Bernadette Mayer – 3 (Q & A -1)

Bernadette Mayer at Naropa (July 17, 1989)  continues from here 

The Q & A following her presentation

Student: What were the ten ones that didn’t make the list that you had to…
BM: Oh, the poetic forms?
Student: Yes, just out of curiosity

BM: Wait a second – I have to look in the index. It’s funny to know. Well, actually there is none.. there is no… oh yeah, there is. It’s in the back. Okay, the ten least-liked poetic forms!  – I think..no..that wasn’t…  People had trouble with “foot”, you know, but somebody eventually wrote that – Gee, you know, I can’t remember!  “Pastoral”, I think we had a problem with, “Ode” was not particularly well-liked but I think someone else did do it. – Oh, see, this isn’t a complete list – “Quatrain” definitely, ”Sestet”? – right – oh, I know how I can tell you, ‘cause in the beginning it says who wrote what, ok.. yeah… Nobody wanted to write the following “Allegory” “Canzone”, “Pastoral Poem” ,”Quatrain” “Terza Rima” (right? – how many of you would like to write ”terza rima”? – I mean analysis of it) –  and then,Epithalamion” was not a real popular one, “Ottava Rima” – that’s about it, actually, The rest were chosen, were actually chosen by us, so… I don’t mean to make you feel bad about those forms.

Student:  At  the end of one of your Sonnets, as sort of an afterword, you say “to make love turn to page sixty-two, to die turn to page fourteen”  – Was that also random or did that really relate to the other two pages?
BM: Well..you know, I had to proof-read a lot of GI Joe books at that point in time. The page numbers? Are they random? They were when the poem was published in a magazine but as it’s published in the book, I changed the numbers to.. so that when you have to turn to the page to die that page is not in the book..
Student: Oh great!
BM:  ..and when you turn to the page to make love it’s really about making love, so nobody will wind up being influenced to die.
Student: Yeah I published (it) in a magazine. I didn’t publish it with one word that didn’t relate,  and I was wondering if people would really turn the page to see what would happen?
BM: Well I always tried to make the “die” page be high enough a number that it wouldn’t exist.

Student: Can you explain the structure you’re working with in this new book
BM: Hmm?
Student: Can you explain the structure you’re working with in this new book?
BM: In the book? – No, no..  In fact, the only time that I’ve ever really actually said anything in one of the books about.. about how they were written was in the Sonnets, where there really isn’t anything to say, yeah. – No, do you think I should?

Student: Well, I don’t know. I was kind of wondering what your attitude was like about the reader entering a form that, you know, you’d put a lot of thought into but, sort of appeared as a ..as a mystery to…
BM: I think you.. if you..  If you explain it to people who are reading books then, then you know, it’s not like “we’re all poets and we’re all sharing information about how to write”,  and stuff,  it’s different – But if you explain it to someone who’s just reading a book and put it actually in the book, it..   it seems boring, you know – don’t you think?

Student: I think so. I also wonder how much is kind of skipped over in the..  IVito  mean, there’s probably like a medium line of it – but, just being completely baffled by the set-up of maybe Story, or,  like, one of your earlier ones, and just entering into it and, like – “what’s going on?”

BM: Yeah well  Story is a problem, but luckily only about fifty people have read it! – It was an interesting beginning, but I don’t know.  But it’s fun, tho’ – I gave it to somebody to read the other day who had no idea how it was constructed and he said  “This is a great..this is a great piece”, you know – so..  I don’t know, it’s going to exist without the explanation. I think we only do give the explanation in situations like this  (or maybe even in situations like this we don’t!)

Student: (Lee Ann Brown):  I just wanted to know. Can you talk more about Moving – how you went from the pile of papers that Anne (Waldman) found on top of the typewriter to actually fitting them into the different chapters with those names?
BM: Oh.  That’s a good question, I was reading a lot of books like that at the time, like a lot of really basic books about things, you know, physics and chemistry, childrens texts, and the way that that got incorporated in to that pile of papers was exactly at the moment while it was being written. It wasn’t put in later. It was, like, you know,  just..
Student: You started with that book?
BM: Well I didn’t start with anything. Then it was..   The only thing I added later was the poem at the beginning and the poem at the end, but the rest of it was just..  I even have the manuscript here, I’ll show it to you. It was just written exactly the way it was.
And no, I didn’t leave in any revisions at that point in time. But I did..  the only way I did revise was to add the other things that other people gave me and  find a place, find what I thought was an appropriate place, to put them in.

Student: You mentioned that your first book Story was self-published and I’m wondering how you went about that process in terms of production and distribution and also..

BM: Not very well!

Student: Well if you could just say a few words about that and also.. is that something you recommend for other twenty-year-old writers, or however-old, to do?, or do you have any words to say?..

BM: I’d recommend it for seventy-year old writers!  I think it’s the only way to do it, you know. People aren’t too interested in poetry in America, are they? I think… Well, let me answer your question before I start jabbering. At the time I had a… I was publishing a magazine with a friend of mine, who was a sort of writer-conceptual artist named Vito Acconci, and we edited this magazine together called O to 9, and then we decided to publish a few books. I mean, by “publish a few books”, we meant books this size (sic) you know, which was all we could afford.  And, we were better at distribution then than, actually, than people can even be now, because, because, nowadays a lot of book stores… Like in… At that point in time, a lot of bookstores would be willing to take stapled mimeographed books, but now you find that bookstores will say to you, if you publish your own work or other people’s work,  that you have to have a perfect binding, and that you have to have, perhaps even have a distributor. Like, they won’t go..  they won’t deal directly with you as the publisher. You have to have a distributing company. So..  But that’s how we did it then, and, I guess, I don’t know, we made four hundred copies of everything (that’s what we did). And at this point in time there’s none left, so that’s pretty good.

Student: How long did that take?  I’m curious

BM: To create them?

Student: To get rid of them

BM: Get rid of them! I‘m insulted!  A long time…I mean, yeah, I mean.. We didn’t try so hard to get rid of them, but..

Student: I don’t mean it in a pejorative sense

BM: But, I mean, first, initially, you know, nobody’s in it for the money, you know.  So you send out a hundred copies to all the people that you really want to read this book, you know. So that “gets rid of” a hundred copies!   And then, you know, we send.. give them to bookstores who never pay you, and stuff like that. That’s another hundred copies. And then you wait.. for.. to figure out who you really want to read the…  I mean, it’s almost as if nowadays in the small press publishing world that you, the publisher or the author, chooses who they want to read their book.. It’s almost not up to the reader to choose to read it because they can’t find it, you know. You have to find them and say, “I want all the people in Red Feather Lakes to read my works so I’m going to put them in the library there. (shouldn’t have mentioned that! – they have a beautiful library there but they don’t have any good books in it! – it’s true, you should check it out if you go to the Dharma Center)

to be continued (and concluded) tomorrow 

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