Thursday, July 10, 2014

Stepping on Tender Buttons: “Book."


THE BOOK ..........................-           TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ...................-           OBJECTS
THE SUBPOEM ...................-          BOOK: NUMBER 55
WORD COUNT......................-           199
STANZA(S)............................-           5
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.....................................-           RACEY

“Stein has deleted the determiner, so is her noun of infinite scope?” Eleanor Smagarinsky

“Book as noun or verb has so much power—The Book—they cause wars / they transform lives; they are ‘stopped’ as in banned; banning is like creating banks. At the same time, a book has the value of a bank when one is floundering.” Pramila Venkateswaran


Book was there, it was there. Book was there. Stop it, stop it, it was a cleaner, a wet cleaner and it was not where it was wet, it was not high, it was directly placed back, not back again, back it was returned, it was needless, it put a bank, a bank when, a bank care.

Suppose a man a realistic expression of resolute reliability suggests pleasing itself white all white and no head does that mean soap. It does not so. It means kind wavers and little chance to beside beside rest. A plain.

Suppose ear rings, that is one way to breed, breed that. Oh chance to say, oh nice old pole. Next best and nearest a pillar. Chest not valuable, be papered.

Cover up cover up the two with a little piece of string and hope rose and green, green.

Please a plate, put a match to the seam and really then really then, really then it is a remark that joins many many lead games. It is a sister and sister and a flower and a flower and a dog and a colored sky a sky colored grey and nearly that nearly that let.
Because Gertrude Stein was anxious for book publication that did not entail self publication, “Book” is a big topic in the line up of subpoems making up Tender Buttons. Stein’s publication history until 1914 (the year Stein completed Tender Buttons and the small press Marie Claire of New York published this work) was in 1909, she self published her collection of stories Three Lives, which she began writing in 1905 and completed in 1909. By 1911, she had already drafted her long novel The Making of Americans (written from 1903 to 1911). The Making of Americans was not published until 1925 and then the Paris-based Contact Press published only in a limited run of 500 copies. Earlier subpoems in section 1 “Objects” such as “A Plate.”,  A Little Called Pauline.”, and “Suppose An Eyes.” point to the printing trade or books. Later in her career, Stein would become enmeshed in the world of book layout and production as Sarah Stone documents in her article “The Plain Edition” published in Jacket 2. Section 1 “Objects” was the last section of Tender Buttons that Stein wrote. Therefore, getting published was weighing on Stein’s mind.


The first thing that the Steiny Road Poet noticed about this subpoem was the singularity of its title. Whereas section 1 “Objects” counts 37 of its 58 subpoems with titles beginning with the article “A,” only four of the 58 have one word titles—“More.”, “Objects.”, “Shoes.” and “Book.”.  Of these four titles, only “Book.” expresses singularity. Keep in mind that singularity means a count of one, something that is distinct from anything else, maybe peculiar, uncommon, but certainly unusual. Singularity also has special meanings in mathematics and astrophysics, areas of study that Stein alludes to periodically through Tender Buttons.

This one-ness of “Book.” in a work about two (the marriage of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas) becoming one seems to set aside union in a section of subpoems where the excessively repeated use of the article “A” seems to stand for Alice. Stein, however, dominates this subpoem,, the writer who says of herself through the protagonist Adele in Q.E.D. (Stein’s first novel) “I always did thank God I wasn’t born a woman…”. Thus the second stanza that begins Suppose a man could very well be Stein writing about herself. However, something peculiar is going on with this man. Steiny will come back to this later.

Among the many meanings of the word book are holy books like The Judeo-Christian Bibles and The Koran. In other subpoems of section 1 “Objects,” the Buttons Collective have associated various bits of text to the Ten Commandments and Torah, the sacred text comprised of the first five books of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible). In “In Between.”, the text could be read as a groom being called to the bema (alter) for a special pre-wedding aliyah (honor) to read from Torah. Frequently Steiny and the Buttons Collective have agreed that Tender Buttons is Stein’s holy book of matrimony.


However, in “Book.”, the imperative repetition Book was there, it was there. Book was there made Steiny think of the rhythm of the first verse in the Gospel of John (New Testament), which reads, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." As Stein’s text continues Stop it, stop it, it was a cleaner, a wet cleaner and it was not where it was wet, it was not high, it was directly placed back, not back again, back it was returned, it was needless, it put a bank, a bank when, a bank care Steiny went back to the Gospel of John to see what John had to say about clean and cleanliness. In John 13, Jesus at his last supper, a Passover meal, is depicted washing the feet of his disciples, knowing that one of them will betray him. Simon Peter demurs but Jesus quells Peter’s concerns by saying, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.”

Additionally in the other three Gospels of the New Testament as well as the Gospel of John come stories of Jesus cleansing the temple of money changers, which could account for Stein’s repetition of the word bank. Glancing back at Stein’s opening text, the word that gets repeated three times is there. There, there, there is what someone would say to quell anxiety of another person or one’s self. Perhaps Stein was feeling betrayed by her brother Leo who did not like Tender Buttons and was angry about the extra expense Toklas caused him when, in the winter of 1910, she moved into the apartment Gertrude and Leo made as their home together in Paris. 1913-1914, Leo moved out of 27 rue de Fleurus. In this case, then a man a realistic expression of resolute reliability could be Leo Stein.

The third stanza with phrases like ear rings; one way to breed…that; chance to say…nice old pole; Chest not valuable might be Stein’s ear ringing with the arguments she had with her brother about her work and their jointly owned property.

