Thursday, March 5, 2015
THE BOOK ..........................- TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ...................- OBJECTS
THE SUBPOEM ...................- A box: NUMBER 4
WORD COUNT......................- 78
STANZA(S)............................- 1reducing inflammation
THE LEADER........................- THE STEINY ROAD POET
CO-LLABORATORS..............- MODPO STUDENTS/THE BUTTONS
“The ones who herd and the ones who are herded have indeed boxed themselves.” Pramila Venkateswaran
“Is pin a stand-in for Alice Toklas? In that Toklas was a sticking point for Stein. Whether that is good or bad was something Stein debated with herself.” Karren Alenier
Out of kindness comes redness and out of rudeness comes rapid same question, out of an eye comes research, out of selection comes painful cattle. So then the order is that a white way of being round is something suggesting a pin and is it disappointing, it is not, it is so rudimentary to be analysed and see a fine substance strangely, it is so earnest to have a green point not to red but to point again.
Working on the assumption that the first five subpoems of Tender Buttons establish the major themes (existence, appearance, gender, sexuality, morality, and union) and strategies that Stein employs throughout this long poem, the Steiny Road Poet cautions that every time a reader invests in certain expectations, Stein is likely to pull away from what seems to be the moving current. What Steiny means (as she stated in the introduction to the 2014 discussion of “A substance in a cushion.”) is “A carafe, that is a blind glass.” seems to address existence (possibly Stein’s birth) and “Glazed glitter.” complements with a version of Stein’s adult existence, her subsistence (her means for maintaining her life)—what her career path looked like (the abandoned medical studies) and the anticipation of change. “A substance in a cushion.” picks up the theme of change in daily living (existence) and subsistence (the failed medical career) and meditates deeply on appearance (what is seen, what is not). “A substance in a cushion.” plays with sweetness (sugar) and color as life changers, such that we, as readers, suspect the presence of a beloved who will come joyfully to Stein’s table, if not her bed.”
OUT OF A BOX COMES BOXING
Therefore, subpoem 4 “A box.” with its negative vocabulary of rudeness, painful cattle, disappointing, strangely comes as a punch to the gut unless we step back to see this in the context of Stein’s metaphysical strategy. Steiny contends that this subpoem is part of Stein’s dialectic approach and it runs counter to what she has offered in the first three subpoems. Possibly this means Stein has lulled us into thinking that she is just examining her life so she can open up to the possibilities of love. Steiny sees pushback on the subject of love in subpoem 4.
To explain what Steiny means, she offers this explication de texte:
Out of kindness (substitute gender politics for kindness) comes redness (embarrassment, as in a flushed red face) and out of rudeness comes rapid same question (What are you thinking, making your life partner a same-sex spouse?), out of an eye comes research (as the research Stein did that she called Bottom Nature, which found Alice Toklas initially to be manipulative, deceptive, lying), out of selection comes painful cattle (choosing Toklas will invite judgment from the herd mentality). So then the order is that a white way of being round (because this subpoem is title “A box.”, this could be Stein saying this in no ordinary square box) is something suggesting a pin (borrowing from my colleague Peter Treanor “a pin” might be pointing at the word opinion) and is it disappointing, it is not, it is so rudimentary to be analysed (another reference to Stein’s Bottom Nature analysis) and see a fine substance (substitute sugar/Alice Toklas for fine substance) strangely, it is so earnest to have a green point not to red (in semaphoric systems like highway and train traffic lights green means go and red means danger/stop) but to point again.
So what Stein might be doing is playing devil’s advocate as one does in the dialectic process to see what she has gotten herself into by uniting with Toklas.
THE ALCHEMY OF THE 2014 DISCUSSION
The 2014 Buttons Collective discussion of subpoem 4 “A box.” includes highlights of comments on: alchemy, cattle-oxen-cows-Golden Calf, word play, Tefillin, kaleidoscope.
Pramila Venkateswaran found a theme of alchemy counter balance with something oppressive like a dictator in this piece. Karren Alenier (a.k.a. Steiny) responded:
“OK I see the alchemy with the quadruple repetition of "out of." which is making a spell that brings.
--redness out of kindness, which indeed seems contrary given red might be anger.
--rapid same question out of rudeness: Could that be How can I be treated this way?
--research out of an eye: Could this be the judging eye of God or of perhaps a dictator?
--painful cattle out of selection: Could this be some kind of mistake, like God choosing the Jews and the Jews so scared when Moses leaves them momentarily to receive the Ten Commandments comes back and finds his people worshiping a golden calf?”
