Friday, March 06, 2009

Gertrude Stein: Tender Buttons

Tender Buttons, Gertrude Stein (1914 – any number of editions, this time thru in the Vechten-edited Selected Writings)

Too long – a couple of years at least – since I've reread this one , long enough for me almost to forget what a fantastic Wunderkammer of delights & surprises & puns & rhythms & implacably sensible nonsense this little book is. There should be centenary celebrations all over the world for its birthday 5 years hence, for it's as fresh now as the day it was first printed. It makes most of last century's American poetry, from the early LZ & Oppen down thru Black Mountain, the Beats, & much of the post-avant scene, seem immediately dated. Not irrelevant, mind, & not less than valuable – but dated.



Sisyphus said...

Do you ever teach it? How does one teach Tender Buttons to students without them hating it? What do you actually do with it in the classroom?

My students were not won over by me reading out various strange lines to them over and over in silly voices.

Mark Scroggins said...

I teach it fairly often, though I'm not sure how successfully. The diagram of "A Carafe" from William Gass's essay, chalked up on the board, goes a way towards showing them it's not all gibberish. Then I talk about syntactic ambiguity ("Roast potatoes for"), bilingual puns ("shoes" = "chose"), & even a bit of old-fashioned scansion, to show why the rhythms are so much fun.

They usually remain resistant, so then I trot out the implications of big cultural statements ("A white hunter is nearly crazy"), & as a last resort walk thru some of the coded sexual stuff. We end up doing a lot of free association & reading aloud, so that they laugh aloud despite themselves, & I try to convince them that that's an entirely appropriate response.

But nobody ever said I was much of a teacher, I'm afraid.