Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Cooking with Tender Buttons Food: Sugar. Stanzas 1-8. Discussion 1

THE BOOK ..........................-           TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ...................-           FOOD
THE SUBPOEM ...................-           Sugar
WORD COUNT (Total)……...-          333
STANZA(S)............................-            18
—Stanzas 1-8                                      170
THE LEADER........................-          THE STEINY ROAD POET

“Sugar.” is the fourth subpoem of Tender Buttons section 2 Food. Overall, the stanzas of this subpoem have a pronounced sense of morality—emphasizing what is wrong—as seen in such words and phrases as violent, no use in money, awfulness, shady, crestfallen, shame, negligence, poison. “Sugar.” has some cross talk with “A substance in a cushion.”, the third subpoem of Tender Buttons section 1 Objects. However, “Sugar.” has stronger affinities to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick which the Steiny Road Poet will discuss in a later blogpost.

The Buttons Collective began their studies with the first eight stanzas of “Sugar.”, which has a 170-word count, including the title. Among the topics addressed in this post are: giving sugar as rough love, the socio-economics of sugar cane, slavery in America, cross talk with “A substance in a cushion.”, sugar as medicine, and making stew or cloth.


A violent luck and a whole sample and even then quiet.

Water is squeezing, water is almost squeezing on lard. Water, water is a mountain and it is selected and it is so practical that there is no use in money. A mind under is exact and so it is necessary to have a mouth and eye glasses.

A question of sudden rises and more time than awfulness is so easy and shady. There is precisely that noise.

A peck a small piece not privately overseen, not at all not a slice, not at all crestfallen and open, not at all mounting and chaining and evenly surpassing, all the bidding comes to tea.

A separation is not tightly in worsted and sauce, it is so kept well and sectionally.

Put it in the stew, put it to shame. A little slight shadow and a solid fine furnace.

The teasing is tender and trying and thoughtful.

The line which sets sprinkling to be a remedy is beside the best cold.

“…that first stanza does seem to stand out—it’s almost a shout out, there on its own—it’s violent, it’s passionate, it’s purple. A whole sample stained violent in violet, and violated by quiet.” Peter Treanor


Entry into “Sugar.” seemed hard. Peter Treanor approached slowly and with some caveats.

 “It’s the title and the first line that have done it, it jumped out the first time I read it and now I can read it without seeing it.

Sugar, well, sweet and sweethearts and all those associations and as US slang Sugar—Kiss or loving. ‘Honey, come over here and give your grandma some sugar.’ (though it’s not entirely clear during which period it was used this way.)” [Note: Frontier Slang, Lingo & Phrases by Kathy Weiser-Alexander lists sugar as kiss or loving. Therefore, Steiny would say that the slang use of sugar would have been known to Stein through a novel about the wild west.)

“And then A violent luck and a whole sample and even then quiet.  A violent luck it’s is a very weird way to describe luck, (both as singular ‘A’ and as violent, though violent could point to dramatic I guess and ‘a’ to just one instance of it) and I can’t help but see the ‘L’ in luck as almost an ‘F,’ and then it makes much more sense as a violent (or passionate) one. She wouldn’t, would she? Maybe she would, it's coded and partially hidden and she seems to be quite explicit in other areas of TBs.

“A whole (or hole) an (ample) sample-ing could also be seen as being very racy in this context.

“But afterwards there does seem to be quiet (as they sink exhausted into the sheets). It’s the pairing of sugar, being so suggestive, and the strangeness around the construction of violent luck that make me wonder.”

Teri Rife answered by addressing syntax and meaning.

“Let's take a few minutes to enjoy the always-lovely juxtapositions GS sets up:
violent/luck.  How much more lucky could one get than being violently lucky? Say if your path crossed your soul mate's path on the very first day she set foot on a foreign continent, having arrived from the continent of your birth and speaking your language.  ‘Passionate’ is given as a synonym for ‘violent.’

“whole/sample—The sample you get is the whole thing. What greater expression of excess might there be than this?