From the talk of transmutation of base metals to the more precious, Peter Treanor worked his word magic on Stein’s text:
“Is a box just a box? Or does it suggest being boxed in?
“A Box, is the A B suggesting Alice B?
In a bOX, ox is there and then cattle later. And what, if anything have cattle to do with painful selection? Natural selection? Or inbreeding? Or selection for slaughter later. Oxen are selectively bred and trained by man to produce beasts of burden.
“There’s kind and kindness appearing. Is this kind as in type and belonging to type (kindness) or is it as in being gentle or altruistic?
“Being round and a round thing , what is round? Is it the shape circular or is it around as in proximity?
“Redness and rudeness are of a kind, they are very similar, different in only one letter U. And similar in some sense of meaning, as red can be seen as rude or associated with rude at times (red lights in brothels).
“But I wonder how much her red and redness refers to reading/rede
“Then there's rude and rudimentary. Rude, from Middle English (in sense 5, also 'uncultured'): from Old French, from Latin rudis 'unwrought' (referring to handicraft), figuratively 'uncultivated'; related to rudus 'broken stone'.. Both seem to point to an unwrought, uncultivated or basic state
“And is the pin (in suggesting a pin and is it disappointing) opinion? You suggest an opinion, it feels like it could be suggesting it here.
And is a green point (in so earnest to have a green point) agree(n)ment?
“There seems to be a lot of rapid questioning, seeing, researching, selection (deciding), and earnest analysis going on here. So opinion and agreement seem to be qualities that maybe or should be present.
“But the opinion and agreement seems to result in further pointing, not to red but to point again.
What is this pointing? Making points/ arguments?
Or sewing, needlepoints?
Or showing, pointing out?”
Peter’s discovery of ox as an element of bOX, encouraged Karren to remark: “This is precisely why I find Jewish teachings very strongly in the first five subpoems of TB Objects. (Golden calf) But also in there is that sexual association—from Alice B's box comes cows, a coded word between Stein and Toklas for orgasms.”
Finally here are some random thoughts:
Michael A. Cohen: “There is point and disappointing and point again. A box has points on its corners. Taking away the points (disappointing) could result in a way of being round.”
Karren: “Stein was very concerned with order but it is more in the mode of re-order. I think she was re-making, re-ordering the 19th century according to her own plan. It was what the cubist painters—Picasso, Braque, Leger, Gris—were doing.”
Claudia G. Schumann: “Painful cattle could mean that sometimes sex is painful (in reference to ‘cow’ meaning sex in the code).”
Karren: …a white way of being round is something suggesting a pin—Stein could be referring to a kaleidoscope. In the moving lenses of a kaleidoscope, different images come out of the movement of the lenses.”
Judy Meibach: Stein’s box could be the prayer accessory called Tefillin.
Karren: “I think colored and order are alphabetically related. There is an order in Stein's system to pointing where things are inserted—pointing as in filling in the gaps in the mortar as in adding the vowels in a Hebrew text. The pointing adds colors to that order.”
Contributors to this discussion included: Karren Alenier, Michael A. Cohen, Judy Meibach, Claudia Schumann, Peter Treanor, Pramila Venkateswaran
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
THE BOOK ..........................- TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ...................- OBJECTS
THE SUBPOEM ...................- A substance in a cushion: NUMBER 3
WORD COUNT......................- 475
THE LEADER........................- THE STEINY ROAD POET
CO-LLABORATORS..............- MODPO STUDENTS/THE BUTTONS
“Is [there] a callousness that overlooks individuality?” Pramila Venkateswaran
“what is reason? what is reasonable? what is her reason? am I being unreasonable? for sugar is not a vegetable, and would it not by any other name b as sweet?” Anthony Watkins
A SUBSTANCE IN A CUSHION.
The change of color is likely and a difference a very little difference is prepared. Sugar is not a vegetable.
Callous is something that hardening leaves behind what will be soft if there is a genuine interest in there being present as many girls as men. Does this change. It shows that dirt is clean when there is a volume.
A cushion has that cover. Supposing you do not like to change, supposing it is very clean that there is no change in appearance, supposing that there is regularity and a costume is that any the worse than an oyster and an exchange. Come to season that is there any extreme use in feather and cotton. Is there not much more joy in a table and more chairs and very likely roundness and a place to put them.
A circle of fine card board and a chance to see a tassel.
