Monday, July 21, 2014

Stepping on Tender Buttons: “Peeled Pencil, Choke.”, “It Was Black, Black Took.”. “This Is This Dress, Aider.” Part 1 of 2


THE BOOK ..........................-           TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ...................-           OBJECTS
THE SUBPOEM ...................-          PEELED PENCIL, CHOKE: NUMBER 56
WORD COUNT......................-           3
STANZA(S)............................-           1
THE SUBPOEM ...................-         IT WAS BLACK, BLACK TOOK: NUMBER 57
WORD COUNT......................-           27
STANZA(S)............................-           2
THE SUBPOEM ...................-          THIS IS THIS DRESS, AIDER: NUMBER 58
WORD COUNT......................-           32
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.....................................-           CHAOTIC WITH A SHIMMY

“These have not been ‘pretty little poems,’ and there's a threatening violence throughout.” Eleanor Smagarinsky

It's carnage in there, is no letter safe?” Peter Treanor

Nope, it's a balesome time for the alphabet.” Allan Keeton


Rub her coke.


Black ink best wheel bale brown.

Excel lent not a hull house, not a pea soup, no bill no care, no precise no past pearl pearl goat.


Aider, why, aider why whow, whow stop touch, aider whow, aider stop the muncher, muncher munchers.

A jack in kill her, a jack in, makes a meadowed king, makes a to let.

There is something historically old about the last three subpoems of section 1 “Objects.” While all three poems have a comma in its title, an old punctuation style that Stein eschews (only four subpoems of “Objects” have a comma in its title), the pencil, a tool important to a writer, came about in 1565 when someone put graphite (graphite was discovered in Borrowdale, England, in 1560) into a wooden shaft. Before the discovery of graphite, soft metals, such as lead, were used for writing. Graphite was known in those early days as black lead.

Black ink is featured in “It Was Black, Black Took.” The language of this subpoem points to some basic objects though some are negated—wheel, hull (husk or pod), house, pea, soup, goat. The title makes the Steiny Road Poet think of the chess piece called a rook, which is the king’s house or castle. The game of chess started possibly in Eastern India 280 to 550 BC. Chess is a game of strategy and Tender Buttons is Stein positioning herself in the male-dominated literary world. She is worried about being protected (covered) but also about advancing.

Gaming seems rampant in “This Is This Dress, Aider.” However, the word whow is a throwback variant of how  or how much that dates to the late medieval period into the early 1800s.

Among the topics discussed by the Buttons Collective were gender and grammar, Lesbian slang, sexual symbols, Hull House, King’s Meadow of Reading Abbey England, Edvard Munch, card games and chess, and knitting. Participating in this discussion were Karren Alenier [a.k.a. Steiny], Tamboura Gaskins, Dave Green, Allan Keeton, Nicola Quinn, Claudia Schumann, Eleanor Smagarinsky, and Peter Treanor. Here are a few highlights from the study session as well as some additional thoughts by Steiny:


Steiny led the charge of the Buttons Collective in a romp of sexual associations about “Peeled Pencil, Choke.” with the net result of a circumcised penis with a rubber coat (condom) or a rubber cock (dildo).

Karren Alenier: [a.k.a. The Steiny Road Poet]
Rub her coke==>rubber coat [condom]

Tamboura Gaskins:
Peeled pencil ==> circumcised penis

Choke ==> well...some like it rough

Rub her coke ==> rubber cock ==> dildo

However Eleanor Smagarinsky moved the discussion to a higher plane by quoting Roland Barthes short book The Pleasure of the Text, which addresses the demands Gertrude Stein puts on her readers—that is, the reader must engage with the text to derive something from it whether it is pleasure or knowledge.


Eleanor Smagarinsky:
From The Pleasure of the Text, by Roland Barthes:

"The pleasure of the text is like that untenable, impossible, purely novelistic instant so relished by Sade's libertine when he manages to be hanged and then to cut the rope at the very moment of his orgasm, his bliss."

"...the pledge of continuous jubilation, the moment when by its very excess verbal pleasure chokes and reels into bliss."

However, Karren still working on the visceral level added this:

“Maybe Gertrude needs a rubber coat after she wears her pencil down to a nub because there were a lot of folks metaphorically throwing rotten eggs at her.”

Stein may have had the 1913 premiere of the Rite of Spring ballet in mind when the audience rioted because they didn’t like Stravinsky’s music and Diaghilev’s choreography.

Working aslant, Eleanor quoted from “Kyoto Panorama Project,” a short story in the story collection Disorientalism by Kyoko Yoshida

.....If you turn your skin, flesh and fat inside out just like you do a sweater, you turn into a woman. You become a perfect woman, more real than any woman out there. Everybody knows it but no one dares to speak of it, this so-called open secret, and if you insist you've never heard of it, it's not that you've been ignorant but just oblivious.....
......Womanly women, sewing woman, office women, anchorwomen —they are all fake. They are all men's women. Lucky enough if you could meet a genuine woman ever. Rarer is a genuine man.

