Thursday, May 1, 2014

Stepping on Tender Buttons: “A Little Called Pauline.” Part 1 of 2


THE BOOK ..........................-           TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ...................-           OBJECTS
THE SUBPOEM ...................-          A LITTLE CALLED PAULINE: NUMBER 46
WORD COUNT......................-           182
STANZA(S)............................-           11
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.....................................-           FANCIFUL

Has Stein taken little things from Apollinaire's work, and incorporated them into her own cubist portrait?” Eleanor Smagarinsky


A little called anything shows shudders.

Come and say what prints all day. A whole few water-melon. There is no pope.

No cut in pennies and little dressing and choose wide soles and little spats really little spices.

A little lace makes boils. This is not true.

Gracious of gracious and a stamp a blue green white bow a blue green lean, lean on the top.

If it is absurd then it is leadish and nearly set in where there is a tight head.

A peaceful life to arise her, moon and moon and moon. A letter a cold sleeve a blanket a shaving house and nearly the best and regular window.

Nearer in fairy sea, nearer and farther, show white has lime in sight, show a stitch of ten. Count, count more so that thicker and thicker is leaning.

I hope she has her cow. Bidding a wedding, widening received treading, little leading, mention nothing.

Cough out cough out in the leather and really feather it is not for.

Please could, please could, jam it not plus more sit in when.

“A Little Called Pauline.” is a big subpoem of the “Objects” section of Tender Buttons, not just for its size: eleven stanzas and 182 words, but also for its scope of possible meaning and methods. While larger subpoems of Section 1 “Objects” have preceded “Pauline.”— “A Substance in a Cushion.” (470 words),  A Piece of Coffee.” (300 words),  A Box.” (subpoem 11, 302 words),  A Plate.” (257 words),  A Chair.” (256 words), Stein’s strategy seems different from other particularly mysterious subpoems like “A Substance in a Cushion.”, “A Piece of Coffee.”, or the short “Malachite.” (18 words).

The Buttons Collective has looked at "A Little Called Pauline." from lots of perspectives:

--Pauline as Pauline Laurencin, mother of artist Marie Laurencin,  a lifelong friend of Stein & Toklas
--Pauline as activist Pauline Newman, who had worked at the ill-fated Triangle Shirtwaist factory
--The overall subpoem in connection with the literary work of Guillaume Apollinaire, especially his poem "Zone."
--The overall subpoem from fairytale and myth.
--The overall subpoem as depiction of birth of a child.
--The overall subpoem as depiction of birth of a piece of writing.
--The writerly elements of the poem relative to Stein's rhyme, lyricism, and embedded words within words.
--The eroticism of various words.

"A Little Called Pauline." is not the first subpoem of Section 1 to have a person’s name in the title. Subpoem 8 “Mildred’s Umbrella.” refers possibly to Gertrude Stein’s mother who was nicknamed Milly. The “Pauline" and “Mildred” subpoems share elements in common that point to color, sewing and dressing, themes that pop up regularly in the subpoems of Section 1.

So what is it that makes this subpoem seem unlike the others before it? In the odd shadows of all that has come before, the Steiny Road Poet can point with certainty to the stuttering jumble of words at the end: Please could, please could, jam it not plus more sit in when. And Steiny suggests that select vocabulary of this subpoem is a little more exotic from the earlier subpoems, such words as pope, boils, gracious, and fairy. But is that the whole nut? More on Stein’s language play soon. Here in Part 1 of this blog discussion are highlights from the study session relative to Pauline Laurencin, Pauline Newman, and Guillaume Apollinaire:


Pauline Laurencin (1861-1913) was mother of artist Marie Laurencin who was part of Pablo Picasso's circle of close friends and a lifelong friend of Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas. Never married to Marie’s father Alfred Toulet, Toulet most likely gave Pauline financial assistance to move to and live modestly in Paris, earning a living as a seamstress. Gertrude Stein writes about Pauline and Marie in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas as follows:

“Marie Laurencin, leading her strange life and making her strange art, lived with her mother, as if the two were living in a convent. The small apartment was filled with needlework which the mother had executed after the designs of Marie Laurencin. Marie and her mother acted toward each other exactly as a young nun with an older one.”