“But to take all of this bounty and propel it to higher heights, set the words ‘even then quiet’ against them, at the end of the sentence. Make this the first sentence.  Make this a short sentence which does not wrap to another line.  Make it the only sentence in the stanza.  Now you've done everything you can to make your point.

“And, violent makes me think of those violets again—purple passion.”

Treanor responded:

“Yes, that first stanza does seem to stand out—it’s almost a shout out, there on its own—it’s violent, it’s passionate, it’s purple. A whole sample stained violent in violet, and violated by quiet.”


Because the Buttons Collective conversation didn’t follow the order of Stein’s stanzas, Steiny for the sake of readability will step in as need to smooth the way. Here are the substantive socio-economic ideas Rife had about stanza 2:

Water is squeezing, water is almost squeezing on lard. Water, water is a mountain and it is selected and it is so practical that there is no use in money. A mind under is exact and so it is necessary to have a mouth and eye glasses.

“I've been thinking there's the economics of sugar cane production and plantation slave labor here. Have we talked about this before—it seems familiar? On the economic front, there's squeezing (a buck?), no use in money, sudden rises, easy (money?), shady (business/money?), precisely that noise (so tight--cheap--you squeak?), a small piece (coin?), not at all mounting (not amounting?) and bidding.

“On the slave labor front, there's squeezing (more work?), selected (humans as animals at auction), so practical that there is no use in money (no wages to be paid), chaining, bidding, a so kept well and sectionally, put it to shame. These slaves must be kept in line. A mind under is exact and so it is necessary to have a mouth and eye glasses. A minder must be exacting in his work and must have a mouth to give orders and eye glasses to make sure he sees everything that's going on—not privately overseen.

“As it regards the production process for cane syrup, I read that 1,000 stalks of cane are crushed (squeezed?) to produce 80 gallons of juice (water?), which is then boiled down (in a fine furnace?) to 8 gallons of cane syrup.  So, proportionally speaking, it takes a mountain of water to get to the final product.  This cane syrup is the perfect sweetener for your ice cold tea, the remedy for the crystals of granular sugar which, even after much stirring, may still refuse to dissolve.”  

To top off this rich set of ideas, Rife made the following comment that touches on stanzas 4 and 7:

“Such tea-sing is tender and trying and thoughtful.  Making your tea sweet takes some work, as does making your marriage sweet—requiring tenderness, attention and thoughtfulness.”

Treanor answered:

Slavery and the sugar cane trade—yes, I’m sure we have seen that before. I can’t remember where though and I seem to recall it coming up a few times, especially slavery and cotton, was it in ‘A long dress.’?”


Rife countered:

I can't place it, but sugar has popped up before.  I remember ‘Sugar is not a vegetable’ was in ‘A substance in a cushion.’.

Here Steiny steps in and offers some comparison between the entire set of stanzas of “Sugar.” and “A substance in a cushion.”.

TBO3—“Sugar is not a vegetable.”
TBF4—Title of subpoem is “Sugar.”

What is the substance in a cushion? Possibly it is Alice Toklas who represents Stein’s object of affection, her sweetheart, her love, her sugar. In the Food subpoem called “Sugar.”, the reader sees suggestions of sex versus sweetness in such phrases as:
—sudden rises [Stanza 3]
—A peck a small piece not privately overseen, not at all not a slice, not at all crestfallen and open, not at all mounting and chaining and evenly surpassing, all the bidding comes to tea. [Stanza 4 in its entirety]
—Put it in the stew, put it to shame. A little slight shadow and a solid fine furnace. [Stanza 6 in its entirety]
—The teasing is tender and trying and thoughtful. [Stanza 7 in its entirety]
—Wet crossing and a likeness [Stanza 10]
—A blaze, a search in between, a cow, only any wet place, only this tune. [Stanza 12 in its entirety]
Choose the rate to pay and pet pet very much. A collection of all around, a signal poison, a lack of languor and more hurts at ease. [Stanza 13]
—Cuddling comes in continuing a change. [Stanza 15 in its entirety]
—A piece of separate outstanding rushing is so blind with open delicacy. [Stanza 16 in its entirety]
A canoe is orderly. A period is solemn. A cow is accepted. [Stanza 17 in its entirety—Steiny is including canoe as coded sex talk but she has not easy answer for it is yet.]
A nice old chain is widening, it is absent, it is laid by. [Stanza 17 in its entirety—Steiny is thinking chains of love.]

