from the Bernadette Mayer Symposium, Buffalo, April 1
The following is my statement from the “Poet’s Panel” with Dorothea Lasky and Brenda Coultas at the Bernadette Mayer Symposium at SUNY in Buffalo, New York (April 1st, 2011). I enjoyed being on the panel with Dorothea and Brenda, and many thanks are owed to Robert Dewhurts, Sean Reynolds, Joey Yearous-Algozin, Myung Mi Kim, and many others at Buffalo.
Everyt time I see Bernadette Mayer she asks if The Philadelphia Poetry Hotel is open and ready for her to move in. Not yet, BUT SOON, I always say. When I first arrived in Philadelphia I lived in a much-fabled neighborhood affectionately called The Zulli Nation, named after our landlord Al Zulli. Al LOVED artists! If you told him you were a painter or a poet your rent would be unimaginably affordable. My apartment was 210 a month, meaning I only needed a part-time job to survive, and spent much of my time in the Free Library system reading and learnign poetry. Ezra Pound said, “The only thing one can give an artist is leisure in which to work. To give an artist leisure is actually to take party in his creation.” More than anything I want to open the Poetry Hotel so Bernadette, and other poets can live affordably, and be removed from the tyranny of wolfish landowners.
It’s always nice when I meet a college professor who tells me they are teaching Bernadette’s work and using her exercises in the classroom. Yet part of me wishes there was a way to obtain royalties for her each time a new group of students are reading and activating the energy she has stored for us all. When I win the lottery I will hang a poster of Bernadette’s exercises, and each time someone reads it Bernadette will receive a check for 5,000 dollars. There will be a blue neon sign installed that says “READ THIS AND MAKE BERNADETTE MAYER 5 GRAND!” A flood of 5,000 dollar checks will find their way to Bernadette’s mailbox.
We stand on her shoulders today, having gleaned much. She is not merely a forerunner to present-day conceptual poetry, for Bernadette Mayer is the mother of conceptual poetry. Her books Memory and Studying Hunger are as much evidence as needed. Hers is a poetry whose concepts never deny suffering but engage suffering, never deny the body but uses her very body to hone ideas and shape her poems. My own conceptual work with (Soma)tics owes gratitude to Bernadette as much as anyone else. Let me share with you a page from her newly released Studying Hunger Journals, published by Station Hill Press, and lovingly edited by Sam Truitt. These journals have never been published before now, the journals to her much-celebrated book Studying Hunger. What I’m going to read is her introductory statement at the back of the 450 page journal, a page which divulges how concept is for her first and foremost above anything else as the way to her poems.
INTRODUCTION to MY JOURNALS and the RECORDING of the ACTIVITIES of the HUMAN MIND
I used to fall, no that’s not what I meant. I began with a drawing of mescaline for no real reason and with the word mescaline written in large letters, each letter the color of the letter in my mind.
This is from memory. Then comes later a picture of the human head with false areas of the brain, throat and larync outlines and colored in such a way that they cannot be xeroxed.
I must be clear, I must erase certain parts of my personal history from memory, or, these parts must cease to be functional like an appendix, a collection of supplementary material at the end of a book. That or this is why I had to be moving.
I had stated, no, I start my making of the unconscious conscious, and, each step of the way, I take the rage emerging there and vent it, unattested.
Spent it on who, what and the adverbs. There was a point of transition made (unidentified, I study the man attendant upon God, dominations and dominions, I study the possible messenger). (Learn shorthand.)
I began all this in April 1972, I began to write continuously, on all vehicles and in all positions. I did not read or understand what I wrote. Gradually I began to translate some of it back into literature. The literature. I chose an interpreter, one who could even listen to one’s ideas about, for instance, potatoes, and so on. I began to change a little bit and feel free to move around which brought with it the total inability to move, as, connected to, the color blue. Or, where are the missing persons and where’s eternity besides the unending and never-beginning hole in the earth of the backyard full of columbines and one snapping turtle. And the central problem of belief in the own existence at all in the room where every object and alignment of the meetings of space have already been assigned the values of memory’s moods, yet you must be there. And outside that room.
Then every surface may prevent you from looking.
As the idea of being alone began to overtake the acts of unconscious doings worked through, the necessity for a single human presence, any one, in every hour, becomes the most imminent disaster in the life here. I forget to speak of change. For example, I have become a doctor as I have become fatter, I have learned to rule life with life, we are all still so envious of an exchange. Change is example yet I have not changed. I have no private property. Nor are these journals a diary of change. They are a simple recommendation to be driven to the present with the chances that may allow to change not one’s self but the world. We cannot begin to know science and poetry until we understand the people and the machines with which they work, the eyes, a glance, the hands.
I reveal to you the like-mother and the like-father, we will all be forgiven. Then, even the you will change, as, you eat with your eyes, as usual. We know everything now, we are spacing more graciously together. Atavistically, in a position of silent rest, I thank you.