What is the use of a violent kind of delightfulness if there is no pleasure in not getting tired of it. The question does not come before there is a quotation. In any kind of place there is a top to covering and it is a pleasure at any rate there is some venturing in refusing to believe nonsense. It shows what use there is in a whole piece if one uses it and it is extreme and very likely the little things could be dearer but in any case there is a bargain and if there is the best thing to do is to take it away and wear it and then be reckless be reckless and resolved on returning gratitude.
Light blue and the same red with purple makes a change. It shows that there is no mistake. Any pink shows that and very likely it is reasonable. Very likely there should not be a finer fancy present. Some increase means a calamity and this is the best preparation for three and more being together. A little calm is so ordinary and in any case there is sweetness and some of that.
A seal and matches and a swan and ivy and a suit.
A closet, a closet does not connect under the bed. The band if it is white and black, the band has a green string. A sight a whole sight and a little groan grinding makes a trimming such a sweet singing trimming and a red thing not a round thing but a white thing, a red thing and a white thing.
The disgrace is not in carelessness nor even in sewing it comes out out of the way.
What is the sash like. The sash is not like anything mustard it is not like a same thing that has stripes, it is not even more hurt than that, it has a little top.
“A substance in a cushion.” exhibits evidence (based on selected words) of these major themes: existence, appearance, gender, sexuality, morality, and union. The Steiny Road Poet believes the first five subpoems of Tender Buttons, establish what the major themes of section 1 “Objects” are. In addition some of the subpoems of “Objects” also address printing and writing as well as gaming. Only a handful of subpoems in “Objects” address the six major themes but only three address the six major and two auxiliary themes (printing-writing & gaming): “A piece of coffee.”, “A plate.”, and “A seltzer bottle.”. In close consideration “A substance in a cushion.” might exhibit hints of gaming and writerly elements. In any case, this subpoem is highly significant to the over all work of Tender Buttons.
The 2014 Buttons Collective discussion of “A substance in a cushion.” includes highlights of comments on: language from a lab report, intoxicants, kosher versus trayfe, periodic elements, gossip, sewing, folk myths of ivy, connection to Shakespeare’s As You Like It.
WHAT COMES TO STEIN’S TABLE…OR BED
To review the thematic path into section 1 “Objects,”: “A carafe, that is a blind glass.” seems to tackle existence (possibly Stein’s birth) and “Glazed glitter.” complements with a version of Stein’s adult existence, that is, her subsistence (her means for maintaining her life)—what her career path looked like (the abandoned medical studies) and the anticipation of change. “A substance in a cushion.” picks up the theme of change in daily living (existence) and subsistence (the failed medical career) and meditates deeply on appearance (what is seen, what is not). “A substance in a cushion.” plays with sweetness (sugar) and color as life changers, such that we, as readers, suspect the presence of a beloved who will come joyfully to Stein’s table, if not her bed.
From historic background, we know the unnamed lover is Alice B. Toklas but Stein has her way of inserting signs of Toklas beginning with the article “a” which is used 40 times among the 470 words of “A substance in a cushion.”
Peter Treanor pointed out that substance is “the essence of something, a particular kind of matter, an intoxicating drug, the most important part of something, the subject matter of a text/piece of work, having a solid base in reality, being dependable, quality of being important, wealth and possession.” Steiny interrupts to say substance could be Stein characterizing Alice’s importance to herself (Stein). This is Stein saying Alice is essential as a partner. Stein’s love for Alice is like an intoxicating drug. Alice is her subject matter for Tender Buttons. Nothing else in Stein’s life at this time is more important.
Peter said, ”One or all of these could be employed as meaning here, I like the intoxicating drug one, especially in relation to the absinthe thread of thought [see the 2014 discussion of “A carafe, that is a blind glass.”]. Absinthe could be seen as cushioning the harsh realities of the world. Alcohol as a cushion to the troubles of life.” Steiny interrupts here to say that alcohol would not be Stein’s drug of choice.
ELEMENTS PENNED INTO CUSHION
In a 2013 discussion of Tender Buttons, Peter said Stein inserts instructions in her text. So taking that approach, Peter asked, “Is there a substance in the word cushion or in [the phrase] a cushion?” At first, he was stymied, but then he saw “h is hydrogen, o is oxygen, c carbon, n nitrogen, ni nickel, au gold, all substances ‘occurring’ in ‘cushion’ or ‘a cushion.’