Stein turns gender and grammar inside out, and this is really powerful in the sentence Rub her coke. Because, yeah, girls are ‘fancy on the inside,’ not the ‘outside.’ If you could turn a woman's body inside out, would you get a man? And vice versa. Is that the difference? Stein assigns a coke (cock?) to the woman (her), as compared to the titular ‘peeled pencil’ (penis?), which is (perhaps?) told to choke (get lost?). Lesbian couples are (endlessly, annoyingly, rudely) asked ‘Which is the woman and which is the man?,’ right....yeah....because that's what their love is all about, turning each other inside out so as to pretend to be a different gender....not!

“Much as it pains me to write this, there is no such thing as a ‘perfect woman.’ It gladdens me, however, to add that there is also no such thing as a ‘real woman’ (an offensive term). So I reckon Yoshida is having some fun with turning these concepts inside-out, and considering how wonderfully surreal her work is, I think she's winking at her readers—as is Stein.”

Peter Treanor:
Peeling a pencil
rub her, rubber out (in the UK erasers are called rubbers)”

Rub her coke.

“rub her (H) out. erase H from choke and you get coke.”

”Is there a word for a poem that does what it says it’s going to do in the text on the text? That’s what Stein done here I think.”

Allan Keeton:
“Beautiful, Peter! The poem just went ahead & rubbed out the h that the poem as peeled pencil wrote!”

“It's carnage in there, is no letter safe?


“Nah, Peter. No letter is safe. Not if Alice is letting them, renting them, rubbing them out!”

“Nope, it's a balesome time for the alphabet.”

“I bet the Oulipeans would have a word for that.”

While some might consider Peter’s observation about the relation of choke and coke trivial, Steiny knows that in the landscape of contemporary writing these kind of discoveries contribute to Stein’s renewal of the English language.


I keep thinking the Black Took is part of a perverted chess game -- the Black Rook. 

In chess, rook is the castle (home of the king) and Stein writes not a hull house so the house is not small like a husk (hull) but something grander perhaps.

hull  (hŭl)
a. The dry outer covering of a fruit, seed, or nut; a husk.
b. The enlarged calyx of a fruit, such as a strawberry, that is usually green and easily detached.
a. Nautical The frame or body of a ship, exclusive of masts, engines, or superstructure.
b. The main body of various other large vehicles, such as a tank, airship, or flying boat.
3. The outer casing of a rocket, guided missile, or spaceship.
tr.v. hulledhull·inghulls
To remove the hulls of (fruit or seeds).

While flipping letters of the title via a mirror (Koot Kclab, Kclab Saw Ti), Allan noticed that “It Was Black, Black Took.” uses the past tense verb was. The flipped was yields saw, the past tense of to see. Whenever Stein uses a past tense verb, the reader should pay attention since her emphasis is on the present moment, what one thinks of as now.

Now Steiny is rethinking the word took. Could it be the past tense of to take? Perhaps Stein is saying something about how she took the option to get published/printed as she did by self-publishing in 1909 her story collection Three Lives. By self-publishing she did not have to take charity or any other humiliation and this would account for the run of negatives: not a hull house, not a pea soup, no bill no care, no precise no past pearl pearl goat. The division of excellent into excel and lent might then mean that she lent herself the money for publication so she could advance (excel with) her work. Also one could read Black ink best wheel bale brown something like this: her books printed in well-defined black ink and sporting brown covers were bundled (baled) and delivered (wheel[ed]), making this a black, black took.
And in 1913, Heidelberg introduced something called the windmill platen press, which was produced into the late 1960s. Before that, small printing presses looked a lot like sewing machines. This reading of this subpoem also dovetails well with the Buttons Collective findings on “Book.”

Before Steiny leaves this association to printing, she will mention that printing has been seen in these subpoems of “Objects”: “A Plate.”, “Suppose An Eyes.”, “A Little Called Pauline.” Stein’s focus on regenerating the English language is heavily tied to the ability to get her work published and read. Thus Stein steeps Tender Buttons in the artifacts of printing.


Allan also researched the1890s settlement house known as Hull House (located in Chicago), which promoted education particularly for women, something Stein would have been aware of. Claudia Schumann mentioned that some of the settlement houses were known for their soup kitchens (pea soup) feeding indigents. She also suggested that other settlement houses, “offered no free food, billed you for care (service), and none of that ‘pearl pearl goat’ to step in.” Claudia pointed out that goat pearls are their excreted droppings. 
Allan rejoined that he thought no precise no past pearl pearl goat “sounds like knitting terminology— pearl 2, goat 1.”

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