claudia Schumann suggested, “The sexual act for lesbians would be more mounting than the other way heterosexuals do it”]. I'm beginning to see what the preposition is proposing now!

“A virgin a whole virgin is judged made and so between curves and outlines.  Are we back to the hymen here? A whole and intact virgin, judged so by what is in between the curves and outlines of her vulva? (Or is that vulvas, plural?) There may be a question about whether it is still intact after all that boisterous bolster work. And is GS asking what counts as an act that constitutes loosing ones virginity, especially in the context of two women having (a variety of) sexual contact, but not penetration by a penis? Is she saying that they are judged, as in condemned or looked negatively upon?

”A virgin a whole virgin is judged made and so between curves and outlines and real seasons and more out glasses and a perfectly unprecedented arrangement between old ladies and mild colds there is no satin wood shining.

”She’s gone mad with the and's from here on in, not so many in the poem before this part, but now there are loads. Lots of conjunctions from conjoin relating to conjugation. So much joining going on!

“What are real seasons and more out glasses though? Real seasons maybe realisations? More out glasses maybe moral out casts? A bit tenuous I know. But Is she saying that lesbian relations are judged in so many different ways, by the sex acts (was she commenting on the relentless questioning of ‘who does what to whom and how by her bohemian friends in the salons?) the state of the hymen, are we virgins or not without  penetration of a penis?, whether it is seen (realized/open) and then how it  is morally pigeon holed? (Probably not, but maybe)

“It is a perfectly unprecedented arrangement between old (and young) women. Unprecedented is interesting ‘never known or done before,’ this type of arrangement was both known and done from long before, but is both known and unknown, a suppressed and repressed secret in society.
 Mild colds makes me think of the shivers, the shivers of orgasm from bouncing around on the bolster and each other. The shivers of being left out in the cold in the arrangement of recognised and accepted ways to be a couple in the modern world. 
And I’m with Claudia on the ‘no satin wood shining’ as no erect penis here, (meaning in the poem, or in between the people in the poem).”

Steiny asked for the Buttons to take a deeper look at the word calling. Eleanor Smagarinsky found this citation from Wikipedia:
Aufruf (Yiddish: אויפרוף ofrif,oyfruf, ufruf/ifrif or אויפרופן ofrifn), which in Yiddish means "calling up," is the Jewish custom of a groom being called up in the synagogue for an aliyah, i.e., recitation of a blessing over the Torah.[1] In the Ashkenazic Jewish community the aufruf ceremony is held on the Shabbat before the wedding; in the Sephardic and Mizrachi traditions, it is called Shabbat Hatan (lit. groom's Sabbath) and is held on the Shabbat after the wedding.
After the Torah reading, the congregation sings a congratulatory song and the women throw candies at the groom. In non-Orthodox congregations, the bride and groom may be called up to the Torah together.[2] It is customary for the family of the groom to invite the congregation to a festive Kiddush after the services.[1]

So there we have the bridegroom in the synagogue (place) walking down the aisle (narrow foot path) to mount the bema, the alter well before the congratulatory candy is thrown for his aliyah (calling), that blessing over the Torah which will bolster his standing in the community. And so it that his bride (the virgin) was made his wife and he sealed this troth by crushing glass and signing the wedding license called the Ketubah. The old ladies who were the matchmakers and family for this once in a life time (unprecedented) arrangement now sit sniffling (mild colds) in joy in the plain seats (no satin wood shining) of their balcony (orthodox men and women are separated in the house of worship).

What calling called up for Karren Alenier [a.k.a. Steiny] by way of Moses mounting Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments was a look into the sacrifice of virgins. She discovered that virgin sacrifice to the God of Spring is part of the story for Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps), which premiered in Paris May 29, 1913.

Gertrude Stein & Alice Toklas went to the second performance of this ballet. Opening night, the audience booed, made catcalls, whistled and generally riotedincluding fistfights and things thrown. It was a huge scandal that Stein was aware of before she attended the next night's performance and people were still misbehaving but not as bad as opening night. 

The line about more out glasses could be the old ladies in the balconies and boxes of the audience pulling out and adjusting their opera glasses to better see what was going on and to see how Nijinsky was dressed. He looked naked. You can get the gist of it in clips from the BBC film about this ballet.

Looking at the entire subpoem speaks of being in the theater with the candy, the narrow aisles (passages), even the bolsters in the box furnishings, how seats are mounted on risers, and the opera house box rails were possibly wood buffed to a satiny shine.

One interesting note about satin wood is that a tropical tree known as satinwood features perfect flowers, meaning the flower contains both male and female reproductive organs. Given that the study group has seen language that seems to indicate that Stein and Toklas had wishes for a child, the satinwood tree presents an ideal for the lesbian couple.
Peter reflected on the separation into two words of satin wood and foot path:
“Just wondering why foot path is two words and not footpath, one word? And a narrow path for a foot, which shows mounting, makes me think of a ladder or stirrup. The narrow rungs of a ladder as a place for a foot or a stirrup as a narrow place for a foot—both used for mounting and moving up a ladder seems to be more of a path , as something you can move upwards on.

And the title is “In Between.”. Is she talking about the space(s) between words in some way? or between lines, (that reminds me of the spaces between the rungs of the ladder) that have no name or unnamed spaces between things in general?

So the Steiny Road Poet in the light of these thoughts about what is between Stein’s words turns down the flame in her lantern and moves on.

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