How does this single mom of an artist relate to the subpoem? 

Single mom, making modest livingè No cut in pennies and little dressing, A little lace, a stamp a blue green white bow, Bidding a wedding, widening received treading, little leading, mention nothing. (Pauline works alone without partner or boss, making pennies, making or repairing the small things a seamstress does. She adds a little lace and her signature bows in various colors. Occasionally she gets a bigger job like one for a wedding where her pedal sewing machine is used but it is done under the table, she doesn’t flaunt this additional income.)

Other elements that add to the Pauline Laurencin story:
   There is no pope. (The cloistered mother and daughter operate without pope/male head of the family.)
   A peaceful life to arise her, moon and moon and moon. A letter a cold sleeve a blanket a shaving house and nearly the best and regular window. (Pauline has an understanding with Alfred Toulet who is represented in this passage by the letter, cold sleeve, shaving house. The understanding is that she won’t tell the higher society he lives in about his illegitimate daughter as long as she can maintain her best and regular window in her tiny Paris flat where she can live a peaceful life.)
   Cough out cough out (By the time Stein writes this subpoem, Pauline has died, coughed her last and perhaps that collection of words that makes up the last stanza is Marie mourning: Please could, please could, jam it not plus more sit in when.


Buttons Collective member Eleanor made a case as follows for another contemporary of Stein’s who was an American activist in the garment industry.

“Perhaps Pauline is also Pauline Newman. The rhythm of the sewing machines reverberates throughout the poem, as does the strength (violence even) of this "frail-looking little woman who is hailed as the...east side Joan of Arc". Interestingly, Joan of Arc's beatification occurred in 1909, but only a Pope can canonize—There is no pope., and this [canonization of Jeanne d’Arc] didn't occur until 1920.”

A side note to Pauline Newman’s story is that because she had worked in the Triangle Shirtwaist Dress factory, it is logical for the Buttons Collective to link Newman to “A Little Called Pauline.” since the Buttons had already discussed the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in subpoem 14 “A Long Dress.”


When Karren Alenier [a.k.a. Steiny] decided during the study discussion to get a definition for pope, she found something unexpected in

pope  (pōp)
1. often Pope Roman Catholic Church The bishop of Rome and head of the Roman Catholic Church on earth.
2. Eastern Orthodox Church The patriarch of Alexandria.
3. The Coptic patriarch of Alexandria.
4. The male head of some non-Christian religions: the Taoist pope.
5. A person considered to have unquestioned authority: the pope of surrealism.

The example given for item 5, a person of unquestioned authority, related to surrealism. This made Steiny think that pope was a popular term in Stein's and Apollinaire's day. André Breton is known as the pope of surrealism and was one of Apollinaire's and Picasso's friends. However, Stein wasn't into surrealism and maybe she was being negative about Breton—There is no pope.

Stein might also have been referring to the fact that neither Marie Laurencin nor Marie’s lover Guillaume Apollinaire had recognized fathers when they were growing up. The joke in Picasso's circle was that Apollinaire was the bastard son of a pope.


In various parts of the Buttons Collective study of Tender Buttons, Steiny has been sensing Stein playing off the writing innovations of Guillaume Apollinaire. Steiny’s unsubstantiated theory is that Stein added periods to her subpoem titles (an odd thing even for Stein) in reaction to Apollinaire’s punctuationless  collection Alcools that was published in 1913. (Tender Buttons was published in 1914.) Steiny also believes that Apollinaire might have been Stein’s only companionable writing peer of consequence. Because he didn’t write in English, Apollinaire wasn’t her competition like other Modernists writers such as James Joyce.

Like testing out deep waters, Steiny had been cautiously exploring Alcools to see if anything connected to “A Little Called Pauline.”. Immediately, “Zone,” the opening poem of Alcools, showed connections. Briefly the poem oscillates between antique and modern times and deals with various losses Apollinaire has suffered: such as religious faith, his one true love (Marie Laurencin), his reputation over his wrongful incarceration for stealing Leonardo Davinci’s Mona Lisa from the Louvre Art Museum (he didn’t do this). Here are English translation excerpts by poet William Meredith who uses punctuation in his translation.)

