Thursday, May 8, 2014

Stepping on Tender Buttons: “A Sound.", “A Table.", “Shoes." Part 1 of 2


THE BOOK ..........................-           TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ...................-           OBJECTS
THE SUBPOEM ...................-          A SOUND: NUMBER 47
WORD COUNT......................-           18
STANZA(S)............................-           1
THE SUBPOEM ...................-          A TABLE: NUMBER 48
WORD COUNT......................-           63
STANZA(S)............................-           2
THE SUBPOEM ...................-          SHOES: NUMBER 49
WORD COUNT......................-           42
STANZA(S)............................-           2
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.....................................-           OSCILLATING

“Perhaps this poem is all about swapping words, elephant and rat? Stein swaps constantly, back and forth, oscillating between our comfortable knowledge of language and her new creations. Is she l'enfant terrible? The reckless elephant? Artistic genius? Or a rat? Ha!” Eleanor Smagarinsky

“Should we be seeing that there is an enfant terrible in the room?” Peter Treanor


Elephant beaten with candy and little pops and chews all bolts and reckless reckless rats, this is this.


A table means does it not my dear it means a whole steadiness. Is it likely that a change.

A table means more than a glass even a looking glass is tall. A table means necessary places and a revision a revision of a little thing it means it does mean that there has been a stand, a stand where it did shake.


To be a wall with a damper a stream of pounding way and nearly enough choice makes a steady midnight. It is pus.

A shallow hole rose on red, a shallow hole in and in this makes ale less. It shows shine.

In this Tender Buttons discussion, the Buttons Collective has gone beyond the pleasure principle—again. This truth comes from the Twentieth century French philosopher Jacques Lacan who named this overly ecstatic state of being Jouissance. It’s a temporary state (usually) of derangement where pleasure crosses the line into pain. For the Buttons, this has manifested in jetlag without jet—members ignore the basic needs of sleep and eating (maybe other primal needs too?) to get online from their geographic locations and catch other members of the collective as the study session ramps up into high gear with hilarious and serious insights about the puzzling Steinian code. Peter Treanor quipped anagrammatically—Joy I Dance!

The Steiny Road Poet stumbled across Jouissance in reading Ellen E. Berry’s Curved Thought and Textual Wandering: Gertrude Stein’s Postmodernism. Steiny’s discovery happened moments before Peter saw that the elephant in the room, already translated by Eleanor Smagarinsky, was Stein herself—l’enfant terrible. However, Peter went on to say [anagrammatically] that the reckless rats might be the reckless arts. Steiny is just giving you, Dear Reader, a preview of this heady exchange. Stay tuned.

Among the associations made in this discussion for these subpoems, either generally or specific to one of the subpoems, are: soundtalk (e.g. train noise that says “I think I can”), cheerleading, circus, zoo, barnyard, piñata, child’s play, relationships, eroticism, Aesop fable of the elephant and rat, body image and fatness, inn culture, The Red Shoes, Sacre du Printemps, gardening. Additionally, the Buttons used some of these concepts to enhance the study: oscillation and exchange, choreography, anagrams, homophones, mixing of high and low culture, design (furniture), table-ness, linguistic dampers.


Sometimes the way we understand what came before—as in Tender Buttons, published in 1914—is by something we know now. Referring to “The Language of Things in the House” by Lydia Davis (published in Five Dials, Issue31), Eleanor said:

“It occurred to me that Stein may be writing out the sound of household objects in the same way [as Lydia Davis]. Perhaps Stein is teaching the reader that objects can be described via sounds. After all, we have five senses for a reason—all of them should be used when writing.”

Here is an excerpt:
by Lydia Davis

The washing machine in spin cycle: ‘Pakistáni, Pakistáni.’
The washing machine agitating (slow): ‘Firefighter, firefighter, firefighter, firefighter.’
Plates rattling in the rack of the dishwasher: ‘Neglected.’
The glass blender knocking on the bottom of the metal sink: ‘Cumberland.’
Pots and dishes rattling in the sink: ‘Tobacco, tobacco.’
The wooden spoon in the plastic bowl stirring the pancake mix: ‘What the hell, what the hell.’

Eleanor continued, “Could it be that subliminally we are hearing words and phrases all the time? These words and phrases must be lingering in the upper part of our subconscious, readily available. Almost always, there has to be something hollow involved: a resonating chamber."

