You will also notice that this edition is fairly free from interpretation. There’s no introduction, footnotes, or the like to guide your reading. Contemporary poet Juliana Spahr does contribute an essay that touches on the history of interpreting Stein’s works, along with some references suitable for future research. However, being an afterward, it is conveniently located at the end, giving the impression that it’s not to take away from the reader’s initial contact with the work.
Now, you’ve probably concluded that I’m well-satisfied with this edition. But what about the book in and of itself? That’s a different story. Not being familiar with modern literature styles, I was out of my element reading Tender Buttons. Scholars have debated as to how to understand Stein’s writing in light of her feminism, lesbianism, and controversial politics. In the section titled “Rooms,” I noticed some parts that introduced ideas about gender and sex, but I didn’t get a sense that those subjects dominated. Stein is also noted for her role in the development of Cubism, bringing a multiple perspective or multi-dimensional approach to literature as Pablo Picasso did to painting. In the “Objects” section, I could sense this cubist sort of style in “A Carafe, That is a Blind Glass” and “A Red Hat,” which made me think I was on the right track. In general, however, I can’t say I really get it. In the afterward, Spahr mentions that some have speculated whether or not Gertrude Stein was stoned when she wrote Tender Buttons. If that’s the case, maybe her poems were never meant to be understood.