Monday, June 8, 2015

Sonnets - Bernadette Mayer (Tender Buttons Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Sonnets.  Bernadette Mayer.  25th Anniversary Edition.  Tender Buttons Press.  New York, New York.  2014.

Sonnets is a 25th Anniversary re-issue and rethink of Bernadette Mayer's ground-breaking and mind-expanding poetry.  It's as hot as a blow-torch.

Are we ever lucky.

Ottawa poet Amanda Earl could probably give a much better read of this text with her understanding of the history of both "women's" and "erotic" poetry.  She would be the first person I'd like to speak to about this book.

To me, these strange and illuminating sonnets sing love.


Love is a babe as you know and when you
Put your startling hand on my cunt or arm or head
Or better both your hands to hold in them my own
I'm awed and we laugh with questions, artless
Of me to speak so ungenerally of thee & thy name
I have no situation and love is the same, you live at home
Come be here my baby and I'll take you elsewhere where
You ain't already been, my richer friend, and there
At the bottom of my sale or theft of myself will you
Bring specific flowers I will not know the names of
As you already have and already will and already do
As you already are with your succinctest cock
All torn and sore like a female masochist that the ryhme
Of the jewel you pay attention to becomes your baby born


Bernadette Mayer was not fooling around when she got all this down.  She's intent on turning it all inside out just to get a better look at the beast.

These poems are fragments of "found poetry", re-imaginings of form and style, Mayer includes instructions on how to reconstruct her constructions.  Bernadette Mayer is a little like Heath Ledger's Joker, sometimes she just wants to see it all burn.

Clap Hands

I'll write you sonnets till you come
Home from school again, the music of your cave become
A stalagmitic presence, honey I don't have
An electronically regulated discharge tube that can emit
               extremely rapid, brief and brilliant flashes of
               light, such a squinting and twisting around
               as to disorder it's nice to divide a sonnet

This way when you might fuck me up the ass
On account of the presence of the bureau by the door
Cause of some song like the one by Tom Verlaine
Where he says adieu like a kid from Brooklyn

Tell like so cause me Bill loves you to not to know
Turn the hear to why over Bill me cause I'll know I you
Say and am to exist I not entranced pretty
Can't Bill with startling say Shakespeare myself that

Couplet I adore you it's my habit
I want manly things & should not, women come to me


Bernadette Mayer builds things up just so she can see how they tumble down, just so that she can put it all back together again, with precious intent.  She breaks up lines and the natural order of language and it startles the reader.  Sometimes it hits the reader like a brick to the head, she isn't kidding. Mayer cracks language apart to get inside to the meat, the meaning.  She is beautifully relentless.


Waiting for you to come back from a comedy show
You and I what do we do? We read Aristophanes
Because you are still in school. On the street
A crazed Hasidic man called you my husband, I am not

You are who I am pregnant, give me my kiss
You whom I often & silently come where you are
That I may be with you, we ought not to speak
At all like this for the women who are your brothers

Now we have a rest together and last & dream
Of the salt & pepper shakers & of the scary sisters
Of us who seem exempt chasing each other around
You knowing less than I cause I'm a formal mother

Not-son fuck me again
Close this night's seven windows


Sonnets is a crackerjack.  Many of the sonnets have titles, here are a few I loved: "Two Thousand Non-Interfering Ballet Dancers Get Rid of the Extra Witch", "The Handcuffing of Hermits Who Grab the Genital's Police", "The Complete Introductory Lectures on Poetry", and so on.  Mayer is a hoot.

Most of these poems are 25 years old, Mayers has added a few new poems, each as purposeful as the last.  This is one of those books where you can feel it vibrate in your hands, it is that vibrant.  Sonnets is a remarkable achievement, one hell of a book.

Bernadette Mayer
Photo by: Lawrence Schwartzwald

Mayer is the recipient of the 2014 Poetry Society of Shelley Memorial Award. Mayer is the author of more than two dozen volumes of poetry, including The Bernadette Mayer Reader, Midwinter Day, The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters, and Poetry State Forest. Recently published are her works, The Helens of Troy, NY, Studying Hunger Journals and Ethics of Sleep. A former director of the Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church in the Bowery and co-editor of the conceptual magazine 0 to 9 with Vito Acconci. Mayer has been a key figure on the New York poetry scene for decades.
Mayer has taught at Naropa Poetics Institute, New School for Social Research, College of Staten Island, and New England College. She has received grants and awards from: PEN American Center, Foundation for Contemporary Performing Art, the NEA, The Academy for American Poets, The Poetry Society of America, and American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Bernadette Mayer
Reads from New Directions' Time of Grief: Mourning Poems
March 7, 2013.  New Orleans
Video: Megan Burns

AND PLEASE NOTE that there is an adjunct volume entitled Please Add to This List, (Tender Buttons, 2014)

Please Add to This List is full of "experiments" and "responses" to Bernadette Mayer's Sonnets.  It is both a study-guide and a primer.  This would be a must-have for any poetry workshoppers, for poetry classes of any kind and for every reader who wants to supercharge their experience of reading Mayer's Sonnets.


Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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