Rendering Tender buttons
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Despite increasing critical interest in Stein’s genre-blurring work, there is a surprisingly small amount of Tender Buttons close reading to be found. More commonly, essays favor theoretical interpretations of the book that close read minimally or focus with great detail on syntactic investigations of poems as singular, contained units. Reading this text is a challenge as the language is dense, layered, and resists containment at every level. Although close reading Tender Buttons will not produce any stable or permanent meaning for the reader, listening between Stein’s lines does draw the reader closer to the processes she uses to structurally hold the text together. One way to think about the title, among many, is to think of the text as an offering of connecting devices. It is then the reader’s invitation to make those connections and to close those gaps, however temporary those closures may be. Through a creative performance of the text and cross-poem close-readings, this essay seeks to accomplish three things: to track and illuminate embedded visual and sonic patterns framing each section of the text; to illustrate the way these patterns interact to invite construction of meaning in the reader’s mind; and to listen to Stein closely as she composes her explanation of the text and her philosophy on all creative process. In doing so, I argue that a sequential arc frames Tender Buttons as a book-length meditation on process and the universality of life’s courses, be they natural, societal, or artistic. My essay charts Stein’s addition, subtraction, and recycling to origin as she enacts an inevitable succession of renewal and survival. My essay also offers one cultural reading to illustrate the byproduct of an imagination mingling with Stein’s vocabulary and sequential logic.