Discussion in 'Poetry' started by deadrats, Mar 10, 2018.
What's the deal with Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons? I don't get it. Does anyone, really?
there's a long explanation here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tender_Buttons_(book) but the TL/DR version is 'It's art innit , not getting it is the point'
Oh. I saw the thread title and thought I had a new nickname.
Maybe there is a way you can change your profile name to Tender Buttons.
Or just add it to your custom title.
Only @Wreybies can change user names, but if we buy him enough sangria anything is possible
I thought were were back onto the anatomical euphemisms thread.
@OJB and @OurJud -- I was hoping to get thoughts from you guys on this because I know you're both into poetry. Or from anyone else who has read Tender Buttons. I'm quite drawn to this work, but is it beautiful nonsense?
I'll have to give it a read first, @deadrats - must confess I don't know this one.
 From what little info I've been able to gather in the last five minutes, it seems Tender Buttons is a book. If you search for 'Tender Buttons poem' you get a series of different poems, each with a different subtitle, i.e. 'Tender Buttons [Objects]' or 'Tender Buttons [Chicken]' or 'Tender Buttons [A box]'.
To which are you referring?
I'm curious to know what you think. You can probably find it online to read, and I know you can listen to it on youtube. If you're reading it, you will see this short-book length poem is divided into three sections. If you listen to it, I think the woman with the British accent does a good job. It's the best thing I've found to put me to sleep. And I don't mean that because it's boring, but rather it puts me in a completely relaxed state. But I really don't get it, and I don't know if our pal Gertrude ever meant for anyone to get it. Or maybe this one is beyond me.
Well I'm sufficiently intrigued to check it out, but I abhor (have I used that word correctly?) reading anything of length off a computer screen, so may have to opt for the audio version.
I'll get back with my thoughts on it.
I feel left out
I kid I kid!
All joking aside though, Ive never even heard of it, but am now intrigued
I thought of you when I read it, don't worry. There's too few poet enthusiasts here as it is. Lest we forget.
It's fine, I was only joking
And I agree, there are too few poetry people 'round here
1. It's an image poem. She is trying to describe everyday items, in terms/images that people would usually associate with whatever item she is talking about.
2. Sometimes a poem is less about meaning, and more its construction. Don't read the poem trying to find meaning like you would a story, read it with the question of 'What technical accomplishment did the author achieve in writing this?' (P.S. I am not saying the poem doesn't have meaning, but sometimes you have to look what the technical accomplishment is before you can see what writer was getting at.)
I've not study Gertrude's work extensively (though she is on my list), but I'm aware of her poetry as some of her blank verse poems have been in some of the Meter poetry collections I have.
@deadrats - I've been trying to listen to Tender Buttons, on and off, for a few hours now, but it's hard going to say the least. It just sounds like gibberish for the most part, but maybe that's more a reflection of my failure to understand and 'hear' what others do than anything else.
For me - and maybe this is why it should be read (albeit aloud) rather than listened to - each line of a poem needs to be digested to fully appreciate its beauty. I wasn't getting this from Tender Buttons - no sooner was my brain trying to make sense of one line, when another comes along and adds to my confusion. It felt like my mind was being rained on by a series of nonsensical images and words out of context.
If I can find a copy of the book cheap enough, I'll try again, but no, certainly not for me on first listen.
I decided to give this another go and came to the conclusion Gertrude Stein was a latter-day troll! As someone who wants to learn more about poetry that remark will gain me no respect whatsoever, but I'm sorry, anyone who claims to understand this poem needs their bluff calling.
Not that I wish to dwell on the criticism of this poem - I don't think it's to my tastes, and I freely admit that's because it goes right over my head - but, while listening to the reading I was reminded of something that I just couldn't bring to mind, and then it came to me.
@OurJud I'm with you. It's a soothing nonsense, right? I've really tried with this one. But even what I've read about the poem doesn't really explain anything in a way that makes sense to me.
I'm afraid it's not even that for me - soothing I mean - but I can see how it might have a hypnotic quality for some.
I've been feeling a bit stupid for my 'latter-day troll' remark, but then read this on the wiki article and don't feel quite so stupid:
Not quite sure how a 'modernist triumph' is a criticism, however, unless I'm missing something.
Well, Tender Buttons is confusing because Stein meant it to be so. She doesn't use language in the 'usual way', so yes, people who claim to 'understand' it are certainly bluffing; the actual subject matter and the meaning of the words are deliberately kept impossible to understand. In many senses, it is gibberish. And many critics have pointed that out. Some have accused her of experimenting with automatic writing (because she was associated with circles of people doing that - but she denied, in the end, that automatic writing was possible), and yes, others have said it was a hoax. And yes, Stein was also rather pretentious - she wrote an 'Autobiography' of Alice B. Toklas (her life-long partner) in which 'Alice' says that she only met three geniuses in her life - Stein being one of them... but I digress. Tender Buttons plays with language; it is an experiment how to make something sound like poetry (albeit prose poetry) without having any concrete meaning. At the same time, it might toy with the way we associate things with things - so you 'can interpret things into it', but whether that is of any substance is another thing. And, as OJB pointed out, Stein's use of language from the domestic sphere might be making some comment about gender (the female being associated with the domestic traditionally?)... and the occasional comment that can be seen as sexually implicit might be some comment on her sexuality (such as 'This is this dress, Aider (Aider being a nickname for the name Alice, her partner). But then again, all these things might also not be the case...
I read one paper which was making a case that Stein was resisting fascist language with Tender Buttons, because fascism is associated with propaganda and thus language which has a concrete meaning, whereas she evades meaning. But many academics come up with some rubbish, and considering Tender Buttons from 1912 was much earlier than even Italian fascism, that is probably not the case...
Anyhow, those are just some thoughts/impressions/possibilities. I don't lay claim to any form of knowledge; I've always stirred away from writing/thinking about Stein. In the words of Marianne Moore, 'I too, / dislike it'
LOL I tried too and it feels a bit lost almost like a monologue of various words thrown it to make a ''soup''.
The one thing that's most important to me, when I read, is trusting the author. If there is a distinct possiblity that the author is pushing my 'tender buttons' just for fun, to watch my reaction as I try to make sense of their gibberish, I'm sorry. Not interested. Life is short. Gibberish is all around us. I don't need more.
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