TBO3—“What is the use of a violent kind of delightfulness”
TBF4— “A violent luck” [stanza 1]

In both examples, Stein plays with violence as if it were something a person would want. As Teri Rife said, this violence could be passion.

TBO3—“…the band has a green string.”
TBF4—“it has the staggering blindly and a little green, any little green is ordinary. [stanza 10]

The complete stanza from “A substance in a cushion.” with its mention of bed, groan grinding, sweet singing seems to point to sexual interaction:

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. [Stanza 8 of “A substance in a cushion.”]

In both subpoems, it is unclear what green might point to but both instances seem upbeat and might be thought of as nourishing these lines as if they might be green plants.

TBO3—“The change of color is likely…”
“Does this change.”
“Supposing you do not like to change, supposing it is very clean that there is no change in appearance
“Light blue and the same red with purple makes a change.”
TBF4— Cuddling comes in continuing a change.  [stanza 15]

Change appears five times in “A substance in a cushion.” so one can assume Stein is stressing the difference that comes with change. At the time, she wrote Tender Buttons, her relationship with Alice Toklas was a huge change. It made Stein question herself, become more circumspect (they had to hide their intimacy as a married couple), change her appearance in what she wore, etc. “Sugar.” takes a different approach on change—it’s a given that provides benefits like cuddling.


As to Peter Treanor’s question about whether slavery and the sugar cane trade show up in Objects subpoem 14 “A long dress.”, Steiny offers that it is possible but not specific. Questions like What is the current that makes machinery, that makes it crackle, what is the current that presents a long line as well as mention of a dark place countered with a white and red are black seem to touch on slavery as machinery and the mixing of races. “A long dress.” Is more likely to evoke cotton growing versus sugar cane.

In the subject of slavery and American crops grown on southern plantations, stanzas 3 and 4 might speak to the back-breaking work of slaves toiling in the cotton fields. The work required stooping over. Should a slave stand up looking for a place to escape the brutal sun then a plantation overseer might punish the slave by striking him or her with a whip or putting that unfortunate individual in chains. In contrast, the overseer might be invited to take tea with the family that owned the plantation.

Rife had this to say about stanza 4:

A peck a small piece not privately overseen, not at all not a slice, not at all crestfallen and open,
“What do you think about this? I plucked ‘not privately overseen’ out of there, but the rest?  We seem to be talking about something both large in a way and small.  A peck of pickles, for instance, is quite a few I think, but a peck on the cheek or a bird's peck is small. The small piece is apparently a slice because it is ‘not at all not a slice.’ And it is also apparently the opposite of ‘crestfallen’ and maybe the opposite of ‘open.’ It's hard to tell whether the ‘not at all’ applies to both ‘crestfallen’ and ‘open.’ That ‘crestfallen’ is the fanciest word in the sentence, so it might be the most loaded.”

Steiny thinks Teri Rife raises good questions that seem to fit with the reading that Stein is talking about American slavery. While crestfallen indicates sadness, the origins of crestfallen according to the Oxford English Dictionary refers to a mammal or bird having a fallen or drooping crest. A crest is a comb or tuft of feathers, fur, or skin on the head of a bird or other animal. Within the full scope of “Sugar.” Stein gives us cow, bird, and dog. However, according to The Free Dictionary, a crest is also a symbol of a family or office, usually representing a beast or bird, borne in addition to a coat of arms and used in medieval times to decorate the helmet. So Stein might be pointing to those southern families of high social standing who kept slaves and had family crests. Steiny thinks the animals represented in “Sugar.” are telling—cow as milk producer might represent the black “mammy” who nurtured, even breast-fed her white owners’ children; dog might represent the animal used to track runaway slaves; and bird might be the runaway slave.

