Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Mary Louise Kete


This thesis offers a reading of Gertrude Stein’s 1914 prose poetry collection, Tender Buttons, as a radical experiment in ekphrasis. A project that began with an examination of the avant-garde imagism movement in the early twentieth century, this thesis notes how Stein’s work differs from her imagist contemporaries through an exploration of material spaces and objects as immersive sensory experiences. This thesis draws on late twentieth century attempts to understand and define ekphrastic poetry before turning to Tender Buttons. Although the question of categorizing Tender Buttons has been an issue since its original publications, few have noted its essentially ekphrastic nature. Doing so, I argue ekphrasis helps to account for the way Stein’s poetry interacts with spatiality and temporality, illustrates sensory experiences, and plays with the multiplicity of language while also provoking readers to re-interpret their own experiences.

My work with Tender Buttons seeks to extend the theoretical conversation. Applying a categorical term like ekphrasis to Stein’s work forces readers to interact with the descriptions in the text, in conjunction with their own experiences, in a way that elevates the objects rendered to pieces of art. Via an analysis of spatiality/temporality, invocations of the senses, and the plurality of diction in every poem, the reader can experience Tender Buttons through a unique and individualized approach that openly invites her to ask questions about Stein’s world and her own material surrounds. Essentially, I offer a reading of Tender Buttons as a collection that fastens materiality with language, asking anyone who interacts with the text to ask questions about the boundaries between verbal and visual material.



Number of Pages

69 p.