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Bernadette Mayer

After Catullus and Horace

only the manners of centuries ago can teach me
how to address you my lover as who you are
O Sestius, how could you put up with my children
thinking all the while you were bearing me as in your mirror
it doesn’t matter anymore if spring wreaks its fiery
or lamblike dawn on my new-found asceticism, some joke
I wouldn’t sleep with you or any man if you paid me
and most of you poets don’t have the cash anyway
so please rejoin your fraternal books forever
while you miss in your securest sleep Ms. Rosy-fingered dawn
who might’ve been induced to digitalize a part of you
were it not for your self-induced revenge of undoneness
it’s good to live without a refrigerator! why bother
to chill the handiwork of Ceres and of Demeter?
and of the lonesome Sappho. let’s have it warm for now.

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Bernadette Mayer is the author of numerous volumes of poetry and prose, including Memory (1971), Midwinter Day (1982), and Poetry State Forest (2008). Her book The Formal Field of Kissing, a series of translations, re-interpretations and poems inspired by Catullus and Horace, will be reprinted by Monk Books on June 7.

In 1977, Bill Berkson and Bernadette Mayer began a kind of interview correspondence where with they exchanged questions and answers on a variety of topics. This mutual interview continued well into the mid-80s (and still continues intermittently between Berkson and Mayer today). A book on their letters, questions, and answers titled: What’s Your Idea of a Good Time? was published a few years ago (you can find it on amazon and Alibris).

I recommend it for Bill and Bernadette’s incendiary answers, of course, but also for the questions posed (great material for cocktail parties, I might add). Often the questions one asks can be more revealing than their answers.

Here are some questions posed in the collection. I invite people to respond and pose questions of their own.

What’s your idea of a good time?

What does distance mean, in poetry?

Are poets “normal”?

What is luck or blessedness? Is it related to the sublime?

Are you the same person you were 10 years ago?

How do you decide what to wear (regardless of the weather)?

What do you think of Rousseau’s paintings?

Is poetry a residue? And of what?

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?

What is your secret inner life?

Are you interested in the Mafia?

What poems do you know by heart?

How often do you think about death?

How do you feel about children watching television?

Do you like J. Pollock’s paintings?

What are your rules for your own behavior?

Tell me something you don’t understand.

I thought I’d share some Mayer sonnets, as Valentine’s day is almost upon us. Love nor the sonnet is standard in Mayer’s world, and she highlights the possibilities/ multiplicities of poetics and of love. After all, desire doesn’t always follow a neat and tidy pattern.

SONNET

So long honey, don’t ever come around again, I’m sick of you
& of your friends, you take up all my time & I don’t write
Poems cause I spend all my time wanting to fuck you & then
You put the apple onto the grilled cheese, I tie you up

Save me from your respective beauties, keep them home
Thanks for all the rock & roll music, if such a
Thing can be said. Who are those guys? The B-52’s?
That’s what Ethie told me. Can I believe her?

You wanna get married? You tie me up with
Garter belts & less than Heidegger & Kierkegaard the fact
That as we know the poem is not the thought so a slap
Might notice that Uranus suspected a comet? Let me know

He kicks her fallen hat & they are not grownup
Any more than a vase of flowers is, painted, so what?

INCIDENTS REPORT SONNET
for Grace

Woke up from dream on
July 9 1965, dream was erotic
(can’t remember what was in it),
I think the woman was attempting
to sit on her chair while
lifting the man’s wallet
but then on the boatride my hand
got caught in the elevator door
by the firecracker tossed in
by a child who was a woman as missing
as the coffee money, anyway I
lost balance and, falling, woke up
jerking off through the chair,
another chair, was still falling
on my foot, sorry.

INCANDESCENT WAR POEM SONNET

Even before I saw the chambered nautilus
I wanted to sail not in the us navy
Tonight I’m waiting for you, your letter
At the same time his letter, the view of you
By him and then by me in the park, no rhymes
I saw you, this is in prose, no it’s not
Sitting with the molluscs & anemones in an
Empty autumn enterprise baby you look pretty
With your long eventual hair, is love king?
What’s this? A sonnet? Love’s a babe we know that
I’m coming up, I’m coming, Shakespeare only stuck
You have to get young Americans some ice cream
In the artificial light in which she woke