---Alone in Europe you are not antique, o Christian faith;

You are the most modern European, Pope Pius X---

Stein: There is no pope.

[In these lines, Apollinaire likens himself to Pope Pius X but we know he is no pope and just how pious Apollinaire is is questionable. The reason he landed in jail is because he was implicated in trying to dispose of stolen artwork from the Louvre that Picasso bought from a man Apollinaire had employed as secretary.]

And you whom the windows watch, shame restrains you

From going into a church and confessing there this morning.

Stein: nearly the best and regular window.

[Windows as eyes on the world is an important theme for Apollinaire as it was for Baudelaire (“Les fenêtres” by Charles Baudelaire in Spleen de Paris XXXV, 1869) and Mallarmé (“Les fenêtres” by Stéphane Mallarmé in Le Parnasse Contemporain, 1863/66. Stein, however, normalizes the window and it has no metaphor qualities except that mood Stein creates around a peaceful life, which contrasts with the mood of “Zone.”)

You read the handbills, catalogues, posters that sing out loud and clear---
that's the morning's poetry, and for prose there are the newspapers,

Stein: Come and say what prints all day. A whole few water-melon.

[Stein has boiled down the song from the street that Apollinaire elegantly describes into something that might issue from the lips and throat of a newspaper boy and a fruit seller.]

Il y a les livraisons à 25 centimes pleines d'aventures policières
There are tabloids lurid with police reports,

Stein: No cut in pennies

[For this example, Steiny, at Eleanor’s instigation, provides the original language with its mention of 25 centimes (similar to the American monetary change known as pennies) and Meredith’s translation.

This association makes Steiny stop here to look up the word “cut” which has an usually large number of meanings, including one referring to a large amount of text known in the Printing industry as a cut or a block.  Steiny feels Stein is reaching in many directions here to maximize the value of this word and which may also destabilize the subpoem and make the experience of reading this subpoem more bewildering than what has been experienced in earlier subpoems.]

Here is the young street and you are still a little child

Your mother dresses you only in blue and white.

Stein: choose wide soles and little spats, a stamp a blue green white

[If “A Little Called Pauline.” was strictly calling up the Laurencin household of mother and daughter, the puzzle would be what to do with wide soles and little spats, which seem to indicate male feet. In Stein’s time, shoes might be adorned with spats (short for spatterdashes), a type of shoe covering to protect the shoes and socks from mud and rain. Spats also might be worn for style by a dandy,]

Now you are on the coast of the Mediterranean
Under the lemon trees that bloom the year round.
You have gone for a sail with some friends—
One is from Nice, one from Menton, the other two from La Turbie.
Fearfully we watch octopus in the depths,
And among the seaweed swim fish, metaphors of the Saviour.

Stein: Nearer in fairy sea, nearer and farther, show white has lime in sight, show a stitch of ten. Count, count more so that thicker and thicker is leaning.

[The three towns mentioned are on the Mediterranean sea and quite idyllic. La Santé prison where Apollinaire was incarcerated was notoriously horrible—overrun with rats and often at 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In this passage, Apollinaire is taking a tour from memory of wonderful places he had been. From La Turbie (according to Wikipedia), one can see a limestone outcrop called Tête de Chien ("head of dog"), a folk etymology deriving from its former name, Testa de camp ("head of (military) camp").  Stein’s text seems to capture the language and rhythm of sailing.]

Here you are in Marseilles, surrounded by watermelons.

Stein: A whole few water-melon.

[Watermelon appears only once in section 1 “Objects” and not at all in section 2 “Food.” It seems exotic in the Stein lexicon. By hyphenating watermelon, Stein seems to be emphasizing water and perhaps pointing to “Zone.”]

