Tender Buttons: Objects, Food, Rooms by Gertrude Stein

Imagine being holed up with your Great-Aunt Gertrude in her large, old house on a rainy Summer's day. She's very old, very rich, and somewhat bossy, but you've decided to stay with her during your vacation since her house is near the water, and how bad can she be, anyway? Despite the fact that you'd much rather get access to the car, and you're pretty sure that she doesn't know what year it is, she's decided to give you lessons in deportment, household management, fine dining, worldly wisdom, and Lord only knows what else, by pottering around the house, telling you Things.

"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." she says, emphasizing the last two words, and giving you a hard look.

What was that again? And why does she give you a sly look, now and then?

She goes on, "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."

Such is the world of Tender Buttons.

It's a world where ordinary things and ideas (at least ordinary Edwardian things and ideas) - a shawl, roast beef, a pencil, a parlor - can take on strange and unexpected new life, as rules - uttered with the absolute certainty of the Code of Hammurabi - spin and break apart with the sound and syntax of spoken English.

"A circle of fine card board and a chance to see a tassel!" Her eyes glitter. Then sighs. "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."

Then there are the tender buttons.

For Aunty Gert, sex is not something one wants to talk about, but there are ways to have sex that people don't know about, and some no one really cares about. Haven't you ever had a crush on a school chum? she might say. Haven't you ever been gay so really gay so merry you might have wanted to...? She smiles.

People called it "cubism in verse." You might want to call it something else. Check it out.



Tender Buttons is Gertrude Stein's second volume of poetry, published in 1914. Comprised of three parts, the book consists of a number of short prose poems about everyday things, and is considered a seminal work of Modernist verse.

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