Karren Alenier [a.k.a. Steiny] answered immediately:

“Yes, Eleanor! Whenever I read the first words Elephant beaten with candy, I hear [in my resonating chamber: the head] the sound of an elephant trumpeting. It makes me think of the noises at a circus where one eats cotton candy, has a little soda pop, and other chewy things like a caramel apple on a stick and you swish through the sawdust thrown down on the performance space, which the audience must tramp through to get to their bleacher seats.

“I hear reckless reckless rats as "rah, rah, rah" like cheerleading.

“Let’s think about oscillation, conjoining and control. How do Stein's word come together and spread apart with vibration, given whatever controls the reader puts on the text?”


Eleanor responded:

“Well, gosh, I just meditated on the sound of elephant, and it sounds like un enfant. Most pleasing, as it reminds me of the phrase like taking candy from a baby. I would take candy from a baby by swapping it with something else—this is this.

“Perhaps this poem is all about swapping words, elephant and rat? Stein swaps constantly, back and forth, oscillating between our comfortable knowledge of language and her new creations. Is she l'enfant terrible? [Is she] the reckless elephant? Artistic genius? Or a rat?! Ha!!!”

Dave Green tapped into Stein’s soundscape:

Elephant beaten sounds harsh, with a strong emphasis on beaten, but then is immediately softened by the absurdly innocuous with candy and little pops and chews. There is then another emphasis on bolts and then the dramatic finale of and reckless reckless rats, this is this, with its alliteration, repetition, and ‘s’ sounds.

Elephant beaten by candy—an elephant tamed by candy? A toy elephant being beaten by a child?
All boltsthe cage or bars of the elephant's enclosure? 

[Here Steiny, with thanks to Eleanor for having pointed out the Aesop Fable “The Rat and the Elephant,” links Dave’s last comment to the story. Steiny thinks the fable pertains to Stein as being both the rat and the elephant. Isn’t she high and low art at the same time?]

Responding to Dave, Eleanor said,

“Fascinating! As the SOUND of elephant is soft, and even beaten sounds relatively gentle—it's the MEANING of the words together that feels so harsh and violent. Now...the SOUND of candy..little..pops..chews is harder, but the meaning is sweet/soft.

“Maybe Stein is showing us that we shouldn't fall for that old poetic cliché that sound alone can communicate meaning? Ooooo....subversive!”

Then something new occurred to Dave:

Elephant beaten by candy also reminds me of a piñata, though candy is usually what is inside the animal, not the bludgeoning object. [Wow, candy as a  bludgeoning object!] And reckless rats could be the blindfolded kids swinging away with a stick at the piñata. And all bolts is what the kids do when the candy pours out.”

Karren chimed in complimenting Eleanor and Dave on their intricate choreography and observed:

“Yes that swapping, that subverting of meaning, all that push pull, spinning & oscillating! Very wonder-full!
“I'm going to dream of Fantasia in a new way. Elephant becoming enfant and then piñata being beaten with bonbons & kids bolting for the sweet loot.”


Talking about overstuffed with sweets, Eleanor and Mary exchanged comments on body size and image. Eleanor noted that a female elephant is called a cow as are fat women. In The Making of Americans, Stein called herself Fattuski. Eleanor said that Stein was mocked for how she looked.

Mary Armour responded:

“I'm hearing you, Eleanor. Gertrude Stein doesn't shy away from dilemmas of the heavy body, too much body, the elephantine aspect of women exhibited like animals in a zoo, larger-then-life freaks. Infected wounds, the bleeding vagina, a discharge like pus, the aftermath of rape, the pounding of a fist on the wall, the pounding tramp of soldiers' feet. Brutal militarised women-hating societies. She comes back to the everyday, the ordinary steady loved everydayness of tables, chairs, cloths, looking glasses (interesting, that one) in which to locate the unloved gargantuan oversized  women's body, unacceptable appetites of a greedy woman at table or in bed. And perhaps to find a tall enough, big enough way of mirroring women in themselves.

“Stein could have been the beautiful poet HD (so traduced by men). Or the young Colette who was locked in a room by Willy to write the Claudine books as soft porn for men, marketed for the stage and music hall. Stein would have had subjugated and traduced and violated women all around her. She and Alice would find a safe place in code to celebrate women's freedom and Otherness.”