Pupil Christ of the eye,
Twentieth pupil of the centuries, he knows what he's doing.
And, changed to a bird, this century rises like Jesus in the air,
The devils in their abysses raise their heads to look at him;
They say he is imitating Simon Magus in Judea,
The shout, "He takes to flight like a common thief."
Angels hover around the pretty acrobat;
Icarus, Enoch, Elijah, Apollonius of Tyana
Float around the first airplane.
They break ranks at times to pass those transported by the Holy Eucharist,
Those priests who mount continually, elevating the Host.
The aircraft lands at last without folding its wings,
Then the sky is filled with millions of swallows;
At full wing come the crows, the falcons, the owls;
From Africa come ibises, flamingos, marabout-storks;
The Roc bird, celebrated in prose and verse, glides down
Carrying in his talons the skull of Adam, the first head.

Stein: Cough out cough out in the leather and really feather it is not for. 

[While Apollinaire’s passage on things that fly is complicated, Stein’s sentence mentioning feather is difficult. Eleanor suggested Stein was possibly conjuring Archaeopteryx,  the dinosaur reptile that was the origin of the first bird.

The grammar of the sentence could mean feather is a verb but the end of the sentence is much like the stuttering last line of the subpoem—it seems like words are missing. Maybe one could read into this line, based on “Zone,” the following: Cough out cough out in the leather restraint and really feather your imagination, it is not for you to complainWhat Steiny is thinking is in “Zone,” Apollinaire was dreaming about how to fly away from the horror of La Santé prison and Stein was thinking about how to fly out of the straitjacket of 19th century literature. So she coughs to clear her throat and then to fly out of the leathery body.]

Eleanor said, “Apollinaire named a new art form [surrealism], but Stein is naming something too here, she's ‘calling it.’ Her movement is completely different in this poem.” Then Eleanor provided the following list of words from “A Little Called Pauline.” The list is unusual because some of the words were not used in the subpoem as verbs but yet they can be and so Stein calls on nouns that cross from object/thing to action.



pete said...

Look what i found in a review of alice's cookbook. They had a car ( an old military ambulance) that they called Pauline after GS's aunt.

Much of the book uses the recipes as anchors for autobiographical and historical narratives. Her hot chocolate recipe, for instance, is served amidst the context of the war-torn Paris in the latter part of WWI in 1917, where Stein and Toklas volunteered to drive food and wood to hospitals in their ancient Model T Ford, lovingly nicknamed Auntie after Stein’s Aunt Puline:

Aunt Pauline had been militarised and so could be requisitioned for any use connected with the wounded. Gertrude Stein evacuated the wounded who came into [the luxury hotel] Nîmes on the ambulance trains.
The poem has lots of possible car references.
the shudder to start it
a little dressing , if they were collecting wounded soldiers from the station, with wounds and dressing
Wide soles , on your shoe to connect with the foot peddles
leadish as it takes you places
life to arise her moon moon moon could be the sound of the starting engine
A letter ( T, model T ford), a cold sleeve , from the draft at the side, a blanket on your legs to keep warm and a regular window/ windscreen.
Widening received treading, it goes faster and further when you tread on the peddles ( although i think the throttle was actually on the steering column)
mention nothing , its hard to talk above the noise of it
Cough out , the exhaust and spluttering and occassional backfiring
Leather seats
dont jam the levers when you sit in it

Karren Alenier said...


Good find!

Yes, this Ford that was converted into a supply truck to aid (Let's remember this word AID because of the last subpoem of "Objects"!) in the French war effort against Germany was called 'Auntie' by Stein. Stein's married-into-the-family paternal Aunt Pauline, married to her father's brother Solomon, 'behaved admirably in emergencies and behaved fairly well most times if she was properly flattered.' (I'm drawing this info from Diana Souhami's bio Gertrude and Alice). Stein's mother Milly disliked Pauline and quit talking to her around the time Gertrude was born.

Auntie had wooden wheels about the size of bicycle tires. The windscreen was split in the middle to let in air. Gertrude was a bad driver—she didn't stay in lane, she never mastered backing up, and she was obtuse about following Alice's careful directions.

Maybe the subpoem is why Stein named her supply truck Auntie after Aunt Pauline. Tender Buttons wasn't so far back in creation. Poets have a way of living in all time directions—maybe this is like aboriginal Dreamtime.