Author(s): Audre Lorde
Tender Buttons is a 1914 prose poetry collection by American writer Gertrude Stein consisting of three sections titled "Objects," "Food," and "Rooms." While the short book consists of multiple poems covering the everyday mundane, Stein's experimental use of language renders the poems unorthodox and their subjects unfamiliar. Stein began composition of the book in 1912 with multiple short prose poems in an effort to "create a word relationship between the word and the things seen" using a "realist" perspective. She then published it in three sections as her second book in 1914. Tender Buttons has provoked divided critical responses since its publication. It is renowned for its Modernist approach to portraying the everyday object and has been lauded as a "masterpiece of verbal Cubism." 2] Its first poem, "A Carafe, That Is a Blind Glass," is arguably its most famous, and is often cited as one of the quintessential works of Cubist literature. The book has also been, however, criticized as "a modernist triumph, a spectacular failure, a collection of confusing gibberish, and an intentional hoax." Like Stein's syntax of poems in the book, the title juxtaposes two familiar concepts to alienate their familiar meanings. Rather than use an expected collocate, Stein frequently associates two familiar but independent ideas in order to challenge their established authenticity. Many of the titles of the individual poems likewise use similar juxtapositions: "Glazed Glitter," "A Piece of Coffee," etc. While the word "tender" and the word "buttons" are two ordinary words in the sense that they both have familiar meanings to the average reader, their displacement from a usual context and their subsequent synthesis ruptures a usual understanding of their meanings and implications. By displacing these words into an unfamiliar context, Stein challenges the reader's notion of what these words actually mean. In establishing the phrase, "tender buttons," as the title of the series, Stein defines her series of poems to be both familiar and foreign in their context. The title of Tender Buttons can likewise be interpreted to suggest a singular, static moment of time that is free of the implications of space. The title, like the poems, exists in a space that is independent of the implications of a certain time, and in this sense, is one reason for the collection's timelessness. Like the other poems in the book, the title can likewise be interpreted in a number of ways. Some have suggested that "tender buttons" is a reference to women's breasts, in part because of the title's evocation of nipples. Although a more contemporary reaction to the poem stated, "The title Tender Buttons, of course, refers to a woman's nipples," Stein does not divulge the inspiration behind the title, simply stating, "Tender Buttons, will be the title of the book"
Audre Lorde was a writer, feminist and civil rights activist - or, as she famously put it, 'Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet'. Born in New York in 1934, she had her first poem published while she was still in high school. After stints as a factory worker, ghost writer, social worker, X-ray technician, medical clerk, and arts and crafts supervisor, she became a librarian in Manhattan and gradually rose to prominence as a poet, essayist and speaker, anthologised by Langston Hughes, lauded by Adrienne Rich, and befriended by James Baldwin. She was made Poet Laureate of New York State in 1991, when she was awarded the Walt Whitman prize; she was also awarded honorary doctorates from Hunter, Oberlin and Haverford colleges. She died of cancer in 1992, aged 58.