THE SUGAR CURE-S [stanza 8]

To tie up loose ends, Steiny continues the conversation between the Buttons without trying to ensure logical flow of the stanzas. So here we go with Rife close reading stanza 8:

The line which sets sprinkling to be a remedy is beside the best cold.
“How's this for crazy?  There's a sugar cure for a cold:”

‘The Sugar Cure
Keep a teaspoonful of sugar in the mouth and move it around slightly until it is dissolved after a minute or two, then spit it out and take another teaspoonful. Fine sugar is best for this purpose as it dissolves faster. Continue with this for several hours until the cold symptoms, such as mucus congestion of the nose and sinuses, have disappeared and you can easily breathe through the nose. This also tends to remove any headaches and other discomfort.’

“And there's Gogel Mogel as a cold cure:”
‘Gogle Mogle became known by this name by the 17th-century Jewish communities of Central Europe. It may have its roots in the Jewish code of law called the Shulchan Arukh[3] where one is allowed to consume sweet syrup and/or raw egg on Shabbat to make one's voice more pleasant. The dish consists of raw egg yolks and sugar, beaten and ground until they form a creamy texture, with no discernible grains of sugar. In modern kitchens, it is often mixed in a blender until it changes color and becomes thick. A classic single Gogle-Mogle portion is made from two egg yolks and three teaspoons of sugar beat into a cream-like dish. 

Gogle Mogle is often prepared as a transition food for babies moving from a cereal diet to one that includes eggs and other soft foods. It is also a folk medicine used for treating colds or flu, particularly chest colds and laryngitis. Gogle-mogle is ranked highly among other traditional cold remedies such as Grandma's chicken soup.’


Treanor replied appreciatively and went on to discuss other stanzas which Steiny will notate within his text.

Teri, I like the cold remedy, she's put a spoonful of sugar on it to help her medicine go down! Wonder if her cold is about temperature and/or emotional distance (coldness) as well as an illness? Is she trying to warm somebody up a bit?

The teasing is tender and trying and thoughtful. [stanza 7]
Is her teasing us what is tender and trying and thoughtful? There's the cold and remedy [stanza 8] and then there is A separation is not tightly in worsted and sauce [stanza 5], which reads to me as Worcestershire sauce (do you have this in the US? We’re mad for it in the UK). And worsted makes me think yarn and weaving and the tightness of the weave. And that veers me off thinking sauce could be source and wool being the source of worsted cloth. So we have a teasing mix of Worcestershire sauce and mutton or lamb (from the wool) and they all seem to be in the stew somehow [stanza 6]. We are partial to a bit of Worcestershire sauce in our meat stews over here. A not very tight separation, but all thrown in the pot and simmered and stirred.

“The solid fine furnace makes me think solid fuel or fire furnace, thinking of what the stew is being cooked on maybe [stanza 6]. And there's the lard and water [stanza 2], which feels like cooking or stewing too. And some sudden rising [stanza 3], which feels like baking. It’s dumplings or a soufflé maybe. There’s a seam of foodiness there but I can’t see much sweetness or sugar. Is she’s making a teasing stew or weaving a thoughtful cloth or both?

“All warming and medicinal and maybe meant to melt the cold heart of someone reluctant to be sweet (heart).”
To conclude the first half of “Sugar.”: Rife said:

“I like the dots you've connected. You've made sense of the lard, the sauce, the stew, and the furnace by looking at both the inside and the outside of a woolly sheep: worsted on the outside for the sauce and lamb on the inside for the stew. Yes, there is a bottle of Worcestershire sauce in each American pantry. As for sugar, it is an ingredient in the sauce: vinegar, water, molasses, sugar. Sweet and sour makes a tasty marriage. Opposites attract, as with Alice and Gertrude?

Participants: Teri Rife, Peter Treanor

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