Peter Treanor joined the discussion first by quoting Eleanor and then making references to past subpoems already discussed while fine-tuning points already made:

Is she l'enfant terrible? The "reckless elephant"? Artistic genius? Or a rat?! [Eleanor Smagarinsky]

“Should we be seeing that there is an enfant terrible in the room? 
There is something happening to it [the elephant-l’enfant] with candy pops and chews.  We were just thinking something had been born, a little called Pauline / praline (so sweet and sugary).

“And there's bolts (of lightening?) and reckless reckless rats, this is this. Rats as Arts? Reckless arts and this is this.

“The new birth, the new way, the enfant terrible beating away at conventional form with small innocuous words, innocuous everyday small sweet candy words, causing lightening bolts with reckless art. This is this (you know the same THIS that was on Al's [Modpo professor Al Filreis] mug that he pointed to to emphasize a point made by Emily Dickinson, that THIS) that this Isis this is it! [Peter is referencing the Buttons discussion of “A Drawing.”  where the mythological Isis came to view.]

from Eleanor:

“Do you reckon those rats are deserting a sinking (wrecked) ship? Or is the ship not really wrecked? Wreckless? 

“Bolts of lightning, ah! That would explain the wreck? Storm at sea? Or poetic electricity?”

from Mary:

“As when on the Titanic that sank so unexpectedly in 1912, you held onto the table bolted to the floor as the ship tilted.

“The Buttons Collective as a Ship of Fools, I do like that.” 


Spotlight on Eleanor:

“On first read [of “A Table.”], I see a relationship here. It's surprisingly sweet the way Gertrude writes my dear, as if she's writing this for Alice. It starts very strong and steady, but there's a hint of a question mark....change may be on the horizon. Why? can't read other's thoughts (as if through glass) and you cannot be the same as each other (as if in a mirror), unfortunately revisions are needed. And isn't it the truth that it's the little things about each other that drive you each crazy?! You will each take a stand, and the relationship will shake. 

“If we follow the idea of births and babies from the previous poems [e.g. ‘A Little Called Pauline.’], perhaps what we have here is a description of a mother/daughter relationship. Babies grow into independent adults quicker than you'd imagine!!
Or is this about the precarious relationships between artists? Or between writer and reader?”

from Peter:

“Is a wobbly table like a wobbly relationship, hard to make stable?”

from Dave:

“There's an oscillation in this poem between steadiness and shakiness. 
“The first sentence presents an image or symbol of steadiness, a table. 
“But then the second sentence introduces tremors by mentioning change and even more so by seeming to terminate prematurely, which defies convention. 
“The third sentence is back to the steady table, but then there is an unexpected leap from glass to looking glass, which shakes up your expectations.
“The last sentence suggests the steadiness of the table by indicating that it provides necessary places for things to be done, such as work requiring fine detail or focus, but then ends by saying that the table stands, but in standing there is also shaking.
“Perhaps this is a statement about language, which stands and provides steadiness for our practical lives, but which also has strange instabilities and motions which are not fully realized by most people, but which Stein liked to explore.”

from Peter:

“Dave, I can see and feel the oscillations, right in front of my eyes, it is hypnotizing me......

“Oscillation and vibration are interesting when thinking of change or language.

“The force (of change) applied to the inert object (or old styles of communicating), the deviation from equilibrium produced is proportional to the degree of force applied and the degree of inertia of the object (system of language ). The idea that the object will swing one way but then swing back in the opposite direction to the same degree as it was deviated from its normal state is very interesting. Change will produce a swing back unless it is actively maintained in position.

“I like the idea of the oscillations and vibrations in this piece.”

Eleanor quotes Dave and then continues with her own comments:

Perhaps this is a statement about language, which stands and provides steadiness for our practical lives, but which also has strange instabilities and motions which are not fully realized by most people, but which Stein liked to explore. [Dave Green]

“Dave, that's fascinating. I'm now thinking perhaps this points to the erotic nature of her poems, even when the text itself does not appear to be erotic at all! It's in the vibrations and oscillations between reader and language, not in the language itself. Last night, Al [Filreis] asked Rae Armantrout ‘What is sexy in a poem?" and her answer was (paraphrasing here): " pulls the reader into a relationship with the text in which the balance of power is unstable.’ POW!!! Funny because if she only added an ‘S’ to her ‘table’ we'd probably feel more STABLE. But she keeps us oscillating.”

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