The fourth stanza Cover up cover up the two with a little piece of string and hope rose and green, green calls to mind for Steiny the Old Testament story from Joshua 2 about the prostitute Rahab in Jericho who shelters two Israelite spies whom the king wants to arrest. For her heroism in defying the king’s order, she asks the Israelites to spare her and her family when they come back to raze Jericho. They tell her to hang a crimson thread out her window and as long as she and her family stay in their house, they will be spared. In Stein’s stanza, Steiny gets a sense of judgment with the repeated Cover up cover up the two—Stein and Toklas are hiding their intimate relationship but still hoping to be saved with a little piece of string and hope. The string and the emotion of hope, which might be seen on their faces in a flush of red color, comes across in this stanza as a rose color. Rose is a symbol of Alice especially in Stein’s 1913 poem “Sacred Emily” when she wrote Rose is A Rose is A Rose is A Rose. [Here Steiny emphasizes the article “A” by capitalizing it.]


Could the green refer to American greenback dollars? Greenbacks were the first United States legal tender issued in paper.
They appeared during the Civil War and were not backed by silver or gold, only the credibility of the government. Greenbacks might also point at a possible meaning for Chest not valuable, be papered, the last sentence of stanza three. Perhaps Stein is making some kind of brave statement about her financial situation, which changed once Leo left 27 rue de Fleurus. As cohabitants of the famous Paris apartment, they pooled their inherited pensions. Linguistically, one function green plays is to make rose a color and not just the past tense verb to rise.


The last stanza, which begins Please a plate, put a match to the seam and really then really then, really then it is a remark that joins many many lead games, suggests the printing process of metal plates but also of hot type that was comprised of lead and other metals. Putting a match to the seam might suggest how type in a letterpress printing setup was put in forms (a case to hold the letters straight). The last sentence of this subpoem seems to offer pairs— a sister and sister and a flower and a flower and a dog and a colored sky a sky colored grey and nearly that nearly that let.
The first two pairs are identical but the last two pairs joins a dog and a colored sky and then a sky colored grey and perhaps a letter. It’s as if Stein has set up a telescope and is observing the constellations.


Among the topics discussed by the Buttons Collective were linguistics and grammar, sexual manipulation, ontological ambiguity, and quilting.
Participating in this discussion were Karren Alenier [a.k.a. Steiny], Tamboura Gaskins, Dave Green, Allan Keeton, Nicola Quinn, Claudia Schumann, Eleanor Smagarinsky, Peter Treanor, Pramila Venkateswaran. Here are a few highlights from the study session:

Karren Alenier:

“Notice that this title is ‘Book.’ and not A Book. What this says to me is this is Gertrude's book and not Alice's. It also says noun or verb.” However, within the subpoem, book is employed as a noun.

Eleanor Smagarinsky:

“Stein has deleted the determiner [which might be an article, possessive adjective, demonstrative—this or that, quantifier—some, every] so is her noun of infinite scope? Her first line reads:
Book was there, it was there. Book was there.
In this context, it sounds like it should be a noun. But it also sounds like it's written by someone for whom English is not a first language. And how interesting that she uses the past here—was. If you search for is in ‘Objects,’ the entire book of poems lights up with hits. Search for was and there are less instances. Is she going back in time to primitive language? Or setting the stage for going forward to the future, and the creation of her new potential language? and nearly that nearly that let.

It shouldn't really come as a surprise that Stein is subverting the grammatical rules for articles....remember ‘Suppose An Eyes.’?!

Allan Keeton:
“It was a cleaner
a wet cleaner
and it was not where it was wet.

“I love this ontological ambiguity
folded into an equal measure of
confusion of tense and being.

“Is this wasness its wetness?
It is not where (what) it was.”

Peter Treanor:

“Does any one else see all that wetness and wiping as a bit suggestive? And all that putting back and forward too? How could we think of a resolute (or firm) man pleasing himself white? And a bank, a bank (with a whiff of w , in the introduction of the word when, a bank when) and a bank care (banker) makes me think wank, (but not sure that that would be used as a term in 1900s). And it is one way to ‘breed’ if you take the very earthy words for breeding. And there’s all those poles and pillars knocking about and hope rose ( rose/ risen/ erect)

Please a plate, put a match to the seam, pleasing and seam. Seam and a man,  can you  see men in seam, semen there?
And all the repetition and lyrical rhythmic flow.

A dog is interesting, she uses cow and doe as indicators of female sexuality, so is a dog, man's best friend (after his real smaller best friend) used to point to male sexuality?”

Here Steiny returns to the peculiar thing about the man if the man in stanza 2 is a stand in for Gertrude Stein. To answer Peter, yes, Steiny sees the sexual manipulation and this is called masturbating but what GS wanted was to master language, the patriarchal language (nice old pole. Next best and nearest a pillar) that was stale and devoid of life. As to the old books—here is where Eleanor noticed Stein’s use of was versus is might be emphasizing the old books which she wanted to stop, which she wanted to clean. Tender Buttons would ring in the ear and breed new life. It was new lead (as in metal but also the verb to lead—Stein wanted to be recognized leader) in the game of publishing and would rise to a new level—a colored sky a sky colored grey and nearly that nearly that let. One might say “Book.” was Gertrude Stein’s F-you to the old boys of the publishing world who would not let her in. And shall Steiny add for the record that the singularity experienced in this title is like the mathematical singularity where some point, or mathematical object that defies definition, can be deemed ill behaved.

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