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Sunday, November 4, 2018


More on the portrait of Gertrude Stein by Pablo Picasso in 1905-06 click here.

By Thomas Shess, Editor, daily online magazine--The public domain, where literature older than dirt resides—like a rock on Mars—there, there but unmoving and unnoticed.  Pouring over old poems, short stories and novels in the public domain is akin to browsing an Internet antique store, a modern day (2018) olde curiosity shoppe of letters.

One Saturday morning, we paused among a dusty shelf containing a 1914 work by ex-pat Gertrude Stein.

More than 100 years later, what do we make of Gertrude Stein’s experimental prose poem “Tender Buttons?”  Thanks to the Guttenburg Project, we have “Tender Buttons” in its entirety in the public domain.  Click here.

Perhaps, the kindest two words in the poem are unwritten: “the end.”  But, who among us can toss rocks for the want-to-be poets among us, who hasn’t experimented with mild mind-altering substances?  Is Stein’s poem experimental in the literary sense, creating a new genre of poetry or is it rambling on after experimenting with a few lines of cocaine.  All very civilized (and legal) in her day?  But as always it is your call, the reader.

Thanks to we have an analysis.  (see below).

GUEST BLOG / By in 1914, Tender Buttons is one of the great Modern experiments in verse. Simultaneously considered to be a masterpiece of verbal Cubism, a modernist triumph, a spectacular failure, a collection of confusing gibberish, and an intentional hoax, the book is perhaps more often written about than actually read (guilty as charged).

Divided into three sections—“Objects," “Food," and “Rooms”—the book contains a series of descriptions that defy conventional syntax. William Gass notes that these are, respectively, “things external to us, which we perceive, manipulate, and confront," “things which nourish us," and “things which enclose us.”

An American by birth (Pittsburgh via Oakland), Gertrude Stein lived as an expatriate in Paris for most of her life. At once a novelist, an essayist, and a poet, she was famous for hosting evening salons that gathered together the great thinkers, painters, and writers into one room, and sparking (and recording) their exchange of ideas. Besides Tender Buttons, her major works in verse include Patriarchal Poetry and the somewhat more accessible Stanzas in Meditation.

Tender Buttons is not frequently anthologized, perhaps because it is meant to be read as a single, long prose-poem. However, notable selections include “Suppose an Eyes," “A Carafe, That is a Blind Glass” in which she seemingly announces her intentions towards Cubism, as well as “In Between," which is often read as a feminist poem because of its strong (though abstract) themes of sensuality. Another noteworthy poem is “Orange In” from “Food," which contains both the repetition and word-combining that many consider to be cubist.

Still avant-garde and experimental a century+ since its first publication, Tender Buttons has inspired generations of experimental poets, providing inspiration for the Language movement, as well as a variety of imitations— both successful and not. She is beloved and cited as influence by many poets and novelists, including William Gass, Sherwood Anderson, E. E. Cummings, Ernest Hemingway, and Harryette Mullen.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR. Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) was an American novelist, poet, playwright, and art collector. Born in the Allegheny West neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and raised in Oakland, California, Stein moved to Paris in 1903, and made France her home for the remainder of her life—Wikipedia. More on the portrait of Stein by Pablo Picasso in 1905-06 click here.

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