MS Boase added copper, copper sulphate, tin and bronze to this discussion:
“Just focusing on the title... ‘A substance in a cushion.’ I loved Pete's idea that the word cushion could encode chemical symbols, the most obvious though is copper (Cu). A change in colour suggests copper sulphate (CuSO4), which a kind of (inedible) salt that has a very drastic colour change between blue and white depending on the presence of water. Also copper sulphate is IONic because it's a compound of a metal and a non-metal.
“But there's another interesting and important substance that springs to mind and that is bronze, an alloy of two metals, copper (Cu) and tin (Sn). They don't react but blend to form a very hard substance that was very important to mankind, it's discovery marked by the beginning of what we call the Bronze Age. Given this is the third poem, we should wonder if there is a bronze quality to it. If so, then we should expect to find gold (Au) in Tender Buttons one (I don't see it) and silver (Ag) Tender Buttons 2. I think I do see the latter... Ag or silver is very representative of the Alice-Gertrude partnership, A and G. I wonder if these ideas will recur later.”
Karren Alenier (a.k.a. Steiny) responded:
“MS, I agree that Pete's deconstruction of cushion into various chemical symbols is a cause for looking deeper into the "Objects" section and what it offers in a more overt way relative to elements like gold and silver.
“In the Buttons initial look at "A method of a cloak." (in 2013), Eleanor Smagarinsky saw that playful connection of silver Ag as the Alice-Gertrude connection. Subsequently in my study of ‘Objects’ as a whole this summer (while I was working on my chapter for a forthcoming book called Forbidden Loves in the Jewish Tradition—lead editor is Corinne Blackmer), I came to believe that overall, silver stands for Alice and lead (also known as liquid silver) stands for Gertrude. [Silver and lead come up in ‘A seltzer bottle.’] Gold doesn't seem to be in ‘Objects.’ [Steiny inserts here that gold does appear once in section 2 ‘Food.’)
“Your discussion of copper, however, is quite interesting. In nature, silver can be found in lead and copper as well as gold and zinc. Another aspect of Gertrude is water. We see her aligning with water but not fire. Typically the male symbol is fire, the female symbol is water. In Jewish lore, there is male aspect to water that is involved with the Hebrew words for heaven shamayim שָׁמַ֫יִם and water mayim מָ֫יִם. Eventually we will get to this in ‘Water raining.’ and ‘Careless water.’.”
MS answered, “The water ideas support the copper sulphate connection…Maybe the s is the substance IN cushion.”
That MS saw copper (cu) in cushion sent Peter researching copper with marked enthusiasm: “Oh my heavens MS, copper (cu) that is brilliant! Copper from Wikipedia , has so many associations with TBs…”
Because Stein employs lots of specific colors in the subpoems of “Objects” (this subpoem mentions blue, red, purple, pink, and green as well as black and white but it also hints a yellow with the word mustard), the Wikipedia copper citation, which details color and color changes, is highly relevant.
Particularly interest was the Wikipedia information about the s-orbital electron:
Copper, silver and gold are in group 11 of the periodic table, and they share certain attributes: they have one s-orbital electron on top of a filled d-electron shell and are characterized by high ductility and electrical conductivity.
In “Glazed glitter.” (the Corrected TB edition), this sentence features an “s”:
But there is, there is that hope and that interpretation and sometime, surely any s is unwelcome, sometime there is breath and there will be a sinecure and charming very charming is that clean and cleansing.
MS added: “…the S which is unwelcome is black sulfide (Ag_2 S) which tarnishes silver over time (and has application in photography, not sure if relevant, or since when), the polishing and cleansing referenced in the previous poem could then mean to keep silver sparkling...”
Karren responded to MS relative to his uncertainty whether photography figures into Tender Buttons, “The word silver comes up three times in the ‘Objects’ section of TB: ‘A seltzer bottle.’, ‘A method of a cloak.’, and subpoem 11 ‘A box.’. Hints at photography (and printing) surface in many of the subpoems, including subpoems 11 ‘A box.’, ‘A plate.’, and ‘A seltzer bottle.’.
LAB TALK OR PARENTAL ADMONISHMENT?
While Peter and MS had many more things to say about copper, for now Steiny puts that information on hold to move into stanzas 1 and 2 about which Pramila Venkateswaran said, “The first two statements sound like what one would read in a lab experiment: ‘The change of color...’ and ‘Callous...’ ‘Sugar is not a vegetable’ sounds tongue in cheek—something a parent would tell a child. Callous—the hardening seems to mark this piece. Do we harden because of our prescribed gender roles? ‘Soft’ ‘pink’ ‘tassel’ suggest women. ‘Feathers’ reminds me of feathers in hats; also feathers in pillows and in mattresses. All these are prescribed rituals of society--dining together, writing according to rules, vacationing during ‘the season,’ which makes her [Stein] wonder if there is a callousness that overlooks individuality.
