Friday, October 22, 2004

Midwinter Day

Dear Minor Americans,

Recently purchased a used copy of Bernadette Mayer's Midwinter Day at Green Apple Books (which is my favorite bookstore in the city incidentally because there is always many choice used poetry books and I'm broke and I think it was Zero Star Hotel that I wanted when I went in that night but couldn't find it so got this instead) and at first I promised myself I wouldn't start reading it until I was done with the last book of poems but I decided 3/4s of the way through that the other book was bad and so I stopped reading it and started Midwinter Day.

You need to know this as background information I think. Ange Mlinko is a very good friend of mine. And when I was living in that loneliest of cities -- Philadelphia -- while I was in grad school and Ange was not yet a mother Ange would leave her husband for the weekend and we would eat lots of Chinese food in China Town and drink lots of cocktails and ride around in Taxis looking for live music and stay out until one or two and feel very decadent because compared to NYC everything was so cheap and for forty dollars it was like we could go all night and then we'd arrive back at the apartment with a really good buzz on and talk about poetry until really late or really early which ever way you like to perceive it and one time in particular Ange in a drunken whirl was praising Mayer and going on and on about Mayer and talking about how Mayer sacrificed everything to the work and that was the most important thing a person could do and I took such offense to this comment because at that time I had seen enough of the person of Bernadette that she scared me. The thought of living a life as she did scared me. And I was very defensive about this idea because for one Ange and I were in our own drunken ways always talking about never letting anything get in the way of the work -- never letting anything stop us from being REAL poets and I didn't want to give in to the idea that this involved a very real physical self destruction. And after a while of me being a horse's ass and saying things like does drinking all day make you a real poet? does not mopping your floor make you a real poet? and other drunken questions that were rhetorically aiming at allowing both Ange and me to be real poets and be sober and have clean apartments Ange had to give in and more than partially. I think she gave in because her work is so fucking good and her house so clean and her liver so strong.

Anyhow, so I have this strange relationship to Mayer. I want to be hard on her because so many woman in my circle of friends tried to use her as a model for how to live as a poet and I don't really think she's the best model and of course it's kind of a cannabalistic use of the poet here. What can she do for us, the younger generation? It takes away a lot of sympathy I should have for her as a human being and makes her into a utility for us to use ... but that's a whole other story. But I already was willing to like this book before I began to read it and my only Bernadette before this was the Sonnets and The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters which I felt lukewarm about. There were moments where I thought the work was amazing but mostly I felt it sagged. It didn't amaze always. But the first section of this book by the time I finished this first section I was fucking blown away. The first section is this strange juggling of several dreams and the narrator's attempts at making sense of them and the way the figure of the mother haunts these dreams the way the narrator makes the mother haunt these dreams without the mother ever appearing as a figure in any of them and to watch this voice struggle with her mother and watching her mind dealing with this person in her imagination well it is so powerful that I could only put the book down and walk away and think that's what Ange admired so badly and I felt a need to apologize quietly in my heart to Bernadette. It was like if she never wrote anything worth reading after that section it didn't matter.

But of course I can't ever be very generous very long and I keep reading this book and I'm enjoying it immensley. Let there be no doubt. I am feeling pleasure the whole time I am reading this book. But I have this awful habit of letting myself like something without letting myself believe it's really great art and I asked Kate Pringle if this was fair -- was it fair for me to believe that I didn't think something was good writing even if I let myself like it? That's a question that I hope someone comments on. I think Kate said something like you're being unfair and lying to yourself. She thinks if I like it I necessarily think it's good. But anyhow now that I'm in the middle parts of this book where I am reading detailed descriptions of Bernadette's day which mostly involves trying to get around town with two little kids in snow and make them lunch I come to the question that I do with other 2nd generation NY School poetry. Is that enough? Is it poetry? And then after I ask myself that question I think yes it's enough because it leads me to ask that question therefore it is a piece of art. And then after I think that I think no. You're being a clever horse's ass. And then I try to think what is it exactly that puts the work into question for me? Is it the use of the mundane? The 2nd generation gets this idea from 1st generation O'Hara and O'Hara despite the fact that he describes his whole day to me never makes me question whether or not I really am in a poem. I know I am always in a poem with Mr. O'Hara. What O' Hara does does not appear in any way easy. It is very obviously artful. There's something that seems too easy in this kind of mundane description in the work of several 2nd generation writers though that makes me think -- no, that's too easy. But is it? I don't know, Minor Americans. Help me.

-- Minor American


Jack said...

Don't know if this help in the least, but I posted this to my blog (, because you got me thinking. Here:

Suddenly, Maggie Z is writing a blog to check, recheck, take notes to, wait for more! Oct. 22 brings two longer posts that eloquently lay out questions and robust motives regarding text fragments reframing a writer's and readers' understandings. The eloquence is supported by -- roll in two cement trucks -- concrete evidence, Maggie's intake of readings by Lyn Hejinian, for instance, Maggie's pondering the differences between the use of dailiness by NY Gen. One & Two, and Maggie's all-nighter confabs with Ange Mlinko on the distinctive features of 'a real poet.' Maggie makes earnestness sound cool again. Her debate within on how she reads Bernadette Mayer, the poetry and the life, is one for the books. (How about a volume of prose from Maggie Zurawski, I want to shout!)

A coincidence: this Thursday for the first time in almost 20 years I heard Bernadette read at La Tazza in Providence (a new pleasure dome for poetry). Bernadette read with Steve Dickison whom I had not heard before. His poems were bright reflections of the good forces in poetry, maintaining a pitch I can describe as self-sustained and mindful, the sort of craft, filled with skepticism, of course, you would expect from a practitioner of three-to-four decades doing good for other poets and poetry. Bernadette's reading, in contrast, was all over the tonal map, and brilliantly so, in sum. Everyone seemed to agree her piece on "utopianly fucking" was hot, it went on for several minutes, and should never have stopped. But getting back to Maggie Z's concern about Gen. Two's "too easy" use of dailiness, I particularly liked Bernadette's misuse of boilerplate from the I.R.S., exactly as-is, to constitute a poem, as-is. In another form, Bernadette achieved what Maggie describes in listening to Hejinean:Once she started the reading she went seamlessly in and out of poems and essays so that a portion of My Life was read against a paragraph from an essay etc., never staying with one work very long before parsing it to another fragment from another work. I was blown away by the reading because the DJ-esque sampling gave the reader in a short amount of time a real idea of the breadth [of work.]

When Bernadette moved from a found piece from the I.R.S., to a (well-made) rant on fucking, to a list of what she sees outdoors from windows where she lives, she too blew me away with her breadth of work and experience. And in her own externalized debate Maggie today helped me see this breadth better. So thanks, Ms Z.

Jordan said...

Hi Maggie. It's not too easy. All best, Jordan

Anonymous said...

great ..thanks for sharing.....

Lock in your price today for Your favorite channels - and keep it there until 2010!