December weekly prompt (in honor of Bernadette Mayer)

Happy December, friends!

(Photo courtesy of the New York Times)

“The idea of perfection in a poem is pretty stupid. Because if nothing else is perfect, why should a poem be perfect?”

Over the Thanksgiving holidays, the world lost one of the most remarkable, brilliant, and generous poets around. That person is Bernadette Mayer, an incredibly gifted poet, who was generous with her time and her ideas, offering classes for free or at very low prices all her life. Originally part of the New York Poets scene, Mayer moved out of the city to East Nassau and to rural Massachusetts, had a family, and kept writing and teaching.

Here is one of her early poems. It’s a sonnet!:

[Sonnet] You jerk you didn’t call me up


You jerk you didn’t call me up

I haven’t seen you in so long

You probably have a fucking tan

& besides that instead of making love tonight

You’re drinking your parents to the airport

I’m through with you bourgeois boys

All you ever do is go back to ancestral comforts

Only money can get—even Catullus was rich but

Nowadays you guys settle for a couch

By a soporific color cable t.v. set

Instead of any arc of love, no wonder

The G.I. Joe team blows it every other time

Wake up! It’s the middle of the night

You can either make love or die at the hands of the Cobra Commander

And here is a later one.

Homage to H & the Speedway Diner


It’s alot like a cave full of pictures

& black & white checked flags

you may overdose on caffeine

it’s the closest restaurant to our house

maybe five miles, it’s very cheap

you can go there when you have almost no money

they let you use the telephone

i can get steak tartare there for $2.25

but i’ve never called it that

just raw hamburger with an egg yolk,

pickle relish & garlic powder plus

the celtic salt i bring along

the owner, h (after whom the h-burger is named)

is loquacious, surprising, has a santa claus belly & wears suspenders

there’s ashtrays everywhere & a great old pinball machine

it’s like east nassau but it’s in west lebanon i think

you can always talk about the weather & hunting

the clientele is open-minded as are the waitress & waiter

who kneels when he takes your order

during hunting season it opens at 4:30 a.m.

it’s for sale but that’s not quite serious

h’s wife thinks he spends too much time there (which he does)

so she started calling him by their dog’s name, peaches

h is a big fan of northern exposure, oh & i

forgot to mention the biscuits & sausage gravy

which are genuine, greyish & great. recently

h got a smoker & this year we’ll go to the new year’s

eve party & eat stuffed shrimp and/or lobster

Mayer’s specificity amazes me. The absolute certainty of her voice. The way she puts you INTO the scene. The language is rich and yet completely accessible. There’s also a strange, unreal, borderline surreal quality to the writing. I feel like I’m not quite in the normal world anymore, but in someplace more magical, on the verge of being transformed.

Mayer made up a list of possible prompts. That list is single-spaced, tiny font, and 6 pages long. That’s a genius for you.

Here is one I’d like to offer you for this week. Do this exercise for 7 days. More if you want.

Write once a day in minute detail about one thing.

Let’s try it! Please share the thing you’re going to write about in the comments.

You can read more about her here:

PS — Finally, Mayer was under financial strain in the last years of her life. I’m kicking myself because I never sent her any money (I bought her book, but I didn’t contribute to the general fund). If there’s an artist you know in need of $, send them a little something.

One thought on “December weekly prompt (in honor of Bernadette Mayer)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s