Karren Alenier agreed saying, “It fits Stein's experience as a scientist investigating objects, the life of objects, the activities of said objects.
“And to see callous in relation to gender roles and overlooked individuality captures the more veiled details from ‘A carafe.’ like a kind in glass and a cousin (something like finger pointing and accusatory—that type that I can see through and really? related to me?), a spectacle (that kind of person standing out and not conforming), nothing strange (oh, but not conforming demotes the strange person to nothingness), not ordinary (why isn't that person like everyone else?), not resembling (really that person couldn't possibly be my cousin!), the difference spreading.
“Intriguing to hear sugar is not a vegetable as a parental rebuke. Or at least to me it sounds disapproving which fits with what is callous.
“In ‘modern’ times—once people could do more than struggle to survive, that is, find food, shelter, a way to procreate—folks sought diversions, a way to reduce the stress of daily living. Then came these substances, like sugar, like absinthe.”
SUGARCANE & PILLOW CASE
From Wikipedia, Karren found this: Most sugar comes from sugarcane, which is a tropical grass. The leavings from cane juice become the powder that makes sugar.
Sugarcane belongs to the grass family (Poaceae), an economically important seed plant family that includes maize, wheat, rice, and sorghum and many forage crops.
In India, between the sixth and fourth centuries BC, the Persians, followed by the Greeks, discovered the famous “reeds that produce honey without bees.”
Karren concluded: “Of course sugar has a long history tied up with slavery and wealth.”
Peter picked up the on sugarcane being vegetable and Therese Pope offered that you can chew on the cane but not eat it because it is tough and fibrous. Karren was doubtful about its byproduct, sugar, being labeled vegetable. Peter said, “The flower top of sugar in the picture does look like a feather and the link between sugar plantations and cotton plantations make me wonder about Come to season that is there any extreme use in feather and cotton..
Karren answered, “yes that line Come to season… seems very socio-political.”
Breaching the conversation, Steiny jumps in here to remind the reader that this subpoem opens talk about the change of color, which might be associated with the emancipation of slaves from the cotton fields of the American South. Now back to what Karren said in the ModPo forum, “The combo of cushion and feather always makes me think this is Stein's pillow talk. As with any late night talk comes the ecstasy and agony.”
Surfacing after a long absence, Claudia Schumann said, “I was just mulling over ‘come to season’ and thinking that it sounded like…the expression ‘coming into heat’ when animals are becoming fertile for reproduction. So I … thought ‘come to season’ may refer to a woman arriving at that time of the month. Then I also thought about ‘extreme use’—sometimes having sex during this time may be considered ‘extreme use.’ In reference to pillow talk, pillows are made of feather & cotton ticking—hence ‘feather and cotton.’”
Come to season…brought up the issue of Jewish woman and their cycle of menses and ritual bathing. The issue of making something kosher after it has become unclean (trayfe) plays in Stein’s phrase dirt is clean when there is volume. Karren commented, “Stein might be commenting obliquely about the unkosher same-sex marriage which must be kept under cover despite these ‘girls’ who have come to season (there being present as many girls as men). This gives a new spin on oyster (a costume is that any the worse than an oyster and an exchange), which is trayfe, unkosher, forbidden food.
Randy Parker associated cushion with a pincushion, preferably a red one and found all the surrounding associations fraught with sexual innuendo, especially the needle’s penetration of the cushion.
SWAN & IVY: A MARRIAGE OF LONGETIVITY OR A RISK?
One of the most difficult lines of this subpoem is this list that is merely a fragment but not a sentence:
A seal and matches and a swan and ivy and a suit.
For seal, Claudia ruled out the animal and suggested it was that mark of authority put on documents.
Peter offered this set of associations:
“I don’t know how it would shoe horn in but a Google search of the terms popped up with a picture of Anna Pavlova with her favourite pet swan, called Jack, taken at Ivy House where she lived. There are various photos of them but some are early 1900s and pre TBs time , so the images would have been available to GS. Jack is the name of a playing card, [Jacks, as are other cards] are ordered into suits, (bit tenuous I know). Pavlova , Swan Lake, lovers suits , love matches? All the mythology around Swans, Zeus as a swan, swan maidens, swan songs?”